Boundless Leadership: The Hidden Desperate Danger Facing Over Achievers
Max, one of the leaders I work with, is ambitious and driven. He cares about the work, he cares about the people he works with. He is absolutely committed to results and making a difference. He has been successful in all definitions of the term: career progress, well-liked by direct reports and senior staff alike, enjoys industry influence and a solid reputation.
So what’s the problem?
Max has reached a developmental ceiling. If he keeps going the way he has been going, over-working, self-sacrificing, heaping ever more work on himself and those around him, he will surge over an unseen leadership cliff.
In the words of Marshall Goldsmith, “What got you here won’t get you there.”
In integral leadership theory, this threshold is identified as the Achiever stage of development.
The Achiever stage focuses on triangulating purpose, process, and results. As leaders, we obsess about delivering outcomes in the fastest, most effective and efficient way possible.
The critical risk for us at this stage is that we think ‘more is better’ and we plough through ever more goals and work to reach the next milestone. It’s exhausting, and dangerous. Burnout and fade is real and problematic.
A new way of thinking, being, and doing is required.
In developmental theory, this breakthrough stage is called Individualist stage of development.
I’ve captured this stage as AMPLIFIER as I feel it holds better the aspirational intent of the still-ambitious leader, who is looking for longevity and sustainability in their leadership game.
In his book, Amplifiers: The power of motivational leadership to inspire and influence, Matt Church says, “three pivotal actions are establishing meaning and motivation so that you can drive results. These are the daily to-dos of amplifiers.” For Matt, Amplifiers are masters of message and motivation, while setting sights clearly on an objective.
For me, Amplifiers master meaning, motivation, and results while focusing on systemic change in an organisation. We are change makers with a vision for a new way of doing work.
Let’s follow the leadership journey:
When we are new in our careers, we have heaps of ambition and are ready to do whatever it takes to get results. We achieve through heaps of elbow grease, often working long and hard. We work hard and are recognised for our individual efforts. However, if we don’t learn how to lead a team, we can often get stuck in a silo and our career can plateau.
As an Achiever, we’ve learned how to lead a team and appreciate that collective effort makes a bigger difference. We’ve had some big wins, hit some crucial career milestones. We measure success in the results we’ve generated – by ourselves and with our team. We are high performers, and can lead a team of high performers.
At Achiever there are two risks:
1. Success breeds complacency, we plateau in our results, and we experience an unexpected disruption (hello Kodak).
2. We set even bigger goals and think ‘if I just work harder, I will get there’. Hello burnout.
If we don’t manage these risks well at Achiever, we experience the FADER stage. We lose relevance and reputation, and get fried with stress and exhaustion.
A fundamental shift occurs in our Be, Think, Do as a leader. We play the long game and deliver on the short game so we can make more meaningful contribution. We grow leaders not just lead teams so we can extend our impact. We re-design organisational systems to create long-term change.
MESSAGE: More people support our goals
MOTIVATION: More people act to make a significant contribution
RESULTS: More work that matters gets done.
So if you are reaching the Achiever threshold, here’s what you need to be mindful of to help reach for Amplifier and avoid Fader. This is what I am working on with Max:
1. What kind of Deep Work are you doing? This is the kind of deep thinking is the only way you will get to the projects that will shift the needle in your organisation. It’s the thinking you need to understand complexity, inter-connected systems, and the interplay of dynamics within a business and externally to it.
2. What kind of Deep Rest are you undertaking? The most successful leaders know they need to let their brains rest and synthesise the stimulation of the day to day grind.
3. What kind of Deep Play are you engaged with? This is the type of activity that is immersive and joyful, for its own sake. There are no objectives or outcomes, simply an experiencing of being.
4. What kind of Deep Seeing are you experiencing? How well do you know yourself? How well do you understand the perspective and values of those around you? Can you codify their worldview and take something valuable from it? How well can you embrace paradox and polarity?
Where are you on the Anticipator, Achiever, Amplifier, (and hopefully not Fader) journey? What have you found useful in avoiding the slide to Fader? What have you learned is useful at Amplifier?