HBR IdeaCast: Hidden Demons of High Achieving Entrepreneurs

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By Sara Rosso (VIP Services Engineer, WordPress) I love podcasts – I wrote A Guide to Podcasts and recommended some podcasts for food lovers, tech lovers, and everyday listening. I run my own all-Italy podcast called Eye on Italy.

One of my favorite podcasts is the Harvard Business Review IdeaCast -- ideas for leadership, business, economics, and all-around smart and concise topics for entrepreneurs, managers, and idea leaders. Most episodes are

The Hidden Demons of High Achievers

The episode from last week was called “The Hidden Demons of High Achievers” with Tom DeLong, Harvard Business School professor and author of “Flying Without a Net: Turn Fear of Change into Fuel for Success” about people who feel a high need to achieve and how their fear of losing their image of competence can lead them to putting too much emphasis on succeeding the first time, and other demons that can cripple progress.

I don’t consider myself a high achiever but definitely an achiever and some of the behavior he described struck some chords within me, such as his description of a person with a high need for achievement:

"...very very smart, and at an early age have learned how to leverage that characteristic, highly competitive, impatient with other people and themselves, in most everything they've done they've been successful, hungry for feedback and mainly positive feedback, and they traditionally have overloaded agendas."

And then..

“When these individuals begin to realize they can't do everything that's on their agenda [role overload], and they can't balance everything, what happens is they start to experience ongoing guilt. No matter what they’re doing they feel like they should be doing something else, so it gets very difficult to concentrate. There is never enough time.”

Sound familiar?

When entrepreneurs and overloaded agenda owners like me strive to achieve, are we neglecting other parts of our lives like children, partners, or other relationships? Perhaps even our current responsibilities in the form of jobs, the no-longer-new projects, or even much-needed downtime? And what about that ongoing guilt? Does it drive us to finish and accomplish, or is it crippling us in other areas?

In addition on the episode there was some high-level discussion about some personality traits of high achievers:

"Success is only defined in terms of how well you’re doing when compared to others the same strengths that helped you achieve can become weaknesses over time you don’t realize their ambition and need to achieve can become an addiction blaming others for reasons of not achieving and avoiding looking inside to improve focus on a task, forgetting about relationships and the human capital / long-term goals how to differentiate between urgent and important.

His book sounds like an interesting mental exercise for entrepreneurs, managers and other high achievers, and at the very least, the episode is a good 12-minute reflection on what's driving you.

Learning from HBS IdeaCast

Here are other episodes from the HBS IdeaCast I think you'll be interested in whether you're building an organization, a product, or leading a team:

About the guest blogger: Sara Rosso is a writer, photographer, technology lover, and business & digital strategist living in Milan, Italy. She's worked in technology since 1996 for companies such as Hewlett-Packard and Ogilvy, and she currently works in VIP Services for Automattic (WordPress.com & more). She has an MBA in Managing Innovation & Technology from Santa Clara University in California, and a bachelors in Managing Information Systems (MIS) from Texas A&M University. She writes about technology and building a business at When I Have Time. and her blog at SaraRosso.com. Follow her on Twitter at @rosso.