You’re on a roll. Your career is taking off and it shows. The boss is impressed. Kudos, promotions, maybe a salary increase are coming your way, but with success may come problems to watch for.
Envious colleagues, testy team-mates and overly grateful bosses. Keeping an eye out for these pitfalls will help keep a good thing going.
There are some key issues talented workers need to watch for when their career takes off
If you find your star rising, that’s a good thing, but know that it will come with some new challenges. One is dealing with your co-worker’s reactions. Research indicates peers can be ambivalent about a colleague’s success and you’ll need to navigate your changing role on your team. You’ll have to deal with your manager differently, plus it will be necessary to hone your leadership skills even if you aren’t in authority.
What will those who succeed need to know when it comes to dealing with peers?
Colleagues will experience some ambivalence towards high performers. They’ll feel supportive and threatened at the same time. It’s natural, and it’s due to social comparison. They will be comparing themselves to the high performer, which has its benefits. They’ll feel good about being on the high performer’s team. Some may find it inspirational, thinking — “Look what’s possible”. Peers will have a sense of increased status when working with successful colleagues and they’ll view their talented colleague as helpful to them. The team may get more benefits-like better projects, or a great reputation in the organization.
What happens when colleagues feel threatened by talented team mates?
Just as team mates will see benefits to working with successful colleagues, they’ll be aware of the downside. Some may feel inferior. Others may feel threatened. They’ll worry the boss will see their performance as lacking, which will lead to concerns about their own chances for promotion. Some may be concerned the reputation for high performance will create more work and higher expectations. They wonder if they can meet those new expectations.
Others may experience a lack of confidence, which can lead to attempting to undermine the high performer, or exclude or isolate them.
You mentioned successful workers need to be aware of their role on the team?
When team mates experience the benefits of high performers and feel threatened by them it changes the team dynamic. Talented workers may find their work starts to suffer because threatened team mates can withdraw support. Just as the team may like the enhanced reputation they may want to undermine the top performer to reduce the chances of being shown up. Top performers may feel a sense of bewilderment. On the one hand, they’re seen as valuable and have lots of cooperation, then the same co-workers may pull the rug out for no apparent reason.
I discussed this kind of situation with a new recruit. She was doing well when another hire came aboard. Things were good at first. He seemed to support her and she backed him, but when she received some positive feedback, he took credit for her work.
Remember, a successful worker’s relationship with the manager changes too
The manager may publicly praise the high performer which can heighten team mate ambivalence. Bosses can also feel inferior and worry their employee is after their job or getting more attention.
I once worked with a high performing employee whose boss started to hide things from him, hurting his ability to perform. The boss felt threatened by his subordinate when the worker pointed out missing information, making it look like the manager’s team had dropped the ball. The boss stopped the behaviour.
Conversely, some bosses become interested in spending time with the top performer. Giving out perks, offering training, providing plum projects or introducing them to others. Team mates will see this and this can create trouble for talented staff.
Building leadership skills is another challenge high performers face
Top performers must navigate these interpersonal issues to continue being a success. It means acquiring leadership skills to handle envious colleagues and to deal with difficult team dynamics.
These skills also help manage overly-effusive or threatened bosses. So, a key leadership skill that helps is using empathy to create bonds. Including sharing credit and ensuring the team benefits. Leading well means being more about the team than yourself, and remaining modest and avoiding self-promotion. Top performers will find themselves taking on more work than others, as well as going to bat with the boss for the team.
Those with good leadership skills ensure kudos, perks and interesting tasks are offered to everyone and recognize everyone needs each other to be successful. They introduce colleagues to their network and understand they’ll get support from the team as well as undermining behaviour. But especially, they know not take it personally.
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