The 3 ways high-performance leaders differ from high-achieving leaders

Feb 23, 2011

We saw yesterday that overachievers often under-perform. Here are the three main reasons why performance-based leaders deliver better results than achievement-based leaders:

1. Benign Neglect

Sometimes the best solution to a problem comes only after letting the problem ripen on the vine awhile.

Performance-based leaders can (and do) do this regularly, but for the overachiever the idea of putting something on the back burner and letting it stew for a while is akin to Chinese water torture. I’ve mangled enough metaphors here for you to get the idea.

2. Collateral Damage

Achievement-based leaders (overachievers) look for the winning (i.e. ‘best’ or ‘right’) solution. Performance-based leaders look for the optimal solution.

The difference between the two is usually one of collateral damage: the winning solution will often (metaphorically) involve taking some prisoners, or hurting someone in the process. The optimal solution accepts there is a playoff between result and the effect on people, and seeks to balance the two.

Does this mean that performance-based leaders are wusses? Nope. It means they’re normal, adult humans – as are most achievement-based leaders – but with a different set of governing principles.

3. Self Doubt

Counter-intuitive and weird, but true: Achievement-based leaders suffer from self-doubt much more than performance-based leaders.

I’m not 100 percent sure why this is, but it has proven itself to be true over and over again in my observation and experience. I think it’s partially linked to the second point above – that achievement-based leaders know at some level that they’re often prizing achievement above other people’s needs or expectations. I think it’s also because they’re typically highly self-competitive, and so are frequently second-guessing themselves.

Tomorrow: How to transition from achievement-based leadership to performance-based leadership.