How far can talking up your achievements take you before your colleagues start to hate you?
Marcel Schwantes is a speaker, executive coach, podcaster, and syndicated columnist drawing over a million readers per month worldwide to his thought-leadership. @MarcelSchwantes He is one of our favourite writers here at Thought Patrol. Marcel has taken some robust Harvard research and challenges our perception of successful leadership. We believe vulnerability, transparency and authenticity go a long way to creating effective leadership. This research and Marcel’s article seems to conform this thinking.
Confidence, charisma, high-achievement, ambition, wealth. These are the traitsthat we tend to associate with successful business leaders on top of their game.
But it doesn’t always translate to connecting with people on a human level. Sure, they may influence others with status and expertise, and their positional authority will push teams toward results.
This is where the Achilles’ heel of high-achievers limits them on an interpersonal level in relation to their peers and subordinates. Talking up your successes without eating some humble pie tends to cause resentment among colleagues and subordinates. The solution?
New Harvard Research Says ‘Admit Failure’
To build bridges and connect with others, new research out of Harvard Business School conducted by Harvard Business School assistant professor Alison Wood Brooks and her doctoral students determined that high-achievers can win over their colleagues through some open and honest confession: Admitting the failures they encountered on their path to success.
“If you’re highly successful, your achievements are obvious. It’s more novel and inspiring for others to learn about your mistakes,” says Brooks in Harvard Business School’s “Working Knowledge.”
Acknowledging your own setbacks and shortcomings, rather than boasting about accomplishments, albeit counterintuitive for high-achievers, diminishes envy in others not so far down the path of success.
Humility aims to move peers and workers toward admiration and away from resentment, thus increasing the chances of making successful leaders less rock-star-ish and more real and approachable.
In one experiment, the HBS team found that people who read only about a fictitious person’s professional and financial success “felt significantly more malicious envy than others who read a few extra lines describing the person’s professional failures.”
Next time you’re in the office, look around at whose large egos are stirring up “malicious envy” in their peers. The research says this is a toxic emotion that makes people feel inferior by comparison, which can stifle worker productivity and collaboration, and cause unethical behavior in others.
“When people feel malicious envy, they engage in counterproductive work to harm other people,” Brooks says. “They tend to undermine others and try to slow them down.”
On the flip side, participants in another study who heard an entrepreneur fess up about previous failures felt the person had more “authentic pride” and came across as confident rather than arrogant.
In turn, this brought out feelings of “benign envy” in study participants. They felt the entrepreneur was deserving of success. But here’s the clincher: Those same study participants who heard about the entrepreneur’s failures also felt motivated to improve their own performance.
In the end, people have no less admiration for a leader’s accomplishments if they have learned about that leader’s failures. “Even after revealing their struggles or failures, high achievers still look good,” Brooks says.
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