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By The Numbers

Workplace Survey, Findings

1.Workers are struggling to work effectively. 

When focus is compromised in pursuit of Collaboration, neither works well.

2. Effective workplaces balance focus and collaboration. 

Workplaces designed to enable collaboration without sacrificing employees’ ability to focus are more successful.

3. Choice drives performance and innovation. 

Employers who provide a spectrum of choices for when and where to work are seen as more innovative and have higher-performing employees.


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To achieve continued success, you must open yourself up to new learning experiences that may make you feel uncertain at best and incompetent at worst. Remember that those feelings are temporary and a prelude to greater professional ability.

Leaders within organizations bear some of the blame for this mind-set. They don’t always want to hear that somebody’s struggling, nor do they necessarily reward new ways of doing things, despite the lip service they might pay to innovation and prudent risk taking. As one executive pointed out, “My boss wants innovation as long as it’s done perfectly the first time.” 


To break this cycle and make the next move toward professional growth you have to take a hard look at yourself and identify the forces that escalate your anxieties and cause you to turn to unproductive behaviours for relief. Then you must adopt counterintuitive practices that give you the courage to step out of your comfort zone. Here are some steps you can take to get past self-imposed limitations

1.Put the Past Behind You. No doubt you’ve had negative experiences when it comes to taking on new challenges. Research shows that most of us tend to make irrational comparisons between a past bad experience and a current situation. But painful memories don’t have to remain obstacles to change.

Think about a time when you tried something new and were disappointed with the result. Why did you take the assignment on? Why did you struggle? Did you ask for help? Did your perception of your performance match that of your colleagues? Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently? Write down in two columns the similarities and the differences between a risk you are currently contemplating and that past negative experience. Identifying the key differences will make it easier to move forward.

It’s hard to exorcise past demons until you’ve looked at them dispassionately from multiple points of view. Almost without exception, overwhelming feelings of inadequacy are in our own minds. Our personal disasters are but tiny specks when it comes to other people’s reality.

2.Use Your Support Network. High achievers are, as a rule, very independent and don’t like to think they need a lot of help. Many high achievers avoid other people’s opinions when they fear their work is not up to par. That kind of behaviour is self-destructive. Challenge yourself to develop a support network and then regularly ask individuals to give you honest feedback, even if the process is painful. Ask key people to engage in what Professor Phil Daniels, calls an SKS. It’s a process where you ask others what you should stop doing, what you should keep doing, and what you should start doing.

When you review the answers, consider—or better yet ask—why people might suggest that you stop a behaviour (it could even be a behaviour you view as strength). Think about whether you’ve been dismissive of certain skills or behaviours because they come easily to you. Consider why people may have suggested that you acquire other skills.

3.Become Vulnerable. Practice acknowledging uncertainty or confessing mistakes with people who are close to you or about projects that aren’t central to your professional identity. Admit to small failures—without rattling off a litany of extenuating circumstances. An effective way to practice vulnerability is to deliberately put yourself in situations where you literally know nothing. Take a language class unrelated to your heritage. Join a book group where you can’t control the selections—and force yourself to speak up at every meeting.

Most likely, your colleagues and acquaintances are also high achievers who hold back from sharing their concerns. When you take the bold step of being vulnerable, you send a powerful message to those around you that invites them to do the same.

4.Focus on the Long Term. Major goals can withstand interim setbacks. When you are looking at the big picture, you often give yourself more latitude to make a few missteps. Long-term success requires some willingness to commit to necessary short-term risks. High achievers often let their fear of failure stop them from taking those chances. 

Doing the right thing poorly is painful for high achievers. It’s much more satisfying to do something well, even if it’s not the best use of your time. Moving your game to a new level or in a new direction takes humility, it takes practice, and it takes patience (not necessarily your strong suit). But it’s a necessary step on the road to doing the right thing well.