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by James Waldroop Ph.D.
and Timothy Butler Ph.D.

Directors of MBA Career Development at the Harvard Business School. Twenty years relevant experience. Business Psychologists, Psychotherapists, Executive Coaches to many Fortune 500 companies, helping individuals work to their highest level of potential.

Ch. 1: The Talented Acrophobe

FAILURE BEHAVIOR 1: NEVER FEELING GOOD ENOUGH. Acrophobia is a fear of falling from heights; career acrophobia is a belief that you are incapable of surviving at the level you have reached. Your ego is too small for the position attained and for your own considerable abilities. The acrophobic personality fears ascending to a high level of success. You feel a sense of inferiority and avoid situations in which you feel you don't belong. Your basic sense of yourself  is of not being good enough, of not deserving your level of success. You unconsciously limit, or sabotage, your own career progress so as never to rise out of your own comfort level. This is common and often invisible to oneself and to others.

IDENTIFY IT: The California Psychological Inventory personality test identifies acrophobes or you may recognize your ambivalent 'go-stop' work or career pattern. You have the drive and talent to go high in the company but not the self-confidence. There is a mismatch between your talent, drive and ambition and your sense of yourself. The developmental cause is that you have never successfully formed a positive self-image and overcome elements of negativity, so much so that this has overcome the most basic of all your 'drives': the drive to grow and make full use of your potential. The origin can be cultural, religious, personal or the negative self-image that results from being psychologically abused by parents, teachers, siblings, and/or peers - the 'Who do you think you are?' syndrome.

FIX IT: The cure is to act the part until you feel you belong in the role. Just do it. Acclimate. Do it again. And again. Walk the walk, not just talk the talk. Actions create a feeling of self-confidence. It may take months but eventually you will enjoy your job.

BENEFIT: Talented acrophobes have ability, talent, drive and ambition - characteristics of higher performance people, the scarcest resource in any company. You are potentially a highly valuable asset; you are among the best and the brightest - the people your company wants - and needs - at the top. When you fix your behavior patterns, you will get there - and enjoy being at the top. Return on investment made in helping you, the acrophobe, is very high. And, for those who help you, altruism is its own reward.

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Ch. 2: The Inflexible Idealist

FAILURE BEHAVIOR 2: SEEING THE WORLD IN BLACK AND WHITE. You, the inflexible, naive, idealist meritocrat, firmly believe in, and insist on, the perfect rationality of virtually everything in life - that ideas, proposals, promotions, products must be considered strictly rationally, weighed on a perfectly fair scale and judged accordingly, on their absolute true value, on their inherent merits alone. You see the world as an ideal, perfectly rational meritocracy in which emotions, politics, self-promotion, relationships, sentimentality, networking, mentors, alliances, accidents of good or bad fortune, loyalties and favoritism should play no part.

OVERTAKE® says: Don't be so stupidly naive.

The world of business is not black and white - it's full color. Denying and fighting that is futile. Your interactions with others necessarily involve nuances and subtleties that black-and-white thinking ignores. Nevertheless you, the inflexible idealist, insist until you exasperate - even infuriate.

IDENTIFY IT: You, the meritocrat, display rigid black-and-white thinking - either always or occasionally. There is only one way to do things right - your way. But sometimes the symptoms of meritocratic or black-and-white thinking may be hidden. For example when a person forms instant judgments, based on some hidden test of his or her own, which are very difficult to change. The essence of this failure behavior is a black-and-white view of life, fighting not for the right reasons or for what is best in a given situation but solely because of insufferable self-righteousness. Its extreme is a futile Don Quixote, tilting at windmills.

FIX IT: "Do you want to be right - or do you want to be effective? You can't have both. Perhaps you can get 90% of 'your way' - but only 90%. Or you can insist on 100% of 'your way' - and get nothing." Ask this question.

If the answer is 'effective', remember that change is not easy for an idealist. Because business almost always involves a compromise with perfection. Meritocrats struggle hard to justify the means so as to achieve the ends. Negotiation opposes principle. Your core dilemma. So work out a plan that recognizes the dual importance of correctness and effectiveness and gets the idea implemented. Success then reinforces your changed behavior.

If the answer is 'right', accept that many idealists do not want to, and will not, change. You need to find a job where you will be tolerated.

BENEFIT: Meritocrats are typically bright and hardworking. When you come to realize that smart is not enough, that being right is not enough, that having the right product or idea is necessary but not sufficient - that selling the product or idea is the essential second half of the business game, and to see that, bright as you are, you may not be right all the time, then you can be a highly effective, valuable asset - a higher performance person. You are well worth the effort.

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