How to avoid tall poppy syndrome.
Career success takes courage.
Why? Because it also takes cooperation.
You won't usually be able to reach worthwhile career goals without the help and support of others. However, reaching these goals can sometimes put you in conflict – real or perceived – with others with similar goals.
Let's look at an example. Susan and John are both middle managers. Susan's goal is to be promoted to VP in the next five years. John wants a VP position as well. They both need to perform excellently and prove their value, if they're to reach their goals.
However, if Susan starts outperforming John, he might feel threatened, and if she gets the job, this may stop him getting it. As a result, whether maliciously, through jealousy, or with Machiavellian intent, he could drop his support for Susan's projects as a way to slow her rise. At the extreme, he might even try to sabotage her efforts to advance his own cause.
Everyone loses in a situation like this. Susan and John lower their chances of individual success. What's more, the organization loses because it never gets the great things that could have been achieved if both had been able to do their best.
You may believe that no one would behave in such a dishonest way, however it happens, with tedious regularity. What's more, it happens in all sorts of situations; not least with "tall poppy syndrome," where people take malicious pleasure in seeing "tall poppies" cut down to size.
John Eldred – a professor at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Pennsylvania – developed a model to explain what happens in these situations. By being alert to these situations, you can navigate through them and reach your goals with integrity and honesty.
Eldred's model suggests four different sets of strategies that you can use to manage these situations.
These are represented on the grid shown in figure 1.
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