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Pruning The Overachievers

Dsc00459 That mulberry tree was a nuisance.  While it had been "nice enough to stand there and pose" last fall for the cover of my book, Race Through The Forest, it was becoming an overgrown, shaggy mess.  Its branches were falling all over the place with every storm that came along.  It was also hogging sunlight and nutrients from two other younger trees - a Canadian Cherry and a Maple - who were vying to mature in the forest otherwise known as my back yard.  The problem was that the tree belonged to my neighbor; hence, the neighborly thing to do was to ask him before I called the tree service.

"That thing?  Sure!  Whack off as much as you want.  It's pretty much a pain to me as well."  His response relieved me on the neighbor-relations front.  Then he continued, "Did I ever tell you that was supposed to have just been a bush?"

I looked at the 40-foot tall behemoth that had taken over both of our yards.  "Looks like it overachieved," I stated the obvious to his acknowledging chuckle.

Sometimes we have people on our teams who are like that mulberry "bush."  They are very talented overachievers, but eventually they reach a plateau where their growth - and the growth of the team - stagnate under the weight of their own ability.  It then becomes time to take on the seemingly unpleasant task of pruning the overachiever.  I'm not talking about getting rid of them, but pruning out things from their performance or personality which seem to be holding them back.

Before you get out the chainsaw and start whacking away at branches, it would probably serve everyone's best interest to answer some questions about why the need to prune the overachiever exists:

  1. Prunedtree Will it allow for the growth of the overachiever?  Just as pruning a tree or bush allows it to grow back ever more beautiful and fuller than before, pruning an overachiever can allow him or her to grow in new and exciting ways she or he did not think possible before.  Pruning can free up overachievers to learn new skills and go in new directions.
  2. Will it allow for the growth of the others on the team?  The mulberry had overachieved to the point that it was negatively impacting the growth of the two trees in my back yard.  While the mulberry didn't think it was doing anything wrong, the other two trees were struggling to grow.  Pruning sometimes comes with the message that "You're expendable."  That's not a bad message to hear.  One of the most insulting things a person can say is "You are indispensible to our team."  When you hear that, it is time to prune yourself to allow others to grown
  3. Will it allow for for the ridding of unnecessary clutter?  Often we are so caught up in the busy-ness of our life, that we don't even recognize there are some dead (or very sickly) branches just hanging around soaking up resources.  Identifying and pruning the dead weight, be they hobbies or unnecessary tasks or administrative junk, can be one of the healthiest things to do.

Once you have identified the need to prune your overachievers, how do you go about pruning them without leaving an ugly stump?  A few things to look for when pruning your overachievers that are fair game for the saw:

  1. Skills - it might be breadth of skill (unnecessary time robbers that have been assigned to the person) or depth of skill (busywork that goes along with a critical component), but finding the core competencies of the overachievers and focusing on those will allow for greater growth
  2. Ego - I just finished re-re-reading Steve Farber's book, The Radical Edge.  The "antagonist" in this book is a 26-year-old overachiever named Cam Summerfield.  In the book, Cam's ego was closely tied to his ability to overachieve, and some unpleasant decisions were faced in separating the performance from the ego.  (A side note:  promoting an overachiever to management based on job prowess is one of the worst things you can do to a team or organization.  I once worked for a manager who was a talented systems analyst, but her leadership skills were pathetic at best.  Her team was not happy.)
  3. Relationships - Sometimes overachievers need to prune other people from their lives.  This is hard, because it takes a lot of introspection to realize when somebody has become toxic to us personally, and a lot of tact to sever the relationship in a spirit of grace and humility for all parties.  Sometimes it takes tough love, but there are times that relationships - personal or professional - can suck the life out of us without our knowing it.

The tree is looking pretty bare this fall.  I suppose the side benefit is that there will be fewer leaves to rake.  However, I'm looking forward to seeing the end result and how much nicer the whole yard will look when the benefits are realized.


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