Insecure overachievers? You are perfect for the job

The Financial Times management columnist Andrew Hill drew on chapter six of my book Leading Professionals: Power, Politics, and Prima Donnas for his column on 2 October 2017 (Insecure overachiever? You are perfect for the job).

He says, "The book is a rich treasury of research and insight... It offers plenty of important lessons for leaders in any knowledge business."

The article generated an extraordinary amount of interest, with many many thousands of views, shares, and comments on social media, and a letter to the editor.

The idea of the insecure overachiever is not new, of course, but it clearly still resonates with professionals in firms such as those named by Hill. What I am particularly interested in are the challenges of leading insecure overachievers, especially when the leaders themselves are cut from the same cloth.

In the book and in forthcoming articles I explore how belonging to an elite organization can help counteract the sense of insecurity felt by many high-performing individuals, and how social control mechanisms within the firms’ strong cultures can provide a degree of ‘comfort’. However, there is a dark side to this: my research looked at the point at which comforting social control can lapse into cult-like conformity, and how it can exacerbate existing tendencies to overwork.

These issues raise important questions about the responsibilities of leaders and how they balance the competing demands of autonomy and control, confidence and insecurity.