Do Your Employees Sabotage Their Success?
29 March 2019

Employee development – mentoring employees – emotional intelligence

You might think that there is no career downside to being intelligent. While it is certainly an asset, it isn’t everything. During my years in HR I have come across people who were undoubtedly very bright - but almost robotic. They had no personality, no warmth, no sense of humour and they lacked the ability to tune in to the people around them. It’s an odd fact that sometimes people who are intellectually very capable don’t achieve as much as they should, and they don’t realise that it may be because they’re sabotaging their own efforts.

If you have to support under-achieving but very bright employees there is good news. If you can help them understand what’s happening, you can help them to reverse and manage the pattern that’s causing them problems.

  • Are they bored? Bright people love a challenge and working out solutions but often lose interest once they’ve reached a workable answer. Carrying out repetitive work is anathema and that can mean that they sabotage their opportunities to progress. Some repetition and dullness are inevitable in life. Your employee should consider when tolerating short periods (a few minutes or hours) of boredom - and practising it gracefully - could have a very beneficial impact on his success.
  • Do they place too much emphasis on intellect and not enough on other essential workplace skills, like relationship building? For example, someone who finds workplace politics difficult might see this as an irritation rather than as a core skill required for their role and doesn’t invest time and effort in developing these skills. While most people naturally want to use their strengths and prefer to avoid thinking about areas in which they’re not naturally as strong, only focusing on the greatest strength, tends to be self-sabotaging. Encourage an employee to use his strengths to overcome his weaknesses. For instance, help him to identify three specific workplace diplomacy behaviours that would improve your success in that area.
  • Is in-depth thinking and reflection seen as the only approach solution to every problem? Properly thought out plans and processes undoubtedly have their place, but you can over-think things. Remind the employee to actively monitor his approach and note when thinking prevents action. Consider when strategies other than thinking are more likely to result in success. Encourage him to take breaks to refresh his mind, and to learn by doing rather than through exhaustive advance research.
  • Do they find difficulties in working with others because they grasp ideas and strategies quickly and others take longer to process information? Bright people also sometimes find it difficult to delegate because of a sense they can do a task better (especially if they have a perfectionist streak). Help the employee understand his internal reactions and understand where they come from, while also learning to genuinely appreciate what diverse minds bring to a team.
  • To what extent do they attach self-esteem to their intelligence? This can lower their resilience and inhibit growth. It follows that any situation that triggers feeling less-than-smart is experienced as highly threatening. The smart person may even seek to avoid those situations, which ultimately holds him back. Show your employee that if he can take an objective view of the benefits of working with people who may be brighter than him, he will gain from association with them and helpful constructive feedback.

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Although every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this blog, nothing herein should be construed as giving advice and no responsibility will be taken for inaccuracies or errors.

Copyright © 2021 all rights reserved. You may copy or distribute this blog as long as this copyright notice and full information about contacting the author are attached. The author is Kate Russell of Russell HR Consulting Ltd.