How can you identify an overachiever?

If only you could give them an eye exam

Have you ever taken an eye exam and stressed out about correctly identifying every letter on each line of the test?

Starting with the large type, mega-achievers zoom through the first lines smugly knowing that they’ve nailed the answers. Soon, however, drops of perspiration begin to appear on their forehead and upper lip as the letters progressively get smaller and harder to identify. The uber striver gets especially frustrated if the final score is even slightly less than the perfect 20/20. 

The anxiety accelerates when the examiner flashes different lens corrections, using a device that looks like binoculars on steroids, and repeatedly fires the same incessant question: Is this one better than that one? Deep down, the achiever is panicking over appearing indecisive. 

My hypothetical and improbable test dramatizes the recognizable reactions of someone who is all in. This gold-medalist type has an insatiable drive to stand apart from peers and gain recognition for not just meeting, but exceeding expectations. They do it for themselves, craving the glory of basking in the spotlight of winning. The money that comes with that glory often isn’t the biggest motivator, rather it’s bragging rights and simply another way to keep score. 

The issue is that no one can run all out constantly without risking burnout and derailing. This is where the boss’s job gets tricky. Certainly, having an employee who excels makes the higher-up’s role easier and gains him or her a gold medal, too. Being able to spot the mega-achiever early on can also forestall ultimate problems or even failure. 

When a potential superstar begins to exhibit the characteristics of a thoroughbred, the trainer must put the trainee under veiled scrutiny. Coaching, counseling and appropriate motivating can make the difference between letting someone just run wild or deliberately moving toward goals. This guidance provides the skill set for the up-and-comer to effectively set priorities and cultivate the recognition that not every task or assignment deserves the same effort and energy as the day-to-day activities that just need to be done correctly. 

A good leader must instill the value in the exceptional performer that winning for the sake of always winning simply squanders time and energy and is a precursor to losing sight of the forest for the trees. Often, the mentor was also an unbridled achiever who has learned valuable lessons about when to walk and when to run. The handler who uses this empirical experience can be key in grooming the next generation of leaders. 

This is best done when the recipient of this added guidance doesn’t realize he or she is under a microscope, which can defeat the process of nurturing because, simply put, the candidate will become even more obsessed about being a standout.

For a good leader to spot a real winner, it takes unique observation skills, including recognizing nontraditional signposts. If only there were a gizmo to pick which candidate is better or worse, as in an eye exam, managing would be a bit easier — but not as gratifying as intuitively discovering that rare find and the mentoring process that follows.

Visit Michael Feuer’s website to learn more about his columns, watch videos and purchase his books, “The Benevolent Dictator” and “Tips From The Top.”