Tall Poppy Syndrome

Tall poppy syndromTall Poppy syndrome is, according to wikipedia,
‘a social phenomenon in which people of genuine merit are resented, attacked, cut down, or criticised because their talents or achievements elevate them above or distinguish them from their peer

Basically talented people are cut down to size because they make other people, especially their peers, look average or even worse, look bad.

Leaders can often be subject to such attacks, depending on how successful they are, and I have definitely worked in companies where it was wise not to be too successful otherwise you would definitely find yourself in a situation like this.

In one company I worked in, I was talking to one leader about the work he was doing and asked him whether he had thought about a different approach, which might save us an extra 10%. He said he had but he had decided against it, as it would push him over the limit.

When I asked him what limit, he said the success limit. He said where he was now was ok, it was good, but not too good that it made the others look bad, so he felt safe.

I was very surprised by this, I hadn’t really experienced anything like it before, every where else I had worked had always claimed to be a meritocracy; where everyone was told to try to do their best, and if successful they would be adequately rewarded.

Surprisingly, as I later learned, this was much more common that I had first thought, as I say we talk meritocracy, but in reality there is a lot of jealousy and people like success to be evenly shared, even if it means achieving less overall.

In companies where one team or one manager had a disproportionate amount of success this can, and does breed jealousy.

Whilst this approach might be common it’s not really an approach that benefits the company in the long run. Weakening the strongest does not strengthen the company overall. A much better approach is to strengthen the weakest, this way we increase the overall average strength.

As leader we are the ones who create a companies culture, and we need to ensure that we focus on creating cultures that make our companies stronger, not weaker.

We should look to grow our poppies as tall as they can be, we should look to create meritocracies where people are encouraged to do their best, as this will allow us to attract and retain the best people.

It’s up to us to cultivate and protect the tallest poppies, not let them be cut down by petty jealousies.

Have you ever worked in a company that has had a Tall Poppy Syndrome culture, or have you ever been the victim of such a culture, I would be really interested to hear your story.

Gordon Tredgold

Leadership Principles