While most of us are familiar with the term ‘Tall Poppy’ (a successful person who attracts envious hostility), many may not be aware that we can thank Tarquinius Superbus for coining it. This Roman king demonstrated how to deal with potential enemies by cutting off the heads of the tallest poppies in his garden. Doesn’t that make you feel grateful to live in modern times!
However, according to University of Canterbury researcher, Louise Tapper, this syndrome still resonates with many New Zealanders and plays out on the sporting field, in our schools, homes and in the business world. Our culture of equality, being humble and ‘blending in’ has a darker side where those that excel or stand out are criticised for their achievements, strengths or differences. And we can thank social and digital media for perpetuating this syndrome, through it’s viral nature and anonymity.
This syndrome can be a real obstacle to growth so it’s important that we recognise why people behave this way and how we can turn it around.
Why we chop the heads off poppies
This behaviour typically stems from one of three underlying motivations:
1. Our nearest and dearest don’t want the ‘poppy’ to be cut down by others so they pre-empt it by doing it themselves.
2. People feel threatened, or fear being left behind or outgrown.
3. People feel the need to teach the ‘poppy’ a lesson for the greater good of society or other broad-reaching moral value.
Ask yourself: do you ever do this, or have you ever experienced this behaviour? In each instance, how did it make you feel?
Make a change for the better
It’s time we moved on from the Tall Poppy syndrome. Here are some tips to reframe success and progress:
1. Embrace and utilise your strengths – recognise what you do or what your business does exceptionally well. Can your strengths be used as a competitive advantage or point of difference to drive further success or growth?
2. Don’t worry what individuals think – in any organisation or community there will be different ideas and opinions. From a business perspective, the most important opinions are those of your team and your customers. And even within these groups you will still find individuals that you can’t please. Use your core values and purpose to keep you on track, guide decisions, motivate your team and alleviate stress.
3. Success attracts success – until Sir Edmund Hillary climbed Mt Everest, it was unattainable. Now, every year hundreds of seasoned climbers reach the summit. From a business perspective, strive for excellence, set your goals high and encourage continuous improvement. Maybe there is an award or accolade you would like to get. Simply the process of entering makes you review your achievements, strengths and weaknesses and provides accountability and momentum.
4. Find role models – get better at recognising what successful people and businesses do and how they manage that success in the public eye. Share that knowledge with your team and proactively embrace a healthy attitude to growth and success.
5. Remember success and humility are not mutually exclusive. We are seeing many of our national sporting teams excel on the world stage without becoming conceited or arrogant.
Make 2019 the year you recognise and celebrate your successes and stand tall.
“Strong people don’t put others down. They lift them up.”
Michael P. Watson