Leading the Insecure Overachiever

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Matias Dalsgaard, CEO of GoMore, reveals how leading insecure overachievers the right way can empower, change, and increase your bottom line.

By Matias Dalsgaard

When I was a consultant with McKinsey & Company, we half seriously and half jokingly used the title “insecure overachiever” for the kind of people who worked for the company— i.e. ourselves. McKinsey & Company is the most prestigious consulting company on the planet, and it attracts young people who are both extremely talented and ready to work extremely hard out of the fear of failing.

This combination of talent, hard work and fear creates the insecure overachiever. In McKinsey, this profile was so prevalent that we had developed a notion for it, but you see the profile in most places where big money, success and career is at stake for young, talented people. Consulting, investment banking and successful corporations all attract insecure overachievers.

While being an insecure overachiever can be tough because you constantly torture yourself with fear and big ambitions, having insecure overachievers work for you is a wonderful thing. An insecure overachiever will go through fire and water to deliver. He or she will work 24/7 and do whatever it takes to create success. That is the kind of people you want on your team.

However, the insecure overachiever is also fragile. The insecurity and eagerness to be a success drive so much hard work and so many working hours that the insecure overachiever is at risk of burning out.  The extreme willingness to work hard might backfire, and instead of having a very valuable asset to your team and company, you have an employee on sick leave.

So here are 4 things you should remember when leading insecure overachievers.

  1. Let them work hard

Insecure overachievers like to work hard. You don’t have to make them like working. They even like a certain degree of stress because it makes them feel hard working. So don’t put the insecure overachiever in a position or a job where they don’t have the chance to really deliver and work hard – it is a waste of their time and of company money.

  1. See the whole person

Insecurity rules at the bottom of the insecure overachiever’s personality. It is compensated with success and hard work, but the insecure overachiever keeps feeling insecure about himself at a more personal level. Therefore, if he feels seen and cared about by a leader—not only as a resource, but also as a whole person—it will mean the world to him. You will gain both a valuable colleague and friend.

  1. Give non-working time

Make sure that the insecure overachiever sometimes does not work. He will work until he collapses if you don’t stop him. It is up to you, the leader, to see when enough is enough, and that it is time for rest. Otherwise you will end up loosing your valuable employee.

  1. Encourage other interests

Since the insecure overachiever tends to spend all his time at work, he also tends to become narrow-minded, which in turn results in lack of creativity in business and problem solving. If you as a leader can help further interests in other parts of life—preferable things that stimulate the imagination such as reading, film, music and art—you will gain a more creative employee. This gain will even come with the positive side effect of more interesting discussions at the workplace.

In my recently published book Don’t Despair, I give a more in-depth analysis of the insecure overachiever. The book can be a helpful read both to the insecure overachiever and to people leading insecure overachievers, two categories of people which are of course in no way mutually exclusive. ♦



Matias Dalsgaard 3

Matias Dalsgaard has a PhD in Philosophy and is the CEO of the tech startup GoMore. He is the author of Don’t Despair, an epistolary novel that follows Rasmus, an insecure overachiever who undergoes an Existential crisis after his wife and child leave him. He seeks advice from his uncle, a Lutheran Priest, who uses a Kierkegaardian perspective to guide him out of despair. For more updates from Matias, follow him on Google+ and Facebook.

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