The desire to achieve is a major source of strength in business, both for individual managers and for the organizations they lead. It generates passion and energy, which fuel growth and help companies sustain performance over the long term. And the achievement drive is on the rise. We’ve spent 35 years assessing executive motivation, and we’ve seen a steady increase during the past decade in the number of managers for whom achievement is the primary motive. Businesses have benefited from this trend: Productivity has risen, and innovation, as measured by the number of patents issued per year, has soared.
In the short term, through sheer drive and determination, overachieving leaders may be very successful, but there’s a dark side to the achievement motive. By relentlessly focusing on tasks and goals—revenue or sales targets, say—an executive or company can, over time, damage performance. Overachievers tend to command and coerce, rather than coach and collaborate, thus stifling subordinates. They take frequent shortcuts and forget to communicate crucial information, and they may be oblivious to the concerns of others. Their teams’ performance begins to suffer, and they risk missing the very goals that initially triggered the achievement-oriented behavior.