"Tall Poppy Syndrome (TPS) is a term commonly used in Australia, referring to flowers that grow higher than others being cut down to size by the shorter flowers around them. [...] TPS is alive and well in Canadian companies, and the result is devastating to female employees" ( The Tallest Poppy, p.3).
The report from Billan and Humber (2018) reveals the costs of TPS in a Canadian context. It is a call to action for all of us to examine our unconscious biases, and our responsibility in stopping this toxic behaviour.
A breath of fresh air
I remember not so long ago when I was interviewed by a hiring committee.
The people in that room seemed to perk up when I started to speak. They were tired and had that ‘been there, done that, waiting to retire any minute now’ look. I was young and full of energy and ideas.
The thing they kept commenting on was how “refreshing” I was. I was like a “breath of fresh air,” they told me.
And I got the offer! I remember how impassioned I was about the role and how I couldn’t wait to join the team.
Very quickly, my bubble burst.
One by one, colleagues started to put me in my place.
“This place is corrupt,” one colleague chirped when she confronted me about getting the job. “You must know people,” another fumed.
Another was past the angry stage by the time she greeted me with a bitter giggle, “There’s no way you’re more qualified than I am.”
I was crushed.
And this type of behaviour continued throughout my time in that role.
It's a real thingReading this report, I felt a great sense of relief. It wasn't me! I was doing my best, and there was absolutely nothing I could do to change those toxic and damaging behaviours.
Some of the quotes from respondents mentioned in the report really struck a chord with me:
“I’m forced to choose between mental health and continuing to be a high achiever.”
“I try hard not to stand out.”
“I dismiss my own accomplishments at work.”
“It made me nervous to go to work or care about what I did.”
And this report suggests that on the whole, this issue is widespread and impacts entire organizations, not just individuals.
As the report says,
"Tall Poppy Syndrome [...] exists across Canada, in all industries and at all levels of all companies. It’s an issue that certainly affects the corporate bottom line, in terms of productivity, engagement, morale and retention. It’s an issue that destroys capital, both the psychological capital of employees and the literal capital of a company’s balance sheets" (p. 18).
How can we change it?
As the report suggests, change will require leadership at all levels, policy changes, enhanced communication, and not punishing individuals who speak up.
When I think about my own experience, I remember feeling very alone. Colleagues were too afraid to speak up, so the behaviours continued. It can't just be the tall poppies fending for themselves.
The work I do with leaders around the world is about naming problems, facing them head-on, and developing strategies for addressing them through systematic change. If leaders are willing to look at these issues honestly and with a genuine intention to change, we can start to shift toxic workplace cultures.
Get in touch
If you want to change the status-quo in your workplace, and are considering working with a coach to elevate your leadership, Schedule a consultation with me today to discuss your specific leadership challenges and how I can support you to get different results.
For more information, please visit jennwicks.com
Billan, R. & Humber, T. (2018). The Tallest Poppy: Successful women pay a high price for success. Thomson Reuters.
Investing in leadership coaching for your team is one of the most effective ways to shift your organization's culture*.
It can save you time and stress when you have your entire team speaking the same language, when team norms are clearly articulated, and when communication is enhanced through the use of specific tools, strategies and with support.
When you are in the day-to-day of leadership, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by people and all of the interpersonal challenges that come with working alongside each other in what can sometimes feel like a pressure-cooker of competing demands, stressors, and emotions.
So, these are a few things to consider when hiring an executive coach to make the most of your budget and the experience as a whole:
1. Find a coach who you really *click* with
Reach out to a coach and start the conversation. Many coaches will talk to you for no charge to see if it's a good fit. This 'fit' is in the best interest of you and your coach, so take the time to have an initial conversation and ask them questions about their approach, their offers, and let them know what you expect and hope for.
If you want to work with someone who has gone through a recognized credentialing process, look for someone who holds a credential with the International Coach Federation (ICF)**.
2. Find a coach who has other skillsets to bring to the whole team
When I work with clients, they often ask for tools and resources that can help them with their goals and aspirations for their leadership. In turn, they often realize that these same tools would be helpful for their team.
Many will then introduce these things to the team (and we sometimes coach around how they want to do this), or they invite me in to speak or facilitate a session. I can also facilitate team assessments which will help to open up dialogue and pinpoint areas for change for the whole team.
I really enjoy getting to meet the team and supporting this 'ripple effect' in practical terms. And having spent a large part of my career facilitating adult groups, I love bringing new energy and ideas to groups who want to make changes in their organizations.
3. It's ok if you don't know what you want to talk about
Some of my best (i.e., most impactful) sessions as a coach have been when the coachee (the person being coached) shows up not knowing what they want to talk about. It can be stressful and as a client (yes, I also have coaches), I have sometimes likened it to the feeling I used to get showing up for my childhood piano lessons when I hadn't practiced.
But it isn't like that, and when you have that feeling, it's a good chance to practice awareness and recognize that this is a dynamic that is created by you, your coach, or the two of you together.
Your coach is not your teacher or your boss, and you are not required to do homework. You are in charge of setting out actions and accountability that work for you. (This may differ depending on the type of coach you want to work with).
4. Schedule time in between sessions to take action
If you design actions in your sessions, you may find that before you know it, it's your next session and you haven't gotten around to what you wanted to do. If you are committed to change, scheduling time in between sessions can help you to make that commitment to yourself and your process of change.
This is something you can plan during your session when your coach asks you things like "When would you like to see these changes take shape?" or "What does accountability look like for you?"
5. Measure the RoI
When you start out with a coach, it is tempting to just dive in and get to work. What I have found is that when my clients want measurable change, it is important to take the time at the outset to design what, specifically, you want to be different at the end of the initial contract.
A coach can help you by providing an assessment instrument that they are qualified to deliver and analyze with you, or supporting you to come up with measures that makes sense for you.
This can be as simple as a list of qualitative statements, and as detailed as an established psychometric assessment tool. The important thing is it provides you with a meaningful way to measure progress and change, and to check in on the value coaching is bringing you.
6. Seek feedback
It's easy to go through our work day with blinders on.
Leaders who get excited about their own work but fail to communicate that outwards in a way that resonates with their team and direct reports are often going to miss the mark.
While getting feedback can be a bit painful, it can also help point to blind spots and gaps in our performance from the people that really matter. Again, this can be as informal or formal as you like. I am certified in the EQ 360 Assessment for Leaders*** which is a tool that you can use to support your ongoing growth as a leader.
7. Be prepared to make mistakes
Coaching is not about fixing your leadership mistakes.
It's about learning to look inward for the answers, to grow your confidence and emotional maturity, and partner with your coach to design new opportunities that are meaningful for you.
And when we do this, you will decide what this will look like in your life. It may lead you down some new roads, and with any adventure, there will be challenges and a lot of learning. A coach can help support you in picking yourself up from mistakes, taking your learnings, and choosing your next steps.
If you're considering working with a coach to elevate your leadership, Schedule a consultation with me today to discuss your specific leadership challenges and how I can support you to get different results.
For more information, please visit jennwicks.com
Notes & References:
*A recent research report from the International Coach Federation Building a Coaching Culture for Change Management (2018).
** The International Coach Federation (ICF) is the leading global organization dedicated to advancing the coaching profession by setting high standards, providing independent certification and building a worldwide network of trained coaching professionals.
***EQ360 for Leaders is a multi rater measure of emotional intelligence (EI) designed to provide you with a complete “360-degree” view of your emotional and social functioning. Your report combines your self-evaluation of EI with that of your raters, providing you with a rich understanding of your EI capabilities.