Do you have what it takes to be a super-achiever?


For those who want to get a head start on making New Year’s resolutions, here’s a full on possibility. Tanya Prive, writing for, mines The Art of Doing, a new book by Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield, for “The Most Common Practices of Super-Achievers.” The co-authors “interviewed 36 super-achievers at the tops of their fields” and identified these common traits:

  • “Practicing Patience”
  • “Managing Emotions”
  • “Constantly Evolving”
  • “Fostering A Community”
  • “Testing Ideas In The Market”
  • “Intelligent Persistence”
  • “Pursuing Happiness”
  • “Listening And Remaining Open”
  • “Dedication To A Vision”
  • “Good Storytelling”

It’s a neat little feature that includes explanations of each key trait, and there’s nothing in it that should cause any major disagreements. You could do a young person a favor by sending a link.

In my observation and experience, many of these traits come together naturally when you find your purpose or mission. Motivation kicks in with common sense and — bingo — suddenly you’re functioning like, well, if not a super-achiever, then at least a decent facsimile.

Speaking for myself, I’ll say that as a Chicago Cubs fan, I’ve owned the first two qualities big time: I’ve practiced patience for over 45 years, and I’ve managed plenty of emotions during that stretch! And now I can add a third: At least for one shining moment this fall, I was able to pursue happiness.

The workplace pontificator

Most of us have experienced it, and some of us have engaged in it: Pontificating at work. You know, the practice of eating up valuable meeting time by yammering away incessantly as a way of showing off supposed knowledge or insight, establishing alleged expertise, and/or marking one’s territory.

On the scale of undesirable workplace “interactions” (word placed in quotes because it’s not really an interactive experience), being in the room with a workplace pontificator is more annoying or exasperating than hostile or abusive. Thus it thankfully falls short of bullying or other forms of workplace mistreatment.

If you’ve been in a given organization long enough, then you can actually start to estimate the numbers of hours wasted and never recovered due to being held verbally captive by workplace pontificators. In academe, my bailiwick, those numbers may start to look scary. My guess is that professions grounded in verbal facility are especially susceptible to these behaviors. 

What drives the pontificator?

Well, when I’ve engaged in pontificating (hopefully a rarer event over time!), it usually has been as a mask for my insecurity, fueling an attempt to puff up myself to the unfortunate listeners. By contrast, others feeling unsure about themselves may hide their lights under a bushel and opt not to share what might’ve been great insights. (Funny, isn’t it, how the same uncertainties about ourselves can result in different behaviors!)

Of course, some pontificators are fueled by entitlement, not insecurity. They believe they know it all, regardless of the truth of that assumption. Alas, their social intelligence is too underdeveloped to cue them to stop. It’s like flipping on a switch that cannot be turned off, absent a forceful intervention or death.

What can be done about the workplace pontificator?

The individual chairing the meeting can set rules or intervene in ways that try to cut down on long-winded remarks. (If the pontificator is the meeting chair, then it’s time to take hallucinogens.) A group can also set express expectations of participation, sending a message that extended speeches will be frowned upon.

An individual’s ability to keep a pontificator in check often depends on his or her standing within the organization. Generally, a subordinate usually isn’t in a position to send that message, but someone in a higher position may be able to do so.

At times it may be possible to leave the meeting, purely as a sanity-preserving survival response. It helps to be known as a busy person, so the reason for your sudden exit doesn’t appear too obvious. Others will envy you.

I could go on and on about this topic, but that would be pontificating. I hope that I’ve at least hit the big points.

The “demonizing” tag: When is it accurate and when is it bogus?

If you pay attention to public dialogue these days, you’ll hear variations of the term “demonize” invoked frequently. I’m being demonized. You’re demonizing me. They’re going to demonize them for saying that.

Certainly demonizing behavior occurs. Here are a few common forms:

  • Irrational, angry responses to a reasonably stated opinion, replete with unsupported and nasty accusations, innuendo, and “speculation” about someone’s motivations;
  • Virulent, mob-like online attacks in response to someone’s behavior; and,
  • Blithe invocations of Hitler (or some other horrible tyrant) in response to behaviors, statements, or opinions.

At times, however, cries of “I’m being demonized” are exaggerated. They may be (mis)used as a routine tool to put others on the defensive. They may come from someone who is oversensitive to criticism. On other occasions, they may be utilized by the “provocative victim” who deliberately says something confrontational, controversial, or even outrageous, and then claims victimhood status when sharp but appropriate criticisms are issued in response.

And then there are claims of demonization that aren’t that easy to sort out, requiring a nuanced attention to detail concerning the nature of the exchange and the history between the involved parties.

The ability to understand distinctions between legitimate and not-so-legitimate claims of demonization is an important tool toward parsing the complexities of public and private discourse. In the realm of employee relations, variations of “demonize” are more likely to be invoked during overheated dialogue and emotionally laden exchanges. The demonizing tag can ratchet up bad feelings, shut down conversation, or shelve discussions over the merits of an issue while parties debate whether the label is fair.

This is not to say that we should remove the term from our vocabulary. After all, it can be an accurate description of what’s going on, as certain cable TV news stations demonstrate every night. And if someone is truly being demonized, then calling it for what is can be an appropriate defense mechanism. However, we also should be wary of its potential overuse and attentive to its role in derailing attempts at dialogue.


Related post

Does the Healthy Workplace Bill “demonize” workplace aggressors? (2013)

How a Cole Porter musical embodies Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences

In his 1983 book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, psychologist Howard Gardner challenged the concept of a single, all encompassing form of human intelligence. Instead, he posited that intelligence comes in at least eight different varieties:

  • Bodily-kinesthetic (physical and athletic)
  • Interpersonal
  • Intrapersonal (introspection and self-reflection)
  • Linguistic
  • Logical-mathematical
  • Musical
  • Naturalistic (relating to natural surroundings)
  • Spatial (relating to objects and space)

He would later add “existential” intelligence, which relates to philosophy, meaning, and spirituality.

Gardner’s theory makes a lot of sense, yes? Consider the world of work. People bring different skill sets to different jobs. Some people seem to have a knack for everything. Most of us are stronger in some aspects than in others.

Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes”

If you’d like to see a wonderful example of multiple intelligences at work, then take a look at these YouTube videos from the recent Broadway revival of Cole Porter’s 1934 classic musical, “Anything Goes,” directed by Kathleen Marshall and starring the extraordinary Sutton Foster in the lead role of Reno Sweeney.

The video above is a truncated version of the title number, performed at the 2011 Tony Awards. I see at least the following intelligences in play: Musical, bodily-kinesthetic, linguistic, and interpersonal. (Do you see more?)

And here’s Foster and co-star Colin Donnell performing another classic from the show, “You’re The Top”:

This number plays on the interpersonal intelligence of the two performers. Look at how they relate and interact, picking up on each other’s cues. And if you’re wondering about logical-mathematical intelligence, think about how Cole Porter incorporated all of the cultural and historical references into a snappy and memorable song.

Putting it all together is the job of director Kathleen Marshall. How many forms of intelligence go into her work?!

“Don’t be a jerk”

Finally, if you want a nice mix of the interpersonal and intrapersonal, watch Sutton Foster’s 2012 Commencement address at Ball State University. Talking plainly, unadorned by stage makeup, she presents a thoughtful, reflective, and warmhearted speech:

She closes with some advice, and she repeats it several times: “Don’t be a jerk.” Intelligent words, to be sure.


PBS page on Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory

Wikipedia article on multiple intelligences

Wikipedia article detailing people and items referenced in “You’re The Top”


I so regret that I never got to see this revival of “Anything Goes” on Broadway. However, I recently saw the national touring production, starring the superb Rachel York in the lead role. It was first rate, and it reinforced the timeless quality of Cole Porter’s work.

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