Great Personality Traits that Can Hold Back High Performers

Sometimes, the very qualities that make you stand out as a high performing employee can actually be the same ones that stop you from getting promoted at work.

Let’s dive into 5 personality traits that can both help, and hold you back, on your climb up the corporate ladder.


Good Work is Table Stakes for Career Success

When it comes to moving up at work, it all starts with getting recognized as a high performer. Some say it’s the most important factor, but I see it as the table stakes for a successful career.

The better you are at your job, the easier it becomes to stand out as a top performer and get promoted. High-performing employees have a positive attitude, take ownership of their work, and go the extra mile to deliver results. 

However, despite their high performance, many top-performing employees still face challenges in reaching their career goals. Eventually, they discover that it takes more than high-quality work to get promoted.

Even though they get praised for being a team player during performance reviews and earn high ratings for their exceptional performance on special projects, top employees often miss out on well-deserved promotions.

While it’s often easy to see why low performers find it hard to move up at work, figuring out why high achievers sometimes get passed over can be trickier to figure out. 

Common Challenges to Career Advancement

Many top performers think that if they just work harder, they’ll eventually get promoted, even though there are other important factors besides just how well they do their job.

And what can make it even more difficult is when top performers are given vague advice (like being coached to be more visible) instead of actionable feedback around specific growth opportunities.

But there are several common barriers that can hold back even the best employees.

Lack of Growth

For example, sometimes great employees are held back because they haven’t done enough to develop their full potential.

If you’re not showing continuous improvement, it will be tough to prove you’re ready for more significant responsibilities. It’s crucial to adopt a growth mindset and be open to new challenges.

Limiting Beliefs

Another common reason why high achievers get overlooked is due to career-limiting beliefs. Often beliefs can be a source of ingenuity and resilience.

For example, if you believe you learn more from failure than success, then it will be easier for you to bounce back from career disappointment. But beliefs about work can also limit our choices and block us from doing what’s needed to advance our careers.

Over Reliance on Your Boss

And sometimes the hurdle lies with your boss. Unfortunately, in the business world, leaders can’t always be counted on to do the right thing.

Even if your manager has the best of intentions to promote you, it doesn’t always work out as planned. This is when it becomes important to expand your support system by connecting with other influential leaders.

Unexpected Challenges

But perhaps the most unexpected challenge occurs when your best qualities become liabilities that hinder your progress.

It’s frustrating because what once propelled you forward now seems to drag you down, adding a fresh, unexpected hurdle to your career journey.

Unexpected Barriers: When Strengths Hold You Back

Here are five positive qualities (common traits of high performers) that, ironically, can sometimes become barriers to success for top performers.


1. Conviction vs Resentment

Conviction can be a very positive quality in the corporate world. Individuals with strong convictions often become catalysts for positive change within their organizations.

Their unwavering belief in certain principles or ideas can inspire others and lead to the implementation of innovative strategies or improvements.

Conviction is also a key trait of strong leaders. Leaders who have a clear vision and strong convictions can inspire and motivate their teams to work towards common goals.

However, strong convictions can also lead to clashes with coworkers who hold opposing views.

For example, if you believe your hard work should be rewarded, but your boss fails to appreciate your efforts, you may become frustrated or even resentful over time. And this resentment can the the very thing that holds you back from achieving success.

Unfortunately, this was the case for a high-performing individual I used to work with.

He was super smart, hardworking, and always brought top-notch ideas to the table. But he carried a massive chip on his shoulder from past career disappointments.

Year after year, he watched others get promoted while he was left behind, and his frustration was written all over his face. Not only that, but his resentment towards management was palpable. He just couldn’t get past his frustration that his hard work and results weren’t getting rewarded. And that’s exactly why he wasn’t receiving the support needed to move up the corporate ladder.

Look, everyone goes through periods of adversity at work — it’s just a part of life in the business world. But if you want to move up the career ladder, learning how to overcome difficult situations is one of the best ways to accelerate your path to success. 

2. Focus vs Indifference

Work can be full of distractions, like emails, calls, and chatty coworkers. But top performers are usually really good at staying focused on the task at hand. 

When you can concentrate, it’s like having a superpower. You can dive deep into tricky info, ignore the noise, and make smart decisions. Plus, you’re not easily thrown off track by distractions, so you get things done faster and deliver better results.

But while you’re busy being a hardworking go-getter with a strong work ethic, don’t forget about the team members around you. Sure, you’re ambitious and determined to succeed. But it’s important not to seem like you don’t care about others. Your quiet dedication might make it seem like you’re not interested in your coworkers’ success.

So, as you chase your goals, don’t forget to connect with your coworkers. Share your successes and support each other. Because at the end of the day, it’s not just about what you achieve alone but how you help others along the way.

3. Enthusiastic vs Excessive

Employees who excel at their jobs often find joy in their work and are eager to share all the little intricacies of it. Their enthusiasm typically translates into high motivation to excel, leading them to go above and beyond in their tasks.

This positive energy also has a significant impact on their coworkers, inspiring everyone to strive for excellence and creating a more positive and productive work environment.

However, this same enthusiasm can sometimes lead top performers to enjoy explaining every detail of their work.

They’re not the type to give a simple “yes” or “no” answer; they prefer diving into all the nuances. But to some, this might come across as talking too much or going off on tangents, which can be time-consuming.

Most people prefer the condensed version, especially when dealing with their boss. Talking excessively or rambling on can detract from their image as top performers.

Keep an eye on who you’re talking to. Figure out what stuff you really need to say and what you can skip. Stick to giving short, important info without going off on tangents.

Watch how people react to see if they want more details or if they’re good with what you’ve said. It’s all about finding the right balance to keep them interested.

4. Authentic vs Inflexible

High achievers understand the importance of being genuine and authentic. They know that when they’re true to themselves, it builds trust and respect with their coworkers and bosses.

This authenticity creates a positive environment where collaboration thrives and everyone feels comfortable working together.

However, it’s also important to be open to change and growth. Holding too tightly to the idea of “just be yourself” can sometimes hold you back in your career. It’s about finding a balance between staying true to who you are and being willing to learn and evolve.

Embracing change—even when it’s challenging—can lead to personal and professional growth. It means stepping out of your comfort zone, acquiring new skills, and adapting to new situations. It’s about being open-minded and willing to learn from feedback, even if it’s tough to hear.

By staying true to yourself while remaining open to growth and change, you can set yourself up for success in your career and achieve your goals in the ever-changing workplace.

5. High Standards vs Perfectionist

Successful individuals are always pushing themselves and others to do their best. It’s one of the sure signs of a high performer. 

They’re the ones who put in maximum effort and never settle for anything less than excellence in their work. They’re super dedicated and always looking for ways to improve and innovate, which is why they’re so successful.

But sometimes, all that striving for greatness can turn into perfectionism. It’s like when you get so focused on the little details that you forget to see the big picture. You end up nitpicking every tiny flaw, which can cause tension and make others feel unappreciated. This often happens when people don’t trust their coworkers to do a good job.

So, while it’s awesome to have high standards, it’s important to remember to keep things in perspective. Don’t get too caught up in the small stuff and remember to appreciate the bigger picture and the effort everyone puts in. After all, teamwork makes the dream work!

Be a Well-Rounded High Performer

Bottom line, you can’t be an average employee and expect to achieve career success. 

Yet, even if you’ve shown you’re a top talent, knowing what to do next to move forward can still be confusing. High achievers face many common challenges, but sometimes, the problem comes from unexpected places – like when the very things that used to make you stand out now hold you back. 

It’s all about finding the right balance and understanding how your strengths can sometimes trip you up.



About Author

As a former CMO who started her career as an admin assistant, Alison writes about climbing the corporate ladder to achieve financial freedom.

You can read more about her story here.



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