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Do You Suffer from Mission Impossible Syndrome?

As a rising star executive or someone who is already running a turbo-charged organization, you’re at the top of your game.  You’re tough, resilient, often brilliant, and you can solve any problem.  When there’s something difficult to do, they come to you.

You can achieve the “mission impossible.”  But can you sustain it with your energy and present skills?  And are you unknowingly subjecting your organization and your own career to potentially cataclysmic risk?

I spend a lot of time working with executives in this situation.

Do you get an incredible high by being the only person who can pull a critical project over the finish line?  When there’s an impossible–or nearly impossible–job to be done, do you find yourself volunteering … against your better judgment?  Are you everybody’s go-to person?  Do you frequently find you are doing your own job–and a couple other jobs, as well?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, you may suffer from “Mission Impossible Syndrome.”  A lot of executives are Mission Impossibles who have built a career on the never-say-no principle.  Promotion follows promotion.  Accolades and awards come in quick succession.  You are GOLDEN!  Until it all comes to a spectacular, crashing halt–leaving you and your career splatted against a brick wall.  As an executive coach, I’ve seen it over and over.  I recently watched several “golden” Mission Impossibles burn up in the stratosphere, going from their respective companies’ most highly regarded senior managers to virtual pariahs–in a matter of a few months.  And it never needed to end that way!

So what’s a Mission Impossible?  They are people with huge drives to succeed, who tend to measure their self-worth by extraordinary achievement day in and day out, and they crave recognition for their achievement.  They are tireless workhorses in organizations and are rewarded and praised for their drive, energy, and willingness to take on the jobs that no one else will touch.

But the strategic threats to the Mission Impossible are built into that very drive to achieve:  they go too far, take on too much, and begin to make mistakes.  Things slip.  And suddenly–usually to their huge surprise–the very organization that sang their praises turns on them with equal force.  Why?  Because they  have put the organization’s goals and success at risk due to their own ego and ambition, even though they thought they were doing exactly the right thing.  So a rapid process of organ rejection begins.

Mission Impossibles face another key strategic threat:  They may surround themselves with a team weaker than they are, which happens for several reasons.  Although Mission Impossibles will rarely fess up to this, they may dislike the competition of team members who are as capable as they are (or even more capable than they).  They also load the team’s agenda so full with their own initiatives that there is no room for other strong, ambitious players who demand the ability to also define and drive key initiatives.  And, while Mission Impossibles may give lip service to wanting to develop people, their ambitious agenda leaves little time or energy to build a strong and aligned team.  They cancel 1:1s and team meetings; developing people will always happen “tomorrow.”  As a result, the team below a powerful Mission Impossible is often surprisingly weak.

In executive coaching, I use an assessment called the FIRO-B to help identify Mission Impossible behavior.  When I combine the FIRO-B with other tools like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI®), CPI 260 and 360-degree feedback,  I have found that Mission Impossibles can learn some simple course corrections that enable them to fully leverage their drive to achieve, while protecting their organizations and themselves from the Mission Impossible strategic threats.

Recognize yourself in this?  The good news is you are built for organizational success and achievement.  The bad news is if you don’t recognize and manage your strategic threats, you can crash and burn–even repeatedly–and never know why.


Austin, Texas

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Carol Kallendorf, PhD. | (512) 417-9756 

Jack Speer | (512) 417-9428


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