The Bias Against Achievement

By | November 30, 2013

[November 30, 2013]  One would logically expect that in a nation that values and rewards achievement, that any bias regarding success would be in favor of the characteristic.  In reality there exists, in many cultures, a bias against achievement.  Senior leaders should make themselves aware of this peculiar social phenomenon.

Everyone has experienced the classroom show-off, whose interaction with the teacher is designed to show how much more intelligent they are compared to the rest of us sitting in the back row.  In the U.S. Army, we call that person a “spring-butt.”  In some of the Anglosphere1 nations (e.g., UK, Australia, New Zealand), they call this bias, “The Tall Poppy Syndrome.”

The bias is a social act where people of merit are resented, attacked, or criticized because their talents or achievements elevate them above their peers.  Barriers are stacked against the achiever, those who show an aptitude for academia, business, leadership, or artistic expression.

In the United States, there are various subcultures where the achievements are frowned upon and punished.  I remember clearly, while attending high school, that those males considering college were not “real men” – real mean went out and made a living through “honest labor.”  Today, we see another bias against achievement, especially strong in large city high schools.

There is recent evidence of another unfortunate trend of bias against achievement when the legal system and organization policies are used to attack senior leaders.  The assumption is that the accuser is right and the leader must have used their power to suppress the accuser.  Moreover, there is no downside to be the accuser, even when the accusation is proven false.

What this means, is those who have the ability and desire to better themselves must overcome unnecessary obstacles in bettering themselves.

Senior leaders can make things better by first recognizing that this is a potential problem.  Then systematically attack it head-on by encouraging achievement and exposing bias at the highest level of senior leadership.


[1] See explanation of the concept of “anglosphere” here at the Wikipedia free dictionary:



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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.