The Six Million Dollar Man Syndrome, or, “Why everything has to be super and successful.”

Article 18

Published:  September 12, 2016, Copyright (c) Sandy Elrick


On the weekend I had a great conversation with a former co-worker, and I had an inspiration.  To me, it seems rather over the top how many businesses and motivators are pushing the limits.  They are always asking for “faster, stronger, better” from their organizations and the people around them.  It is not bad to ask for these things, but rarely do two let alone three come together without great cost.  What concerns me is that I see more and more businesses try to do with less, and I begin to wonder if this is a good way forward.  What are the real benefits of pushing an ideal when in practice, the backing is not there to accomplish those goals?


Is it required that everything we do must be the best all the time?  Is everyone expected to be a superhero?  Well, personally I try to do my best but I am human, and I don’t want to do it all the time.  It was perhaps a layover from the past when people were loyal and dedicated workers to a company (for years on end).  We feel the need to sacrifice to prove our worth and to get ahead of the competition.  So what happens when that competition is artificial?  Is it fair to just use people up?  What about consequences for those making those judgment calls and making an organization’s culture reflect that?


This hero worship mentality is a driver of many businesses.  You see it when a CEO gets hired on with the expectation to ‘turn this business around.’  The leaders are the cheerleader so to speak.  I can see this in a sales organization as the need to sell a champion/cheerleader.  This mentality has spread to other organizations as a new paradigm.



Inclusive vs. Exclusive



North American culture has been adopting a more inclusive vision over the last decade.  A vulnerability was perceived, and the resolution for that vulnerability was to be inclusive.  Every affected person would be lifted up to the common better.  I have seen this mentality as a tenet of a lot of entrepreneurial opportunities.  The reason is there is a perceived need to get everyone on board, to pursue the common goal, and to achieve the goals of the organization by doing whatever it takes.


There is a key difference between global organizations and entrepreneurial organizations (with rare exception) – that difference is how achievement is encouraged and supported.  I have seen global organizations support by sticking to business oriented results (you do your job or better, and you get paid more or promoted).  Entrepreneurs tend to reward achievement in different ways depending on circumstances and the people involved (e.g. praise, prizes, recognition, financial, promotion, and others).


So the difference can be summed up in two approaches:


  • Universal rewards based on business terms
  • Individualistic rewards based on individual needs


So which provides better value?  Well, again, it depends on the situation (how big an organization is, financial factors, and the individuals involved).  The value of the result often matters the most.  If the method(s) applied succeed, are they measured, do they contribute to real success?  I bet the results are a lot more ephemeral than we realize.



Results Matter



As people begin to enter their work lives, I think that more are beginning to realize the true sacrifices they are making and are measuring their success against the cost.  Perhaps Millenials are the truest form of this new thinking.  They saw a lack of support and loyalty applied to their parents.  They inoculated themselves against the unfulfilled promises from an organization.  They are less likely to stick around when they perceive a violation of their rights or values.  To some degree, I’ve come to this thinking as well.  I have benefitted from a successful career.  However, all the preparation in the world does not make you successful nor does it replace opportunity.


I believe this mentality will better prepare people to deal with new realities but may also limit them to some potential.  Not all people of a generation work the same way nor respond the same way (so please don’t think I am generalizing all people the same).  Networking with others is key to having the most opportunity.  I would say all but my first few jobs have depended on my reputation as well as my network of peers.  We look out for each other just like a community.



Beyond the Surface



Expectations can be one of the hardest things.  Communication is the key factor in success.  The depth of a relationship will determine the likelihood of success.  Failure to address expectations will throw results into doubt.  So what does this have to do with the superhero syndrome?  Well, the implication is that the constant norm is going above and beyond.  People have different personalities and expectations.  Not every person can go above and beyond in the same fashion as is being asked.  That may artificially limit their potential and their success.  There should be nothing wrong with accepting what people can do versus what they must do.  Why?  Quite simply, just because you cannot see what someone’s ‘above and beyond’ is, doesn’t mean they are not doing it in their way.


A celebration of excess is what got North American business in trouble in the first place.  I suppose it is what drives the consumption culture.  My ask is that everyone takes a step back and looks at the value they are deriving from their life and their activities.  Individually we all contribute to the whole, and we can change things.  Stop externalizing your problems and take concrete action to make what you want a reality.  Spend the right amount of energy on your tasks to achieve your results.  Fail, succeed and learn.  Advance yourself so you can help advance others.  When we accept as much as we give, then we can succeed.  It is not a bad thing to question, and it shouldn’t be a bad thing to speak when appropriate.  Culture is an ever-changing dynamic.






I am hopeful that we will embrace sanity, communicate expectations, and respect each other for what we can contribute instead of trying to meet an unachievable norm.  Super is a relative term and to be honest, I wouldn’t want to be super at everything all the time.  I am super at certain things, and I am learning to embrace them every day.  If you pay attention and put your energy into your super powers, you can meet your expectations and make a difference wherever you are!


Thank you,
Sandy Elrick