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Why Some Employees Simply Won't Grow Notable theories about why some of us refuse to pursue opportunities that will make us better, more skilled and more successful.

By Tracy Maylett

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


As we conduct exit interviews within organizations, we hear a recurring theme -- I'm leaving for more growth opportunities, or I'm feeling like I've topped out here.

Okay, I get it. I'd leave too. This is reinforced when they tell us that they are really good at what they do. I'm still listening.

But, this often seems to contradict what their managers are telling us. These self-proclaimed, near-perfect employees -- don't get me wrong, some of them are probably strong performers -- often don't get the same glowing reviews from others. While many of them may be meeting performance standards, their managers are quick to point out opportunities for growth. So, why the disconnect?

Related: 5 Questions That Identify Growth-Minded Employees

Each year, DecisionWise conducts tens of thousands of 360-degree feedback assessments, where each individual is presented with information about his or her performance and behaviors as seen through the eyes of others. The individual also rates him or herself on the same criteria, and results are compared. Interestingly, there are many times when the resulting comparisons vary greatly, particularly in identifying areas in which we need to improve. To put it another way, they're a little self-deluded when it comes to looking in the mirror and seeing shortcomings or areas for growth. We tend to create our own reality.

Not surprisingly, there's been a substantial body of research dedicated to this topic. These are some of the notable theories about why some of us resolutely refuse to pursue opportunities that will make us better, more skilled and more successful:

1. The Lake Wobegon effect.

You have to respect a psychology principle named after a public-radio sketch, don't you? This is the tendency to overrate our own abilities in relation to other people. It draws its name from writer Garrison Keillor's famous radio sign-off on his program, A Prairie Home Companion. "Lake Wobegon -- Where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking and all the children are above average."

Simply put, we think we're better than we are. We don't grow because we already think we've arrived. Try this one out. In your next team meeting, have everyone close their eyes. Ask the question, "How many of you would say the work you do is above-average work for this organization?" While I don't claim to be a statistical genius, I would be willing to bet that the response you receive -- nearly 100 percent of hands will go up -- would defy statistical feasibility.

Related: Keeping a Good Employee From Leaving Is Your Best Growth Strategy

2. Positive illusion.

This is the tendency to overestimate one's positive qualities and capabilities, while underestimating one's negative qualities. This is similar to the above, with one addition -- I fail to see my own flaws. We see this often in business settings, where the easiest way out of accountability is to blame the other guy. The problem is, maybe you are the problem, and you just don't get it.

3. American (Australian, or Latin American, etc.) Idol syndrome.

We surround ourselves with people who support and reinforce our self-concept. If you follow the "Idol" phenomenon, you will understand this notion. Picture an eardrum-piercing, agony-inducing crooner in front of a panel of judges. The audition is so bad that the celebrity judges laugh her out of the room.

After the camera jumps from the audition stage to the exit door, the focus is shifted to the group of people -- family and friends -- consoling the auditioner by reaffirming the false belief that she is uber-talented, and that the judges simply didn't know what they were talking about. That's Idol syndrome. It's pop culture theory, but an interesting one -- we avoid potential criticism or contrasting opinion by surrounding ourselves with people who tell us only what we want to hear.

Related: Invest in Growth: Your Employees' Growth, That Is

4. The Dunning-Kruger effect.

In this cognitive bias that's become much more common -- thanks to the Narcissus reflecting pool that is the internet -- unskilled individuals mistakenly believe their skill levels to be much higher than they actually are. One only has to look at the proliferation of mommy bloggers, YouTube videos and selfies online to see what some people think of their own talents, knowledge, skills, abilities and looks. If you think you're already a genius -- and a good-looking one, at that -- why work harder to improve?

So, are you thinking of "leaving for growth?" That may not be a bad idea, but you may want to first take a look in the mirror before looking elsewhere for those missing opportunities.

Tracy Maylett

CEO of management consulting firm DecisionWise

Tracy Maylett, Ed.D is CEO of employee engagement consulting firm DecisionWise and author of the books, MAGIC: Five Keys to Unlock the Power of Employee Engagement and The Employee Experience.

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