Imagine that it’s 9:59 p.m., and you’re the last one in the office. As the lights dim, your colleagues are throwing their laptops into their cases and muttering, “Have a good night,” as they quickly walk by to make the last train. You stretch out in your chair and stare up at the ceiling. Why are you always the last one in the office? Is it that you are always raising your hand for new assignments and opportunities? Maybe you just need to be more efficient. Did you really need that 30-minute coffee break? But that promotion is only a few late nights away…
If this narrative sounds familiar, it’s likely that you are an InnovateHER with a strong need to achieve. You aren’t alone. Need to achieve, “the desire to achieve at a high level,” is engrained in the psyches of many successful women. Our research at the University of Pennsylvania revealed that this perceived need was by far the strongest personality trait in women educational leaders. This makes sense. There are typically only a select few high-ranking positions in leadership, so those who get those positions must be ambitious. Why is the need to achieve not listed in the book as the most relevant and important trait? Because the women we interviewed self-reported passion almost three times as much as they self-reported need to achieve.
When we set out to interview the InnovateHERs, we thought it would be safe to assume that since the need to achieve was the most defining trait of a purpose-driven leader in our University of Pennsylvania study, it would come up as an important theme in the interviews…right? However, the exact opposite happened. The need to achieve was without a doubt the most taboo of all the InnovateHER traits and the least mentioned in our interviews. Some of the women we spoke to even had a negative reaction to being called “ambitious.” Instead, they preferred to attribute their success to luck or a great network of support. This explanation was baffling. Clearly, the need to achieve is not as warm and fuzzy as passion or as inspiring as calculated risk-taking. Regardless, how could these women diverge so greatly from the results of the research?
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