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Overcoming Tall Poppy Syndrome

When a successful Kiwi is thriving, some people get envious, criticise them and cut them down, this is defined as Tall Poppy Syndrome, something that seems to be engraved in New Zealand culture.

A study by Otago Polytechnic and Massey University professors, Jo Kirkwood and Lorraine Warren studied this phenomenon and learned that 10 in 11 entrepreneurs have experienced Tall Poppy Syndrome.

It is a common psychological dilemma many entrepreneurs face but is often swept under the rug.

Tall Poppy Syndrome has become a serious topic of discussion within the space, with the government even intervening to create a positive space for entrepreneurs.

Though the government is taking actions, Tall Poppy Syndrome is still a dilemma.

Registered Clinical Psychologist and Founder of Umbrella, Gaynor Parkin says that Tall Poppy Syndrome is heavily linked to the fact that entrepreneurs are in a space where they are prone to receiving a negative reaction despite what they do.

“Tall Poppy Syndrome stems from people’s anxieties and is clearly linked to imposter syndrome,” she adds.

Imposter Syndrome, defined as feeling like a ‘phony’ in their role or achievements despite being competent, is fuelled by anxieties which can then translate into Tall Poppy Syndrome.

Based on Parkin’s observations, over the past few years, the Tall Poppy Syndrome many Kiwi entrepreneurs have been facing has become better.

“Technology has normalised narcissism, it’s ok and celebrated in fact to promote yourself and to show your view of the world,” she says.

“What I have seen is on LinkedIn. I think people are quick to put their hands up for attention and to promote their business and to say how fabulous they are and how fabulous their business is.”

Read more: An experts take on what makes a successful business in 2023

Parkin looks at examples such as My Food Bag and Sharesies, who are actively promoting themselves and their business, highlighting their success as a business.

But Tall Poppy Syndrome doesn’t go away with the normalisation of social media, if anything, one is more prone to receive a negative reaction.

Parkin says that for entrepreneurs who are facing Tall Poppy Syndrome, it is best they talk about aspects of the business they are “securely confident in”, that way they aren’t worrying about what they are talking about.

Developing thick skin is also vital with overcoming Tall Poppy Syndrome, as for any business, putting oneself out there puts your business on a microscope, with every move being watched and prone to negative responses.

And for those struggling with confidence, having a mentor is another way to combat Tall Poppy Syndrome, as they can help with building that mindset.

Surrounding oneself around with entrepreneurs going through the same thing builds a community of people with similar experiences, and a place to share how they have coped. Parkin adds that a support system encourages people to do a better job as well.

“I think there needs to be a more collective sense of ‘let’s support one another’ from the more successful businesses in New Zealand. We don’t need to be competing, we can be more collaborative,” says Parkin.

To combat the feelings many entrepreneurs are facing, Parkin suggests that the New Zealand industry needs to build a culture of celebration and encouragement.

Tall Poppy Syndrome can often be fuelled by building a business from a great idea, which later becomes successful but is not recognised for the hard work and sacrifices.

“In New Zealand, there is this idea that we celebrate successful businesses and fast growing businesses, especially tech businesses but we don’t talk enough about the hard work behind the scenes,” says Parkin.

“We see the results or the outcome, but what you don’t hear is that a small group of people were working incredibly hard behind the scenes before they got their first successful big sale.”

“The wins are important, but you do need to be acknowledging and celebrating the hard work and the grind along the way.”

Bernadette is a content writer across SCG Business titles. To get in touch with her, email [email protected]

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