An article in Inc. Magazine talks about the difference between overachievers and high performers. I see how this plays out in insurance agencies with great consistency. These personalities are well developed, and I have come to believe that an underlying theme separating the overachievers from the high performers is confidence.

Overachievers have a "desire to achieve [that] blinds them from the vital need to perform. They bring things to a head. Sometimes it's pretty to watch, sometimes not, but one way or another, they're going to Get. It. Done. Whatever the cost."


"Perform means, in essence, to complete something through complete it, to make it whole, to transform it for the better. considerably more nuanced than mere achievement. You can bring something to a head (if you want to) by sheer brute force, but it takes subtlety, patience and precision to perform, to transform something into what it truly can be."

Read though these descriptions of some familiar personalities, and let's come back to it at the end.

The Overachieving Producer:

  • Makes more calls.
  • Holds more meetings.
  • Has more clients.
  • Does more service work.
  • Fields more emails.
  • Needs to feel and appear busy to feel productive.
  • Monitors team activities with a microscope to make sure everything is going according to his plan.
  • Creates a sense of anxious activity around them.

The focus here is activity and feeling good about being busy and having the feeling of being needed by both his clients and his team.

The Overachieving Agency leader:

  • Brings more services into the organization.
  • Hires more outside consultants/joins more groups to collect advice.
  • Develops more internal processes and stricter structures.
  • Holds more meetings with internal leaders and producers.
  • Needs to feel and appear busy to feel productive.
  • Creates a whirlwind of activity from the department leaders all the way through to the staff.

The focus here is being in control of the business – the more control you have over the individual components, the more control you have over the results. Right?

Now, let's look at those I would consider High Performers.

The High Performing Producer:

  • Focuses on developing prospect/client relationships so the proper value can be delivered to only the right clients.
  • Cultivates relationships with centers of influence and focuses on giving as much or more than she's receiving.
  • Studies her craft, is always learning and adding to her repertoire, takes the time to discuss these new topics with peers and clients, and writes about them to share the information.
  • Doesn't need to be "busy" to feel productive.
  • People working for/with her will run through walls to get things done, not because they're asked to but because they want to.

The focus here is to build a book of business on the right kinds of clients who value the insight and services the agency is able to bring to them.

The High Performing Leader:

  • Conducts annual agency planning.
  • Communicates the company vision repeatedly to the entire team.
  • Takes coaching for himself – and uses the advice – and in turn coaches his own team.
  • Creates a safe environment for performance coaching and career development throughout the organization.
  • Works for a larger purpose than earning a profit.
  • Spends considerable time reading, thinking, discussing, gathering, and assimilating ideas.
  • Doesn't need to be "busy" to feel productive.
  • The team from department leaders through to the staff will run through walls to get things done and move the business forward; not because they have to as a part of their job, but because they believe in the vision of the organization.

The focus here is to create a company built on a strong vision, which attracts the right employees to help serve the community they've chosen to dedicate themselves to serving.

Confidence required

The subtlety, patience, and precision that are pointed out in the article, which are required to perform and transform, simply can't be done without a high degree of self-confidence. When we lack the confidence to exercise that patience and wait for the precision to take shape, we push and rush things through to make them happen. We do this because we're so focused on the need to feel that we've accomplished something - something we can control.

The problem with this approach is that while it may accomplish something, it's often not the right set of things needed for substantial movement and growth. Which is exactly what is needed in spades in the independent agency ranks right now.

In order to slow down and take the time to properly think through things and let them simmer for a while requires the confidence that we, as both an individual and as part of a team, will actually be able to achieve it – and achieve it better – if we wait and gather what we need in order to make the best decision.

Letting go of the frenetic activity and constant movement can be hard when achievement has been the total focus.

But people who are overachievers already recognize the power of hard work and clearly aren't afraid of it. The challenging part is repurposing that hard work into recognizing that what you've already achieved is well deserving of some serious self-confidence. You've accomplished a tremendous amount that most people don't have the discipline to do. Take that well-deserved self-confidence, own it, and use it to accomplish the new things that need to happen in your agency.

When you are able to recognize the confidence and embrace a new deep belief in your abilities, you'll be able to develop the patience to allow things to simmer before taking action – the right action for the right reason. Your agency depends on it.


Photo by Renato Ganoza.