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Overcoming the Tall Poppy Syndrome: What to Do When You're Getting Cut Down

Photo: John Powers
A field with tall poppies towering above the others.


Eliminating the Tall Poppy Syndrome (TPS) is a vital step toward fostering a culture where high achievers can thrive without the fear of being targeted for their success. Tall Poppy Syndrome encapsulates the social phenomenon where individuals who are recognized for their achievements are criticized or brought down because they stand out from the norm. This societal tendency hinders personal accomplishment and stifles innovation and progress within communities.

Predominantly observed in Australia and New Zealand, TPS is deeply rooted in these cultures, though it has parallels across the globe. It's essential to understand Tall Poppy Syndrome as it:

1.      Affects the dynamics within workplaces and educational institutions

2.      Impacts the mental health and overall well-being of driven individuals

3.      Influences how societies view and handle success and excellence

Addressing TPS is crucial for both personal and professional growth; it empowers individuals to pursue their ambitions without inhibition, while also encouraging a collective shift towards celebrating rather than resenting success.

Understanding Tall Poppy Syndrome

Mother and daughters enjoying the flowers

Tall poppy syndrome (TPS) is an attitudinal disposition where individuals who are distinguished by their achievements, skills, or wealth, encounter social criticism, ostracism, or disapproval. It is often driven by the desire for egalitarianism, the belief that everyone should have equal opportunities and should not be set apart by their success or abilities.

What is Tall Poppy Syndrome?

Tall poppy syndrome (TPS) is a cultural phenomenon commonly observed in societies where there is a strong emphasis on egalitarianism and modesty. It refers to the tendency to criticize, undermine, or resent individuals who stand out or achieve notable success, particularly in fields such as business, politics, academia, or the arts. They are metaphorically 'cut down to size' to match the societal average.

The Principle of Egalitarianism

TPS is rooted in the idea that no one should rise too far above others within society. This principle can manifest in various behaviours, from jealousy and resentment towards those who succeed to active attempts to diminish another's accomplishments.

The origins of TPS trace back to ancient times with similar concepts found across different cultures. Notably:

  1. Ancient roots: The term 'tall poppy' originated from a story attributed to Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, an ancient Roman King who allegedly struck off the heads of tall poppies as a warning against aspiring beyond one's station.

  2. Cultural evolution: Over time, TPS has manifested differently across cultures. In Australia and New Zealand, it reflects an entrenched social norm that promotes humility and collective harmony over individual distinction.

By understanding this syndrome and its historical context, high achievers can better navigate social dynamics that may otherwise impede their progress. Recognizing the egalitarian ethos behind TPS enables individuals and organizations alike to foster environments that celebrate success without undermining the collective spirit.

How Tall Poppy Syndrome Affects High-Achievers

The effects of tall poppy syndrome on high-achievers are multifaceted and often detrimental to their professional and personal growth. Those who strive for success may find themselves targeted by this phenomenon, leading to a host of challenges that can undermine their progress and well-being.

1.      Mental Health Impact: Individuals may experience increased stress, anxiety, and self-doubt as they become more conscious of potential scrutiny and criticism from peers.

2.      Fear of Visibility: There is a palpable fear of standing out that inhibits high-achievers from showcasing their talent or pursuing opportunities that would place them in the spotlight.

3.      Reluctance to Pursue Goals: The desire to conform and avoid the negative repercussions associated with TPS can lead to a reluctance to set and chase ambitious objectives, stunting personal and career development.

High achievers must navigate these challenges while maintaining their drive and ambition, requiring not just talent but also a robust psychological toolkit. The next section delves into strategies that can aid individuals in building resilience and cultivating a mindset that not only withstands the effects of Tall Poppy Syndrome but thrives despite it.

Overcoming Tall Poppy Syndrome: Strategies for Success

A field of diverse, colorful flowers with a vibrant sunflower standing tall in the middle, symbolizing uniqueness and triumph over mediocrity.

Cultivating Resilience and Mindset Mastery

When faced with the challenges of Tall Poppy Syndrome, it's crucial to develop a resilient character and a positive mindset. These qualities enable individuals to navigate through criticism and adversity without losing sight of their goals. Here are key strategies for building these essential traits:

1. Understand Your Worth: Recognize your unique value and contributions. By knowing your strengths and what you bring to the table, you can reaffirm your self-belief when faced with detractors.

2. Positive Self-talk: Engage in constructive self-dialogue. Replace negative thoughts with affirmations that support your ability to overcome obstacles and achieve success.

3. Learn from Feedback: Distinguish between constructive criticism and tall poppy snips. Use valuable feedback to grow while disregarding negativity that serves no purpose other than to bring you down.

4. Set Realistic Expectations: Understand that setbacks are a natural part of growth. Setting realistic expectations helps you view challenges as opportunities for learning rather than as failures.

5. Focus on Long-Term Goals: Keep your long-term vision in clear focus. Short-term negativity loses its sting when viewed against the backdrop of larger, more significant aspirations.

6. Emotional Intelligence: Develop emotional intelligence to manage emotions effectively, both your own and those of others. This skill is vital in responding calmly to TPS behaviours.

Resilience is not just about bouncing back; it's also about adapting in the face of adversity, stress, or even tragedy. It involves profound personal growth despite difficult circumstances.

Creating a Supportive Network

Your environment plays a pivotal role in overcoming Tall Poppy Syndrome. A robust support system acts as a buffer against the negative effects of TPS. Here's how to build one:

1. Seek Like-minded Individuals

Surround yourself with people who share similar ambitions and values. They can relate to your experiences and offer genuine encouragement.

2. Mentorship

Connect with mentors who have navigated similar paths successfully. Their guidance can be invaluable in helping you stay grounded and focused.

3. Networking Groups

Join professional associations or networking groups where achievements are celebrated, not resented.

4. Family and Friends

Ensure your close circle understands TPS so they can offer support when needed.

By fostering relationships with supportive individuals, you create an environment conducive to success—one that celebrates achievement rather than cuts it down.

Steps to Build Your Network:

1.      Identify Potential Members: Look for people who consistently give positive feedback and understand the importance of collective success.

2.      Engage Regularly: Make it a habit to communicate and work together with your network members. Regular interaction strengthens relationships.

3.      Give Back: Support networks work both ways; be ready to help and encourage others.

Remember, overcoming tall poppy syndrome requires both inner strength and external support systems. By intentionally building these networks, high-achievers can protect themselves from the negative effects of TPS and stay focused on their journey toward success.

Business networking

Educate Others and Shift Perspectives

Building resilience and fostering a positive mindset is foundational in confronting Tall Poppy Syndrome (TPS), but solutions to overcome Tall Poppy syndrome also involve collective action. By educating others about the consequences of TPS and advocating for a culture that celebrates success, you can play a crucial role in changing attitudes and behaviours.

Lead by Example

Demonstrate how to celebrate achievements—both your own and others. This sets a precedent for how success is treated within your community or organization.

Informative Dialogues

Create opportunities for conversations about TPS. Workshops, seminars, or casual discussions can open people’s eyes to the negative impacts of this phenomenon.

Share Success Stories

Highlighting diverse examples of successful individuals can help break down stereotypes and encourage a broader definition of success that is not threatened by the achievements of others.

Encourage Mentorship

When experienced leaders mentor emerging talent, they reinforce the value of lifting others as we climb, countering TPS tendencies.

By shifting focus from discussing the problem to actively providing practical solutions and promoting these strategies in daily interactions, you contribute significantly to reshaping entrenched cultural narratives. The goal is to move toward an environment where excellence is not just tolerated but celebrated.

The journey toward changing societal views on success starts with individual actions. As you integrate these practices into your life, remember that change often begins with small, consistent steps that collectively lead to substantial progress.

Part of overcoming TPS involves changing the broader narrative around success:

1. Raise Awareness

Share knowledge about TPS effects on society's well-being.

2. Celebrate Diversity in Success

  • Encourage respect for various forms of achievement, understanding that success looks different for everyone.

  • By actively engaging in educating others, we contribute to a cultural shift towards celebrating rather than resenting success.

  • The journey to conquering Tall Poppy Syndrome is multi-faceted, requiring personal growth, support systems, authenticity, and societal education. These strategies lay the groundwork for thriving despite the challenges posed by this phenomenon.

Embrace Authenticity and Own Your Success

Achieving success requires authenticity; pretending to be less than you are serves nobody. Consider these actions:

Confident Young Woman

1. Self-Acceptance

Accept your talents and accomplishments. Owning your success is empowering and sets a positive example for others.

Building resilience and nurturing a positive mindset are crucial in overcoming Tall Poppy Syndrome. However, one of the most powerful ways to conquer tall poppy syndrome is by fully embracing who you are without apology. When you embrace your unique qualities and celebrate your accomplishments, you cultivate self-confidence that can withstand any external criticism.

Here are some practical ways to embrace authenticity:

●       Recognize Your Value: Take pride in your achievements without downplaying their importance. Make a list of them, reflect on the journey, and truly understand the worth you bring to your field.

●       Share Your Story: By openly talking about your successes and the challenges you've faced, you provide others with a relatable story that can motivate and uplift them.

●       Celebrate Others: Foster a culture of appreciation by celebrating the accomplishments of your peers. This creates an environment where success is not resented but celebrated.

Cultivating an environment where authenticity is valued requires more than just awareness of TPS; it requires taking proactive steps toward change:

1.      Setting clear personal goals

2.      Seeking feedback for growth, not just validation

3.      Practicing self-compassion

When authenticity becomes a core part of who you are, it serves as both protection and guidance—shielding you from the pressure to conform while leading others towards a more supportive and inclusive idea of what it means to succeed.

2. Transparency

Be open about your journey, including struggles and triumphs. This transparency can demystify success for others, showing it's attainable through perseverance. Authenticity leads to a genuine sense of fulfillment because it aligns with your true self, not a diminished version designed to appease others.


Eliminating the Tall Poppy Syndrome is not just something individuals can do on their own; it requires everyone working together to make a change. When we allow high-achievers to succeed without fear of criticism or jealousy, we create an environment where innovation and leadership can thrive. This benefits not only individuals but also our communities and economies as a whole.

Karlene Millwood International Inc. has something special for those who are ready to overcome the challenges of Tall Poppy Syndrome. We invite you to join us at the TrailblazeHer: Dominate and Lead weekend summit. This event will transform your mindset and empower you with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in any industry.

Here's what you can expect from this summit:

●       Learn valuable lessons from successful trailblazers who have faced similar obstacles on their journey.

●       Build meaningful connections with like-minded individuals dedicated to supporting each other's growth.

●       Gain practical tools and strategies for stepping into your own power as a leader.

Now is the time to take control of your future—register now for this empowering summit that promises to help you break through barriers and reach new heights in your leadership journey.


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