The Loneliness of the R4 Diagnosis

If I am truthful, I tend to see every top performer as a sort of superhero. (Am I alone here?) Pick your favorite: Iron Man, Supergirl, Captain America, the Flash, Wasp—mine is Batman. Each is smart and strong and wise. When no one knows what to do, the superhero does. They find a way to triumph in every scenario and their “win” is a win for everyone! Respected and revered, people feel safe with them “on the job.” How lucky were Robin and Alfred to be in Batman’s inner circle?!

You aren’t that different. As a strong performer, “High Achiever” appears on your performance reviews in multiple categories. You’ve won awards and been nominated for one-of-a-kind opportunities and high-potential programs. Your team feels set up for success with you on the project. While no person is ever “R4,” you strive to be R4 at most of your tasks. All the time. It might be due to your drive or perfectionism, but let’s be real. You watch for and welcome the Bat-Signal in the skies over your head.

Ahh, it’s great to be you! Well, mostly. This level of performance brings with it some challenges and, despite the acclaim, well, loneliness.

In the Situational Leadership® Model, a person is R4 for a task when ability is apparent (all three of knowledge, experience and skill) as well as confidence, commitment and motivation. If you are R4 for most of your tasks, your concerns can be twofold:

  • Keeping your performance at the superhero level (Is it even possible? Or practical?)
  • Keeping an inner circle of leaders and colleagues who can help you stay challenged and engaged for superhero success

First, the ability question: Is it realistic to expect a top performer to stay at a “sustained, acceptable level” for most tasks, day in, day out? Let alone, year in, year out? Well-documented research (and personal experience) confirms that small changes of situation can cause great changes in Performance Readiness®. Thus, for example, one can anticipate that moving to a new software or system, completely revising a process or protocol, working through a dramatic change of leadership or even facing a pandemic will be debilitating to some degree. Understandable, even. Surely the most adaptable and resilient struggle for a little while until proficiency with the new system or protocol is achieved or trust grows between them and the new leader(s). Post-pandemic normal is still emerging. And who would find fault or point a finger? If the Bat-Signal were changed to a text message or a new mayor appointed in Gotham, Batman would certainly need time to adjust!

But it’s you, not “someone” and it feels terrible. It impacts your thinking, well-being, confidence and both quality and speed of your work. You are uncomfortable—out-of-sorts—and you don’t like it.

Could changes (even shake-ups?) be some of the best things to happen to even superheroes? Perhaps in exposing your need, it gives your teammates the opportunity to assist you on your climb back to mastery. In other words, you will be better for embracing your Robin and Alfred.

How does a great team support a star performer who faces a setback in performance and proficiency? Well, “What do you need from us?” and, “How can we best help you?” are good questions to start with. Most importantly, they should keep meeting you with S4 for the tasks for which you are still R4. (Am I right?!) You don’t need closer monitoring for responsibilities where you are still R4.

That prompts the willingness question: “Are you confident, committed and motivated for this task?” Only you can answer because the rest of us can only guess based on the behaviors we see and words we hear from you.

The villain is watching, waiting to exploit your impending doom or decrease in willingness! However, your teammates can play a crucial role in protecting you and preparing you to be at your best. As they sharpen you, you raise their abilities! Didn’t Robin grow as he worked and learned alongside Batman? And didn’t Batman excel as a recipient of the unique abilities and perspectives of Alfred?

To be sure, every one of our favorite superheroes had moments when they didn’t feel like putting on the cape and mask to save the world from that villain again. When that happens to you (and it will!), it will be OK. Going through the motions, balanced with healthy amounts of emotional self-awareness and reliance on your inner circle, will likely sustain you for the short time you sense a lull with certain tasks.

Consider leaning on your team and giving them a chance to win a skirmish or two as you save the world together. Maybe your Alfred has the answer you are looking for, or Batwoman is waiting to emerge with her mask as a vital member of your team.

It would seem you are only as “lonely at the top” as you want to be.



  1. What tasks have come to mind that you know are tottering on the brink of no longer having your best attention and performance? Why? What are the contributing factors? How could you mobilize the strengths and abilities of your team to prevent performance loss?
  2. What one change, shift, new dimension or element could be introduced to a familiar task that would bring new vitality and fresh excellence for you? Who will you tell to ensure you make this necessary change or shift?