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Dislike Tall Poppy Syndrome? So Do We!

Tall Poppy Syndrome

Dislike Tall Poppy Syndrome? So Do We!

Have you ever been Tall Poppied? Yep, I have! I was once told I got promoted because they didn’t have anyone else! WTF! I ended up rocking the role….FYI. So when Jack Nimble called me to ask if I could hit the streets of Sydney for LinkedInto talk about Tall Poppy Syndrome, I jumped at the chance! Why? Everything we stand for is about GREAT Leadership and celebrating and building great leaders and humans. That’s why we deliver so many outstanding leadership programs, communities and awards to inspire and lift everyone!

The term “tall poppy” originates from the metaphor of a poppy plant that grows taller than the rest, standing out in a field of uniform height. This metaphor describes individuals who achieve significant success, prominence, or recognition in their fields. Because they stand out, these individuals often become targets for criticism, resentment, or efforts to cut them down to size. This phenomenon is known as “tall poppy syndrome.”

Historical and Cultural Background

Ancient Roots

  • Roman Origin: The concept can be traced back to ancient Rome. The story of Tarquin the Proud, the last king of Rome, is often cited. When asked how to maintain control over a newly conquered city, Tarquin is said to have walked through his garden, striking the tallest poppies with his staff, symbolising the removal of those who stand out as potential threats.

Australia and New Zealand

  • Egalitarian Societies: In these cultures, a substantial value is placed on egalitarianism, where everyone is seen as equal. Success that sets someone apart is sometimes viewed negatively as disrupting this balance.
  • Common Usage: The term “tall poppy syndrome” is widely used in Australia and New Zealand to describe the phenomenon of cutting down those who achieve prominence.

Characteristics of Tall Poppy Syndrome

  1. Resentment and Envy: Successful individuals often face envy from others who may feel threatened or diminished by their achievements.
  2. Criticism and Undermining: High achievers might be criticised more harshly and unfairly, and efforts might be made to undermine their success.
  3. Social Sanctioning: There can be a social effort to enforce conformity and discourage people from standing out.

Impact on Individuals and Society

On Individuals

  • Mental Health: The constant criticism and lack of support can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression among high achievers.
  • Self-Censorship: Individuals may downplay their achievements or avoid pursuing success to avoid becoming targets.
  • Reduced Innovation: Fear of criticism can stifle creativity and innovation, as people may avoid taking risks.

On Society

  • Cultural Stagnation: When success and excellence are not celebrated, it can lead to a culture of mediocrity.
  • Erosion of Meritocracy: A society that does not reward achievement and hard work can undermine the principles of meritocracy.

Strategies to Combat Tall Poppy Syndrome

  1. Fostering a Supportive Culture: Encourage a culture where success is celebrated and people support each other’s achievements.
  2. Promoting Positive Role Models: Highlight individuals who succeed and use their influence to help others.
  3. Encouraging Open Communication: Promote an environment where people can discuss their achievements and challenges without fear of resentment or backlash.
  4. Education and Awareness: Increase awareness about the adverse effects of tall poppy syndrome and promote the value of recognising and supporting individual achievements.

A tall poppy is a metaphor for someone who stands out due to their success or achievements. Meanwhile, tall poppy syndrome, particularly prevalent in Australian and New Zealand cultures, refers to the adverse social reaction to such individuals. Understanding this phenomenon is crucial for fostering environments that encourage and celebrate success, promoting a healthier, more innovative society.

Watch as Sonia McDonald hits the streets of Sydney!

Why Prominent in Australia?

Yes, tall poppy syndrome is often associated with Australian culture, though it can be observed in various forms worldwide. Here’s a closer look at its origins and cultural context:

Origin and Cultural Context


  • Historical Roots: The term “tall poppy syndrome” is believed to have originated in Australia and New Zealand, where societal values have traditionally emphasised egalitarianism. Success and standing out can sometimes be viewed negatively, as it disrupts the cultural preference for equality.
  • Cultural Attitudes: In Australia, there is a strong cultural emphasis on fairness and equality. As a result, individuals who achieve significant success or stand out may be seen as disrupting this balance, leading to resentment or criticism.
  • Examples in Media and Society: Tall poppy syndrome is frequently discussed in Australian media, literature, and everyday conversations, highlighting its pervasive influence on social dynamics.

Global Perspective

  • Similar Phenomena Worldwide: While the term is mainly associated with Australia, similar attitudes exist in many cultures. For example, in Japan, the proverb “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down” reflects a similar sentiment. In Scandinavia, the “Law of Jante” describes a pattern of group behaviour that disparages individual achievement and success. In the United Kingdom, the notion of “cutting someone down to size” mirrors the tall poppy syndrome.

Reasons for Its Prevalence in Australia

  • Cultural Egalitarianism: Australian society places a high value on egalitarianism, and excessive success can threaten this principle.
  • Colonial History: Australia’s history as a penal colony and the subsequent development of a classless society have contributed to a cultural suspicion of elites and authority.
  • Sports and Media: Tall poppy syndrome is often visible in the context of sports and celebrity culture in Australia, where successful athletes and public figures may face intense scrutiny and criticism.

Addressing Tall Poppy Syndrome in Australia

  • Promoting Positivity: Encouraging a culture of support and recognition for individual achievements can help mitigate the adverse effects.
  • Education and Awareness: Raising awareness about the detrimental impact of tall poppy syndrome can foster a more inclusive and supportive environment.
  • Role Models and Leadership: Prominent figures who handle success gracefully and support others can set a positive example.

The tall poppy syndrome is particularly notable in Australian culture due to its historical and social context, but similar attitudes can be found globally. Understanding its origins and manifestations can help individuals and communities foster a more supportive and positive environment for success.

How to navigate Tall Poppy Syndrome

Navigating tall poppy syndrome, where individuals who achieve success are resented, criticised, or cut down, requires a mix of personal resilience, strategic communication, and fostering supportive environments. Here are some strategies to help manage and navigate this phenomenon:

Maintain Humility

  1. Stay Grounded: Acknowledge your achievements, but stay humble. Show gratitude and appreciation for the opportunities and support you’ve received.
  2. Avoid Boasting: Share your successes modestly. Let your achievements speak for themselves rather than overtly promoting them.

Build a Supportive Network

  1. Surround Yourself with Positive Influences: Seek out friends, family, and mentors who genuinely support and celebrate your success.
  2. Engage with Like-Minded Individuals: Connect with others who understand your ambitions and can offer mutual support.

Communicate Effectively

  • Be Approachable: Keep open lines of communication. Listen to others and be willing to share your knowledge and experiences.
  • Empathise with Critics: Understand the source of their criticism. Sometimes, their negativity stems from their insecurities or frustrations.

Develop Resilience

  • Focus on Your Goals: Stay committed to your objectives and let your dedication drive you forward despite criticism.
  • Practice Self-Care: Prioritise your mental and physical well-being. Engage in activities that help you relax and recharge.

Promote a Positive Environment

  • Celebrate Others’ Successes: Be the change you want to see. Celebrate the achievements of others and encourage a culture of mutual respect and recognition.
  • Address negativity Constructively: If faced with negativity, address it calmly and constructively. Avoid getting defensive or retaliating.

Seek Feedback and Continuous Improvement

  • Solicit Constructive Criticism: Seek feedback from trusted sources to help you improve. This shows a willingness to grow and learn.
  • Self-Reflect: Regularly reflect on your actions and decisions to ensure they align with your values and goals.

Be Authentic

  • Stay True to Yourself: Authenticity builds respect and trust. Be genuine in your interactions and consistent in your actions.
  • Align Success with Personal Values: Ensure your success aligns with your values and principles, which will make it easier to stand by your achievements.

Educate and Advocate

  • Raise Awareness: Help others understand the detrimental effects of tall poppy syndrome. Promote a culture of inclusivity and support.
  • Be a Role Model: Through your actions, demonstrate how to handle success graciously and support others in their journeys.

Legal and Organisational Strategies

  • Know Your Rights: Be aware of your rights in the workplace or community, and don’t hesitate to address unfair treatment or discrimination.
  • Encourage Organisational Change: Advocate for policies and practices that promote a positive and supportive organisational culture.


Navigating tall poppy syndrome requires balancing personal resilience, strategic communication, and fostering a supportive environment. You can mitigate the adverse effects by maintaining humility, building a supportive network, communicating effectively, promoting positivity, and continuing to thrive despite challenges. Always keep a growth mindsetand stay kind and courageous!