Scared to know? Get to know your real potential (AKA swallow some cement and harden up)

Do something that scares you.

I have read a lot of books about personal and career development. But one tip I like, is “do something that scares you every day”. No, I’m not advocating running across a highway or swallowing window cleaner (that would be cheating anyway because you can predict that would have to end badly). I’m sure you can name some things that you hold back on and just can’t or won’t do, perhaps you’ve been holding back for years.

Some common ones I’ve come across:

  • I really want to give some feedback to my boss about her behaviour
  • I REALLY want to tell my father that I actually don’t want to be a dentist (apologies to all the dentists, it’s a noble career! And just an example)
  • I should call that girl in the office and tell her how I feel
  • I really should quit my job and do something I’m ‘passionate’ about* (passion and what I think it means, why it can be important and why it’s not necessarily important at all is the subject of another post, stay tuned)

Why don’t we have the courage to just do it?

My guess is it’s generally because we are unsure of the outcome. She could say, “oh hi I’m so glad you called me, I would love to go out with you!” but she could also say “go away you weirdo” and avoid you, and tell everyone in the office that you asked her out. In short, you’ve made a judgement that the perceived risks are too high compared to the potential benefit.

Ok an extreme example. I’ll get to the point now. It’s about work. First a little bit of theory and an example.

In any organisation, work varies in complexity (by that I mean, the time horizon for different tasks varies, there are a different number of variables and those variables relate to one another differently over time) – and we all have a varying degree of capacity to deal with this complexity. (Re-read that paragraph if you like, it’s important to what comes next).

Say I joined a bank as a junior customer service officer. My focus in that role would be on resolving customer problems as they come to me on a daily basis. Let’s say I’m enjoying that and developing in the role over a few years, and I’m now put in charge of a team of junior customer service officers. We’re all doing valuable work (there’s no doubt, where would a bank be without people helping customers?) but as the manager of the team, I’m now thinking of a longer timeframe and more variables that impact on my own and the team’s performance. I may need to think about how to fill a roster over a 6 month period, how to resolve tricky customer problems that cross over into the work of few different teams and even who might be the next to fill my shoes.

This isn’t new stuff but lots of people won’t have heard of their work described in this way before.

My proposition is that (and I’m not alone), we all have different levels of ability and comfort with complexity. In my role as a junior customer service officer, I could have enjoyed dealing with the daily customer queries for a long period of time, but I might be starting to see the same thing over and over. I might be wondering what my manager does all day up there. I could even be wondering, do I have what it takes to be successful in another role if I do get promoted?

This is important, because what organisations should value a great deal more than they do, is the ability of people not only to understand complexity, but to make good judgments and act productively in relation to complexity. It’s not enough to just “get it”, we generally get paid in roles to make judgements on things and take action.

In short, organisations should take a lot of notice of who can make that transition successfully. Who can put the ability to understand complexity together with the ability to manage it well.

That’s why I’m not a huge fan of personality testing, values inventories and the like as the ONLY way to help someone with their career. And I don’t mean everyone should get an IQ test (don’t get me started!! Seriously, I’m warning you!!!)

Ok, so “do something that scares you”. I’m getting to that.

What if there was a way to get some really good insights into whether you could take that step up in your career. In other words, get a good reading on your very own leadership potential. Wouldn’t you like to know?

There’s good news and bad news. I always prefer bad news first so here goes.

  • Potential assessment can be a nerve-wracking and challenging process (like giving your manager negative feedback, like the few seconds as the phone rings before that girl in the office answers).
  • It brings out things about yourself that could be confronting.
  • There is no way to prepare (at least, in my view there shouldn’t be a way to prepare, apart from a good night’s sleep).
  • You could be disappointed.
  • You’ll need to pay some money to go through it.

Here’s the good news.

  • Potential assessment is nerve-wracking and challenging – that is a good thing. That means you will come out the other side a wiser person. I can assure you there won’t be any damage, however it will be a great development experience for you.
  • You will see new sides to yourself – and that will be confronting. That’s good because you’ll have almost no choice but to learn something.
  • You can’t prepare – so no study needed, just a few hours and a quiet spot.
  • It is also fun and inherently interesting.
  • It will give you some important insights when you do it, and it will get more and more important as you progress in your career (i.e. you can keep drawing on what you learnt about yourself throughout your whole career).

Ok you could be disappointed.

You might fancy yourself as CEO material. Someone could have said those exact words to you. “Sam, you’re CEO material”. Then some guy with a fancy technique does some test with you and then tells you that you don’t actually have CEO-level potential. Please don’t be offended, but if you do want to be a CEO, would you agree and glumly accept your fate if I gave you that news? I doubt it. It’s data. It’s not the meaning of life.

It may actually be the best thing that’s happened to you for a long time. So go eat some cement and harden up (please, not literally).