Want an Incredible Career? Discover What You’ve Got. | Maximize Your Potential

maximizeyourpotential_small_2__V355563455_Amazon Publishing was kind enough to send me a copy of Maximize Your Potential: Grow Your Expertise, Take Bold Risks, & Build an Incredible Career, so I could read it for a blog post. Because I got so much out of Jocelyn Glei’s first book, Manage Your Day-to-Day, I was eager to read this one. It’s a winner.

Ever been told, “You have potential”? What was being predicted about you? What did those words actually mean?

In business, “potential” generally means having the capacity for growth or development. It’s that latent capability that portends something bigger and better for our careers and the organization’s success.

Potential is a nice sounding word that can puff us up, giving us reason for optimism about our future. Too often that’s where it ends.

We get no details to build on, only those indecipherable clues imbedded in the occasional feedback from our bosses.

Generally, the best we can do is try to surmise how others think our potential will play out. It might mean we have:

  • what it takes to achieve leadership greatness or simply to take one step up the company ladder
  • the intelligence to earn multiple degrees/certifications or the ability to master html to support the company website
  • the assertiveness needed to sell the company’s high end products or the emotional intelligence to handle customer care services

Typically, there’s a trap here–believing what others say about your potential and charting your career course based on it.

Own your potential.

Your potential resides within you. When others tell you what they “see” as your potential, it’s through their lens, often one biased by what they and the organization need.

Jocelyn Glei’s new book, Maximize Your Potential, focuses us on the “you” of “your potential.” Since it’s an asset, you need to own it fiercely, developing it to take you where you want to go.

Like Glei’s earlier book, Maximize Your Potential is an integrated collection of short pieces from important thought leaders who help us find clarity and focus in our careers.

Cal Newport, Georgetown University professor and author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You, confronts the oft cited advice to “follow your passion” in the context of maximizing potential.

He writes:

…few people have pre-existing passions that they can match to a job. Telling them to ‘follow their passion,’ therefore is a recipe for anxiety and failure….

If you’re like me,  you’ve struggled to align how you see your potential with the elusive specter of something you might construe as passion.

Whenever someone I respected at work expressed optimism about my potential, it seemed like another bread crumb trail that would lead me to my passion. It wasn’t.

If I had known  these two lessons from Newport’s research, I may have fared better:

 Lesson 1: What you do for a living matters less than you think.

To build a career, the right question is not “What job am I passionate about doing?” but instead “What way of working and living will nurture my passion.”

Lesson 2: Skill precedes passion.

..if you want something rare and valuable, you need to offer something rare and valuable in return–and in the working world, what you have to offer are your skills.

Now I see. Because developing skills comes before passion:

It doesn’t matter if we fully understand our potential at any given moment.

          I just matters that we develop as many skills and as much job knowledge as we can.

The byproduct is discovery or rediscovery of our passion.

Heidi Grant Halvorson, author and researcher, currently at Columbia Business School, reminds us to focus on getting better, rather than being good.

When we look at our passion and potential as co-contributors to our success, take a steadied and positive approach to tapping into both, we position ourselves for an incredible career.

Tend to your garden.

Understanding your potential starts with you. But you can’t uncover it unless you turn over the ground where your career is planted.

Maximize Your Potential gives you tools you need and explains how to use them well: diaries, daily rituals, skills practice, and relationship building.

Your potential may always be a bit of a mystery. All of us need help cutting through the weeds to find the fruit. Luckily for us, this book is a sharp scythe.

Supervising a Bad Apple? Consider Making Applesauce | Handling Problem Employees

“A rotten apple spoils the whole barrel,” it’s said. That means someone let one bad apple rot. Who?

Sadly, I’ve heard plenty of supervisors whine about problem employees and then, by doing nothing, let them spoil the work environment and their careers too. There’s no excuse for this.

Apple analysis

Supervisors are responsible for all the apples allocated to them.

Not every apple is crisp and shiny. Some have dark spots from bruises. Others have shriveled from their time in the barrel. A small number are decaying under the weight of the other apples.

So we need to pick through the barrel and:

  • Put the good ones in the frig so they’ll last
  • Turn the bruised ones into applesauce or pies
  • Discard the truly rotten ones

This way we save most of the lot, getting full value from it.

Unfortunately, when it comes to “bad apple” employees, the first inclination by many supervisors is to come up with a plan to “throw them out.”

They use strategies like:

Passing the buck: The supervisor tells HR the employee is simply a bad fit and asks them to find the employee a job in another department.

Building a case: The supervisor starts to “keep book” on the employee, logging every performance and behavioral misstep, negative impacts on coworkers, complaints about them, and “potentially dire consequences” to the company if retained.

Driving them out: The supervisor makes the employee’s life as miserable as possible by either ignoring or constantly confronting them, nitpicking, reassigning work they like, and creating a no-win environment until the employee can’t take it anymore.

In these scenarios there will never be applesauce or pie.

Giving every apple a chance

Remember those bruised apples and the shriveled ones? Part of a supervisor’s job is to preserve them.

Here are some approaches:

Stop using the label: Whether you’ve hired or inherited a” bad apple,” stop using that label to describe him/her. It’s a negative that stokes dislike, fosters bias, and blackens their good points

Get over your dislike: Take your emotions out of the equation. Your job is to direct, correct, motivate, communicate, and provide feedback that will turn unacceptable behavior around.

Focus on actions: Discipline yourself to deal objectively with your employee’s actions and his/her  impact on the company and coworkers. What you see and hear is what matters, not what you suppose or interpret.

Insist on improvement: Provide specific feedback on areas of improvement, options for achieving it, and milestones to be met. Create clear accountability for making improvements in work output and relationships, with stated consequences if not attained.

Do what you say: Be trustworthy by delivering on your commitments to support  the employee’s improvement initiatives and on the actions you’ll take if they don’t turn around.

Employees who have successfully become bad apples stay that way because they’re getting what they want.  Unfortunately, for some, it’s a badge of honor that they flaunt. Some may be bullies, slackers, or malcontents.

The truth is that some of these employees have gotten themselves in a “negative identity” box they can’t get out of. Sometimes it just takes an effective supervisor to do what’s needed to help them get onto a better path.

Consider all the “bad apple,” ” bad actor” athletes who bounce from one team to another, until there’s that one coach who turns them around. There are examples everywhere that supervisors can follow.

Bad apple employees aren’t usually any happier in that role deep down than the supervisors who have to deal with them.

At least make applesauce

It’s easy to look into the barrel, see one rotten apple, and decide to throw them all out. No business can sustain that and no supervisor can justify it. Our job is to get the best out of our employees, recognizing that all of us have flaws that, if ignored, can be ruinous.

We need to deal with every employee in an open and fair way, helping them to realize their full potential. Perhaps they’ll thank you for helping them with a shiny red apple.

Photo from t1nytr0n via Flickr

Becoming a “Celebrity” at Work? Take Lessons from Roger Federer

Getting discovered is pretty exciting. One day we’re plodding along doing good work and the next our boss is telling us we’re part of his/her succession plan. 

That often means accelerated development opportunities, high visibility assignments, and access to upper management. 

In a blink we’re on our way to celebrity status in our companies, with new expectations and pressures. 

This is what we wanted, right? But are we ready for it? Do we know what to do? 

A new vantage point 

It’s challenging when we realize that others are seeing us in a brighter light. 

When we’re in a career growth spurt, we need to know how to make the most of it. The right steps increase the shine; the wrong ones can blacken it. 

Being a rising star, raises the bar. The good work we’ve been doing is now looked at with more eyes and increasing expectations. Our every move comes with an assessment: 

  • Can s/he hold up under the pressures of the board, media, regulators, and investors?
  • Is s/he the kind of leader who can affect change, engage employees, and achieve corporate goals?
  • Will s/he be accepted by other executives, community and industry leaders? 

We can be years away from gaining an executive position, but our “potential” will be assessed continually with every action. 

Follow the winners 

Everyone who makes it big was once discovered. With help and hard work, we can all achieve our own celebrity status where we work. 

Roger Federer, a Swiss professional tennis player, has won a men’s record 16 Grand Slam singles titles on three difference surfaces (clay, grass, and hard courts).  By many he is considered the greatest player of all time. 

Once a kid with a temper on the court and now a celebrated tennis icon, Federer demonstrates positive ways to conduct ourselves when our careers are on the rise. Here are lessons we can take from him as our career celebrity grows: 

  1. Don’t complain or bad-mouth—As pros it’s our job to “get on with it,” finding a way to deal with issues in a positive way rather than stoke them with blame or criticism.
  2. Don’t detract from opponents—At times we won’t win. Sometimes a decision will go someone else’s way, their argument will be more compelling, or they will get the job. It’s for us to applaud their successes and accept that we simply fell short that time.
  3. Stay well—Federer is known for never being injured, a credit to his fitness and health, enabling him to fulfill his tennis commitments. Our dependability is measured by our ability to always be there.
  4. Communicate appreciation—We don’t get ahead without the help and support of others. Federer always thanks his fans, the tournament organizers and sponsors, and his team for his successes. In our careers, it’s not all about us. When we are gracious, we solidify support.
  5. Accept set-backs as learning opportunities—Our resilience is tested when things go wrong. Success is a product of our ability to turn set-backs into opportunities and get better. You win some and lose some. But if you learn from each, you’ll win more in the long run.
  6. Dedicate yourself to getting better—A rising career demands continuous improvement in all aspects of our work—training, preparation, self-management, relationship building, and performance. When we slack off, we decline gradually until we’ve lost our edge.
  7. Love your work—Our success will continue if we love our work, not our success. Federer loves everything about tennis—the practice, the players, locker room activities, the competition, and the business. If we don’t love the work we do for our companies, the people, and the industry, we will struggle unhappily to sustain success. 

Keep things in perspective 

Success is illusive. We contribute to it but it’s not wholly under our control. If we follow Roger Federer’s example, we’ll give ourselves the best chance to keep the success door open. Swing freely!

 Photo from mbevis via Flickr


Job Title Traps and How They Can Snare You

Do you remember your first job title? In business mine was coordinator—Consumer Education Programs. Oh, that sounded so sweet to me.

Our first jobs are where we get our feet wet and start to showcase our talents. The plan is usually to upgrade our titles for swankier ones that come with higher salaries. 

The traps await 

Companies create titles to define their hierarchy and manage payroll. They write titles they hope we want to wear. 

Unfortunately, titles aren’t always what they seem to be. They can become traps, manipulations, and disguises, like this: 

Playing to your ego—We’re told we have the “potential” for a higher level job. Even though we don’t particularly want either the job or the accountabilities, we opt in, unable to resist the expected  roar of the crowd. (Trap)

Being placated—After we tell our boss (who’s been standing in our way) a hundred times that we’re frustrated about our careers, we’re given a fancy new job title and a new pay grade but our work stays the same. (Manipulation)

Inflating roles—Most often done at high levels, companies will reward loyal but dead-ended employees with fancier titles, like senior and executive VP, or even special assistant to the CEO, but the scope of their work doesn’t change. (Disguise)

Diluting value—Increasing the number of employees with titles like VP, director, and senior manager reduces the significance/importance/influence of the role, often positioning under-qualified people in them. (Trap)

Resetting pay scales—When companies need to put the lid on payroll costs, they often implement a re-titling initiative that eliminates certain titles, replacing them with others rated lower. Your new title might sound important, but it now has a reduced pay range. (Manipulation) 

I’ve been boggled throughout my career by some of my own title experiences. I was: 

  • “Promoted” from consumer programs manager to management training supervisor, and never understood why the supervisor job paid more, but it did
  • Promoted from customer services manager to director-customer services with a huge change in scope but no change in salary
  • “Rehired” based on a reorganization, going from director-customer services to manager-business management services (whatever that meant) but my salary wasn’t affected 

In the end, the question is: “So what?” 

Achievement isn’t a title

Titles should indicate expertise, influence, and alignment. Some titles that do the well and others don’t. 

I am a big of fan Suzanne Lucas, blogger at Evil HR Lady (her tongue-in-cheek handle) and BNET. She recently wrote the spot on post, “Does Your Title Matter? Plus Free Chocolate!” (You’ll have to go there to learn about the chocolate!) 

Suzanne writes: 

“Here is my worst job title ever: Functional Lead, HR Transition.  Do you have any idea what my job responsibilities were?  Of course you don’t, unless you are one of the many people I helped ‘transition’ out of the company over the years…
And that’s the problem with bad titles.  No one that doesn’t know what you do, can figure out what it is that you do.  Now, most of the time, this makes no difference.” 

Titles only becomes traps if we let them. Just because, the company puts us in a title box doesn’t mean we’re trapped in it. 

Titles mean nothing. Results do. If you’re puffing yourself up or dragging yourself down because of your title, snap out of it. 

When someone asks you, “What do you do?” Answer the question with content, not your job title. What your title means in your company is likely not what it means in someone else’s. 

Suzanne sums it up this way:

“It’s not what your title is that really matters, it’s what you do and what your compensation is that you should be fighting for.” 

It’s a lot more important to let people know, both inside and outside your company, that you’re doing valuable work. Get people to brand you by your contribution, not your title. That’s how you’ll get to next rung of the ladder if that’s your aim.

Photo from Alex E. Proimos via Flickr

The “You’ve Got Potential” Scam—Resist It With Action

Someone says it to you. You say it about a friend or coworker:

  • “You have so much potential.”
  • “With all your potential, you can really go far.”
  • “Don’t waste your potential.”
  • “I think s/he has potential to do so much more.” 

When we’re in school or just starting our careers, being told we have “potential” sounds like praise, reason for optimism, and early votes for our success. 

After we’ve been at our jobs for awhile, having missed out on some opportunities, potential feels like a weight, unfulfilled expectations, and reason to doubt future success. 

No points for potential 

Potential is what we and others think we could do if we tried and then more of, if we tried harder. 

We want to be successful. Everyone wins, or so it seems, when we turn our potential into achievement. 

Lots of people bask in all the attention heaped on them for the potential they’re deemed to have. Others shrink from the pressures of their potential and sabotage their future success. 

On its own, unfortunately, potential can become a self-defeating scam that won’t win us any success points unless we act. 

Potential as “could’ve” 

Career potential is undelivered ability. It’s what we could achieve if we operationalized what we’re seemingly capable of. 

It’s also a guess. Who really knows what’s really latent in us and whether or not it can be put into practice in a big enough way to create real success.?

I’ve overheard many conversations like these: 

“Donald is so smart. He could’ve gone to medical school and become a doctor.”

“My daughter has such a beautiful golf swing that she could’ve become a pro golfer.”

“My boss is the only one with a real strategy. He could’ve easily been the CEO.”

Really? Who’s to know? Why didn’t these outcomes take place? 

Potential is risk 

No guts, no glory—these are the facts about potential. Whatever our talents, gifts, and capabilities are, if we don’t put them out there, act on them, and take the chance that we’ll fail or succeed, it’s as though they don’t exist. 

You get no points in the end for potential. You, in fact, may get a black mark for squandering it because you were afraid to: 

  • Test it against the requirements of the marketplace
  • Put in the hard work to turn it into real knowledge and skills
  • Risk criticism, failure, challenges, and struggle
  • Expose your frailties, your ego, and/or your security 

With action, potential can turn itself into achievement in a thousand ways big and small, like 

  • Achieving a diploma or degree
  • Breaking into sports broadcasting
  • Starting a cottage business
  • Problem-solving your way out of the projects 

“Could’ve” of doesn’t get you anywhere. “Should’ve” doesn’t either. 

Country singer Toby Keith’s lyric is a great reminder: 

“Shoulda been a cowboy

Should’ve learned to rope and ride….” 

We’ve actually got to do stuff. We don’t get anywhere on a wish. We have to learn and act. We have to stick our necks out. 

Potential is investment capital 

We start with potential. It’s always in you. It’s like a money stash that we’re born with and have the opportunity to invest. 

If we leave it buried and don’t act, it delivers no return. If we invest it by acting, we have a chance, not a guarantee, it will grow.

It’s important to listen to everyone who identifies what they see as our potential. There’s a good chance that the people we trust the most and who know us best see what we can’t about ourselves.

Our challenge is to pay attention and try to see what they see. Then we need to ask ourselves, “Am I going to do what it takes to turn my potential into achievement or just let it lie?” I’ve got my money on you taking action. 

Photo from cessable via Flickr