Many of our proteges and mentors were good students at school and university. This is natural given Protagion’s professional focus, and we’re incredibly proud of our members’ foundational achievements, from good grades to degrees from prestigious institutions to their professional qualifications and beyond.
In Playing Big*, ‘good student’ Tara Mohr discusses her experiences of “...the deeper learning, the lessons slowly absorbed, day by day, from the culture of school itself” and asks:
Like us, she noticed that, in some ways, the skills we learn and behaviours we practice at school and university – those we originally thought were the ingredients for accomplishment – don’t serve us that well in the working world. As Tara puts it: “Blazing a bright trail in [our] careers – moving from ‘good worker bee’ to ‘mover and shaker’ - requires an entirely different set of muscles, skills, and ways of being than the ones [we] honed at school.” While our academic training and conditioning can lead to success at midlevels in our organisations, it does not necessarily translate into success as senior leaders, trailblazers or pioneering innovators.
Read more to explore three approaches which led to success in our studies but which don’t serve us as well in the world of work: advance preparation, adapting to authority, and assuming that good work will speak for itself. These are not universally applicable as all schools and university environments are different, and there will be other examples too, so please share your thoughts with us below the full article.
While prompted by a recent discussion with a protege, our latest real-life example uses a blend of situations to illustrate the issue and our suggestions. This blend includes real-life situations we’ve seen in the past and/or discussions we’ve had, in order to anonymise things somewhat… It is thus a composite, and “any resemblance to actual events or people, living or dead, is purely coincidental” - quite a paradox for a ‘real-life example’ post yes.
The composite example involves when your relationship with your long-standing employer ends unexpectedly, leaving you as a professional in the wilderness, unsure of how to proceed... And, this is sadly far more common than you might imagine. The uncertainty arises from multiple angles, including emotional, financial and perhaps self-belief and credibility too. Professional reputation may also be affected. In our experience, those most vulnerable to such a discontinuity are often the employees who:
When your employment relationship is a healthy, reciprocal, ‘through sickness and health’ one, the years of mutual sacrifice and commitment can make it much stronger. However, the employment relationship can be far more risky when your employer (the organisation) doesn’t feel the same way about you, akin to professing your eternal love to someone who only wants you for your immediate skills... Indeed, even if you have a strong relationship with your manager(s), this can be overridden by short-term organisational factors.
So, if you have all your eggs in one employment basket and as a result are at risk of being vulnerable in this way, and you take away only one thought from this article, please remember that less loyalty can be a good risk management/reduction strategy i.e. placing your eggs in different baskets. Read more to see why.
Our next real-life example concerns passing on a promotion within a culture which prizes competition and quick personal advancement through stellar immediate results on projects.
Shared by Tara Mohr in her writing, it is based on a conversation with one of the graduates of her Playing Big programme, Margaret, a director at a major global professional services firm. Their conversation took place several months after Margaret had finished the course, and Tara describes it as a story of positive change that moved her.
“[Margaret] explained to me that she’d been offered a highly coveted promotion, a role for which all her peers at the firm had competed. When Margaret “won”, everyone assumed she would take the job, but she turned it down – making company history as she did so.
Why? When she was offered the promotion, Margaret was 50 percent of the way through a multi-year project she’d developed from inception. She didn’t want to abandon the work or her team. She valued relationships. She valued seeing things through to the end. Plus, Margaret believed that part of what created corruption and waste in her industry were the practices around promotions: a professional workforce that greedily leapt from job to job to advance as quickly as it could, one in which employees were held accountable for their immediate results but not their long-term impact. That led to poor decisions that weren’t really in the interests of people – the clients, the shareholders, the investors – who were impacted by them. Participating in that did not feel right to Margaret…
When Margaret turned down the promotion, she let people know why she did it, and she established her reputation as a leader focused on long-term impact, not merely her title. That led to some even more high-profile opportunities coming her way. Further, she started a conversation with senior leaders about the costs of the frequent promotions and employees’ resulting short-term focus.”
Some thoughts on this example:
Please share your thoughts on this real-life example with our readers – have you seen this in your professional career? How did taking a stand against the status quo turn out for you or them? Were you/they able to influence the culture through your/their action?