Monday, August 15, 2011

Growing On and Through the Job

Hard experience has taught me that there are many individuals in the workplace who, far from being driven by any pursuit of excellence, are satisfied to perform at an above average level.

These are not people who lack ambition. They can be more accurately described as lacking a sufficient standard of measurement. Left to ourselves, most of us would describe our job performance as above average and, not surprisingly, we aren't about to search for any evidence to the contrary. After all, we have things to do, the boss isn't complaining, and we're certainly doing a better job than that slug down the hall.

Like Jackie Mason's joke that his mother didn't know how much he drank until the day he came home sober, many of us don't realize what a low standard we embrace until the day we learn how much better we could be doing. That's one reason for the "If I knew then what I know now" stories. We look back and are stunned at how much better we could have been.

Improvement requires curiosity and a willingness to go beyond, often far beyond, what is required. You don't need to read those management books, but you do. You can come up with plenty of excuses for not attending that workshop, but you grit your teeth and go. Your pride may suffer a bit if you ask some more experienced managers for advice and ideas, but you do so anyway.

This gives you a major advantage because many of your competitors are willing to coast. By investing in yourself and honing your skills, you can catapult yourself past rivals who stopped learning 10 or 20 years ago. There is only one catch:

You have to do it.

You can't just think about doing it or purchase the books and classes and then ignore them. You must have the raw commitment to delve into and master the subject; to question your assumptions; and to change course if you are on a slow or wrong path.

This is not easy, but it is invigorating. You will see your job with new eyes. Opportunities and challenges will emerge. As you achieve a higher skill level, other skills may be needed in order to stay there or move on. In fact, count on that.

There may be times when you look back at your previous practices with a bit of longing for the simpler days, but you'll know that the person you've become would never again find that to be acceptable. You have not just transformed your job performance; you have transformed yourself.

All for the better.


Dan in Philly said...

Very well said and the very ideals I aspire to live by. Well done, Michael.

Michael Wade said...




Bob said...

You need to carry a knife with you though to cut the ropes people lasso around you, to try and stop you with negative views and comments and lack of vision, and other factors that hold you back.

One thing I have noticed is that the vast majority of people are simply not curious, and they find it hard to comprehend people who are.

So thanks for the post, though unless they understand I doubt they'll be motivated to learn and explore...

John E. Smith said...

Hi, Michael - excellent observation.

It strikes me that the key factor here is internal motivation. Curiosity is not something that can be forced from outside us, but has to arise within us. Others, such as really god teachers or trainers, can influence us, but we still have to generate the desire to know.

Our society does not always reinforce this type of internal motivation, which should not matter, but does too often.

I have actually had jobs where I was accused of working too hard and making others look bad in comparison:)

Didn't stop me, but made team-building a tad trickier.


Adam said...

What an absolutely brilliant article Michael. You captured in one concise article the secret to high performance.

As Bob said, a lot of people seem to lack that curiousity. I think that can be attributed mainly to being completely disengaged in the work they do.

When you get environments full of disengaged people, it can present challenges for engaged people, challenges like John mentioned.

Solution, more people need to take a risk to find things they care about, so that they do have the motivation and curiosity to strive for excellence!

Michael Wade said...

Bob, John, and Adam,

I deeply appreciate your kind and thought-provoking comments. You've given me some things to ponder.