I was having a coaching session with a client of mine recently. An amazing lady, who cares about about both people and profit and has had a very successful career. We were exploring her 2020 business strategy and how she was going to share that with her team. There were going to be some hard truths for the team: there had been lots of change in the industry which had flow on effects to the workforce planning. She wasn't sure how to make it 'sound good’. “Okay", I said, "let's practice". It was really interesting....as someone who knows her very well and knows how much she values her people, when she was telling the story, the person I knew wasn’t coming through in her language or tone of voice. I asked her what was going on: “This is fundamentally a good news story, but your voice tells me you don't believe it.” She said to me, "I want to focus my time and effort on what I really care about and my team are just getting in the way”. That statement was a real eye opener for her in terms of how she felt in her career. I see this a lot. Particularly with senior leaders who in the main, have a real desire to add value and focus on what matters. In their fast-paced, hyper analytical jobs so focused on tasks, results and outcomes, these needs can go unmet. Over time, leaders become frustrated with the belief that they’re not using their potential and not adding value. In my book, Meaning Matters, I call this Stage 2A: the period where you feel that growth stagnates, you’re not learning and your work isn’t being valued. You feel like you’re on the hamster wheel. You realise that the stress that you’ve become accustomed to you in your job isn’t because of the work itself, but because your work feels meaningless and the difficulty is in the monotony of it, or by contrast, the politics that surrounds it.
It’s an insidious feeling that can easily erode our confidence, which then impacts how we show up and how we perform. In a job where performance and presence is so important for career progression, this can undermine your ability to thrive. What’s going on? Ever heard of that saying, “they’re trying to put me in a box”? Where basically someone is trying to typecast you or stereotype you in a certain way? This tends to start when recruiters talk to you about a job opportunities, and continues when you’re in the job and your performance is being evaluated (I've even been evaluated through a 9-box system!). And I get it, people need to set up structures to allow efficient measurement and benchmarking of performance and potential against others in an objective way, which is inherently difficult given that performance measurement is in the main a subjective assessment. But….here’s the kicker. While others try to put us in a box, what I see over and over is that we limit ourselves even further. We put ourselves in a circle inside that box. We inadvertently reduce our own opportunities.
Why do we do this?
It’s a protection mechanism. Putting boundaries around ourselves is necessary and if we don’t, we burn out. Establishing and maintaining boundaries in order for us to maximise our performance (and sanity) is an important, but different topic that we’ll explore at a later date. But for now, let’s agree that yes we all have boundaries at work. And establishing boundaries ring fence opportunity. This is often helpful, but not always. By definition, boundaries cut off our opportunity to explore the edges…and therefore, reduces our opportunity to find and unlock the potential that may lie latent in us and our role.
The only thing that limits us in our role is ourselves. We need to shift our our own possibility to unlock our own potential.
This potential may just be the thing that reduces the frustration day to day. It might be the thing that gets you through the monotony and allows you to put the politics in perspective. It might be the thing that differentiates you from your peers so that you can rise to be 2IC for your boss. Filling the corners might just be the thing to integrate your purpose into your job which unlocks greater levels of performance for you and therefore allows you to level-up your career.
You'll find yourself establishing new relationships around the business, presenting at executive meetings in place of your boss (who don’t worry, will be thrilled, as they’ll be able to focus their attention on the things they really care about). You'll get the opportunity to sit on Boards, leadership teams and SteerCos on projects across the business.
You'll for the first time feel like you’re putting your energy where your strengths lie, and therefore being valued for your full breadth.
Find your pockets of potential
Shake that frustrated feeling
Amplify your impact
I invite you to shift your possibilities this year.
Amplify your influence.