Since I often help leaders with the hiring process – defining the goals of a role, interviewing candidates, choosing a person who seems to be the right fit (hint: it’s all about attributes) – I get a lot of practice in a conversation that I absolutely love to have.
It starts after we’ve worked to define the role and the attributes that will best support it, and it goes something like this:
Me: “Now, before you start collecting candidates, have you thought about the option of cross-training Sarah and giving her this promotion?”
Manager: “Well, I have. And you’re right that she’s really strong in the attributes we’re looking for. But I just don’t think she’s ready yet.”
Me: “Were you?”
This marks a turning point in our conversation and plan. It’s the moment when we exit the realm of the expected process and begin working through the (often challenging) steps of thinking critically about a different and perhaps smarter course of action: promoting the person who “isn’t ready yet.”
Were you ready for your big break?
Managers, how many times have you said “s/he isn’t ready yet” when considering whether or not to promote a certain person from within?
I’ve asked a lot of leaders about the moment they were hired for or promoted into a role that they really weren’t “ready” for, and I really appreciate the honesty that normally follows that question. It sounds something like this:
“You know what? You’re right. I was not ready – not at all. And I knew it. In fact, it scared me to death because I knew I was in way over my head – and I was!”
Most high-level managers got to where they are because they were advanced before they were completely ready. And – you guessed it – that’s a big part of why they worked so hard to get to where they needed to be.
Tap into the power of motivated, “unready” people
I challenge you to take more risk with people, like your bosses did with you. As you consider this, keep these truths in mind:
Human beings are achievers. We do things. We fix things. We make progress. We are driven to build, create, and accomplish. This can mean raising children, building structures, forming organizations, enhancing relationships, teaching and developing other people, and a jillion other things.
The point is, we want to be part of a worthwhile effort. We want to be allowed room to spread our wings. And we want to improve and develop.
Give someone the reins before he’s ready, and what will happen? He’ll sweat, develop some persistent butterflies in his tummy, and maybe wake up in the middle of the night a bit more, his mind occupied with a list of new and bigger responsibilities.
But this is all good in the long run. It’s a sign of a kind of professional stage fright, which in turn generates some energy (even adrenaline) for positive growth, which in turn creates high performance levels.
Now imagine that this same person is left in a role (or hired into a role) that they are 100% ready for. No butterflies. No spark to fuel the I-gotta-figure-out-how-to-make-this-happen flame. So no fire.
It’s why a seemingly incongruous fact is true for many people: when we’re pushed a bit beyond what we’re “ready” for, we perform to our greatest potential; but when we’re working well within our familiar and basic capabilities, we’re likely to show lackluster results.
If you overvalue readiness, you might miss some truly big opportunities that are lying wait in the people on your team.
Managers, remember how ready you weren’t!