“Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.“ ~ Ronald E. Osborn
Career growth in the initial phase of one’s career is fairly linear with clear cause & effect . You execute certain tasks well, you take the next step. With experience & the next role, you form teams, collectively execute & you are acknowledged and move to the next step.
Till this point, most of the challenges we encounter are typically what Professor Ronald Heifetz, Harvard Kenny School, would call as “technical” challenges - those that can be overcome by knowledge, expertise & resources. Technical challenges have precedent most of the times. We know the problem. We know the potential solution. We just need to involve the right people with right expertise to overcome them.
eg: Bread & butter projects, implementation, administration etc.
Once you reach the mid-senior level, the challenges somehow transform into what we call “Adaptive challenges” or a combination of technical & adaptive challenges. Adaptive challenges are difficult to identify & easy to brush under the carpet. They require multi-stakeholder, systemic effort to yield results. Most importantly, they require changes in “beliefs”, “values”, “relationships” which are hard & take time. It’s difficult to pin point cause & effect. The solutions for such challenges require experiments & discoveries. Eg: Buy-in of stakeholders to your promotion, garnering allies to your business case, inter-departmental synergies etc.
In their book, “Speed Review: Leadership on the Line”, Ronald Heifetz & Marty Linsky argue that, “without learning new ways - changing attitudes, values and behaviours - people cannot make the adaptive leap necessary to thrive in the new environment."
A leader who is in “victim mindset” with these adaptive challenges, thinks that it’s the job of his boss, his organisation, and his stakeholders to get him promoted. So he/she keeps doing the same things repeatedly and expects that it would lead him/ her to her next role. There is a belief - what got him here, would take him there - to the next step. However reality is different. Time & again we have seen this belief derailing outcomes of many.
A leader in “player” mindset with adaptive challenge, will do the below differently.
Acknowledge that adaptive challenges require different beliefs, values, relationships.
Accept that success at work and career will need more than just conquering technical challenges.
The next role or the next big job needs more than individual effort.
Handling ambiguity is paramount in problem definition.
Influencing without authority is a much needed skill to keep things moving.
Being willing to experiment & accepting failure is key in growth.
Being able to take risks is a key leverage.
Some mid-senior leaders who I coach often quote “business challenges” which is a placeholder for lack of opportunities, not being considered good enough, not being able to influence others as show stoppers to their promotion. When we talk enough, we know that the structural elements are constraints that almost everyone has. But some leaders within their organisation still get promoted with the same structural constraints & some don’t. The difference is in the mindset to handle adaptive challenges. Unless this skill is mastered, career growth is far away.
What are you willing to experiment with to go to the next level in your career?