How To Maximise Your Potential

By Daily Graphic

Ambitious professionals often spend a substantial amount of time thinking about strategies that will help them achieve greater levels of success.

They strive for a more impressive job title, higher compensation, and responsibility for more sizable revenues, profits, and number of employees.

Their definitions of success are often heavily influenced by family, friends, and colleagues.

Yet many ultimately find that despite their efforts and accomplishments, they lack a true sense of professional satisfaction and fulfillment.

During the career of Robert Kaplan in both industry and academia, he has met a surprising large number of impressive executives who expressed deep frustration in their careers.

They looked back and felt that they should have achieved more or even wished that they have chosen a different career altogether.

If you are experiencing feelings of frustration or even regret about the direction of your career, Kaplan provides a framework to help you examine how you define success in your heart of hearts and finding your path to get there.

To do that, the Harvard professor advises that you must step back and reassess your career — starting with the recognition that it is your responsibility to manage it .

This requires you to take a fresh look at your behaviour in three main areas: knowing yourself, excelling at critical tasks, and demonstrating character and leadership.

Knowing yourself

Taking responsibility for your career starts with an accurate assessment of your current skills and performance.

While most people can detail their strengths, they often struggle to identify key weaknesses.

This exercise involves meaningful reflection and, almost always, requires soliciting the views of people who will tell you the stark truth.

Unfortunately, you cannot count on your boss to accurately assess your strengths or to be willing to confront you with what you are doing wrong.

It is up to you to take control of this process by asking for specific feedback, and being receptive to input from a wide variety of people at various levels within your organisation.

This gathering of feedback needs to be an ongoing process because, as your career progresses, you will face new challenges.

This type of initiative takes time, humility and a willingness to confront weaknesses, fears, blind spots that many of us would rather ignore.

 And getting others to tell you where you are falling short is not easy — particularly if they are your subordinates.

Once you have a grip on your strengths and weaknesses, your next challenge is to figure out what you truly enjoy doing; your dream job and how well it matches with what you currently do.

Many people either do not know what their passions are or are so focused on the views of their peers that they drift into the wrong career.

The conventional wisdom about the attractiveness of various careers changes constantly according to career counsellors.

Some three decades ago the medical and legal professions were generally considered financially rewarding and socially desirable (it may still be so in some parts of the world).

However, today a number of doctors and lawyers are frustrated in their jobs and realise that they might have based their career choice excessively on the views of their peers and popular opinion, instead on whether they would actually love the work.

Loving what you do gives you the strength to weather personal setbacks, overcome adversity, face and address your weaknesses, and work the long hours typically needed to reach your full potential.

Excelling at critical tasks

It is very difficult to succeed if you do not excel at tasks that are central to your chosen enterprise.

Many executives fail to identify the key success factors — the three or four most important activities that lead to success in their jobs or business.

For example if you are a medical researcher, the three keys are likely to be conducting cutting-edge research, getting published, and fundraising.

Also, if you manage a large sales force, the crucial tasks might be attracting, retaining and developing outstanding salespeople; customer segmentation; and client relationship management.

If you are assessing a potential job move, you need to know what will drive success in the new position and, then, ask yourself whether you enjoy those key tasks.

In your current job, identifying critical tasks helps you determine how to spend your time and develop your skills.

Character and leadership

It may seem amorphous but character and leadership often make the difference between good performance and great performance.

One measure of character is the degree to which you put the interests of your company and colleagues ahead of your own.

Excellent leaders are willing to do things for others without regard to what is for them.

They coach and mentor. They have the mindset of an owner and figure out what they would do if they were the ultimate decision makers.

They are willing to make a recommendation that would benefit the organisation's overall performance, possibly to the detriment of their own unit.

They have the courage to trust that they will eventually be rewarded, even if their actions may not be in their own short-term interest.

Being a leader also means being willing to speak up, even when expressing an unpopular view.

 The proposals of Chief Executives often generate sycophantic head nodding even from people who secretly harbour serious reservations.

Confident executives sometimes overestimate the career risk of speaking up and meaningfully underestimate the risk of staying silent.

Kaplan frequently encourages executives to develop various approaches to help them overcome this hesitancy.

Emerging executives need to save their money to build financial security and to avoid getting emotionally attached to their jobs, Kaplan advises.

You may want to become an expert in a specific business area in order to build your confidence.

You also encourage spending more time deciding what you really believe against trying to guess what the boss might want to hear.

Most outstanding chief executives value emerging executives who assert themselves out of genuine concern for what is best for the company.

 Doing it right is a reward in itself — psychologically in the short run and professionally in the longer run.

Of course, this approach requires that you have some reasonable level of faith that justice will prevail.

Every rewarding career will bring ups and downs. Everyone will face setbacks and discouraging situations. Some people abandon their plans when they hit one of these bumps.

They lose their way and ultimately undermine their own performance – and the wound is all the more painful because it is self-inflicted. Kaplan advises against such self-inflicted wounds.

There is nothing anyone can do to prevent you from reaching your potential; the challenge is for you to identify your dream, develop the skills to get there, and exhibit character and leadership.

Then, you need to have the courage to periodically reassess, make adjustments, and pursue a course that reflects who you truly are.

Article by Capt Sam Addaih (retd)