Sunday, 25 January 2009

Reaching your potential - Robert Kaplan (HBR)

Key ideas from the Harvard Business Review article by Robert S. KaplanThe Idea in Brief

Despite racking up impressive accomplishments, you feel frustrated with your career--convinced you should be achieving more. You may even wish you had chosen a different career altogether.
These feelings often stem from a common error: buying into others' definitions of success. To reach your potential, Kaplan suggests taking a deeply personal look at how you define success:
Begin by recognizing that managing your career is your responsibility. Then, follow these three steps:
Know yourself by identifying your strengths and weaknesses and the activities you truly enjoy doing.
Excel at the activities critical to success in your desired role.
Demonstrate character and leadership by putting the interests of your company and colleagues ahead of your own.

The Idea in Practice

Kaplan offers these guidelines for reaching your potential at work:

Know Yourself

Write down your 2-3 greatest strengths and weaknesses. If (like most people) you struggle with identifying key weaknesses, solicit the views of people (peers, direct reports, trusted friends) who will tell you the brutal truth. Ask for very specific feedback ("How well do I listen?" "What is my leadership style?"). Be receptive to the input you receive.
Then figure out what you truly enjoy doing. What's your dream job? Resist the lure of a hot field: If you go into it without a strong enthusiasm for the actual work, you may waste a number of years before you admit it's the wrong job for you. Once you've chosen your ideal job, you'll have to start from scratch. But choosing a field you love gives you strength to weather the inevitable setbacks and long hours needed to reach your full potential in any career.

Excel at Critical Activities

Identify the 3-4 activities essential for success in your desired or current role. Then develop a plan for excelling in these activities.
A new division head at a large industrial company was struggling to grow sales and profits. Through interviews with staff and customers, he concluded that success in his business hinged on developing close relationships with top customers' purchasing managers, putting the right people in critical leadership positions, and staying at the cutting edge of product innovation. He began delegating activities less central to success so he could focus on raising the bar on the three success factors he had identified. Sales and profits improved.

Demonstrate Character and Leadership

Character and leadership make the difference between good and great performance. To demonstrate character:
  • Put the interests of your company and colleagues ahead of your own, doing things for others without regard to what's in it for you.
  • Adopt an owner's mindset, asking yourself what you would do if you were the ultimate decision maker.
  • Be willing to make recommendations that will benefit your organization's overall performance, possibly to the detriment of your own unit. Trust that you'll eventually be rewarded.
To exhibit leadership, speak up--even when you're expressing an unpopular view. Your superiors desperately want dissenting opinions so they can make better choices. If you play it safe instead of asserting your heartfelt opinions, you may hit a plateau in your career.

  • Purchase the full-length Harvard Business Review article here.

  • Visit Harvard Business Online.

  • See more on Leadership and Managing People at Harvard Business Online.

  • Copyright 2008 Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation.