Don’t Take That Job If You Are Not Nervous

I recently had an interesting conversation with one person I was coaching on a career decision. We worked together for some time and he had a clear plan on where he wants to go with his career. Then rather unexpectedly, an opportunity came by that was exactly on his career path. However, it came up a year or two earlier than he thought he will be ready. This created an obvious ambivalent feelings. At one side it was huge push for his career, at the other it came with anxiety and feeling of not being ready. He summarized it nicely in “Tomas, I’m excited by the opportunity but also a bit nervous.” And my response was “Great!”

What is your career aspiration?

There are many articles written on the topic of not planning your career since in today’s fast moving world you can’t predict what will be in five years and you shouldn’t limit your options. You should just grab opportunities as they come. I can’t subscribe to that notion. Yes, planning your career in terms of “in ten years I want to be a CEO of our company,” is not a smart move since things are changing fast and in ten years you may not even be with the company and may work in completely different field.

What you should do when it comes to your career is to understand your career aspirations and have a clear direction you are heading in terms of “what am I good at”, “where can I contribute”, and “what makes me satisfied”. It should never be about getting a fancy title or loads of money since these are moving targets. If your career goal is to be a Manager, the moment you get there it will move and you will start thinking on how to be a Director. You will be always chasing something and ultimately be unhappy most of the time.

Having a career aspiration that focuses on things related to growing as a person and contributing to society is much more fulfilling and has a bigger chance to lead to constant happiness. To illustrate on my example, my career aspiration is to “build something and to learn something”. You can imagine how frustrating it is for my boss to have a career conversation with me, but that is the answer he gets. This career aspiration is aligned with my core values that are all around “being useful” and “helping others” and it satisfies my hunger for knowledge as I’m an incredibly curious person.

It is important to note that career aspirations are much broader than getting to the next level on the career ladder and they have overlap to your non-work part of the life. Your career aspiration might be even things like “freedom”, “financial security”, or “living and working according to my values”.

Once you are clear on what your career aspirations are you understand the general direction in which you are heading and can chose jobs accordingly. Sometimes it helps the conversation to have a specific type of job in mind, but don’t fall into a trap to make the title also the goal. In my case, I sometimes mention that my long-term goal is to get to COO or CTO type of role. These roles embody the type of work that would allow me “to build and to learn” and they give me a focus. They help me to understand what skills I need to work on. However, I do not have a specific plan how to become a CTO and if it doesn’t happen I won’t be disappointed. Once again, it is not about the title but about the type of work you do and what is at one company called COO can be at another called Head of Operations.

The importance of being uncomfortable

The only way you learn is by being uncomfortable. I’m so convinced about this that I already wrote on the topics couple of articles such as this one. Is it bad to be comfortable at your job? Not at all, but consider what is important to you. During our lives we go through various phases and our priorities change. Sometimes we live for our work, we want to prove ourselves, we want to have a great career progress, learn and grow. Sometimes we want a bit more stability, want to focus on our kids and families, and want to do a good job at work without the need to climb the career ladder.

It is important for you to realize in which phase you are and why. If you say that your focus at this stage of your life are your small kids then it is completely fine to find your sweet spot at work and be comfortable there knowing that you are good at what you do, you are doing a good job, but you don’t need to push your limits to get outside your comfort zone to get the next promotion. It is just not important to you at this stage in your life. At the other hand, if you feel that now is the time to move your career forward, you absolutely must get out of your comfort zone, keep challenging yourself to learn and go above and beyond the requirements of your job. That is the way you will grow and that is the way to get ahead.

So should you take the job offer if you feel a bit nervous about your ability to get the job done? It depends. But if you are in your “moving your career forward” phase then the answer is “Definitely!” In fact, I would urge you to not taking a job that makes you feel very comfortable. Chances are you will learn nothing, get bored fast, be unhappy and leave soon.

 

What is your experience? Have you ever taken on a role that you felt you are not qualified for? How did it feel? Have you even not taken a bigger role because you felt not being ready and later regretted that decision?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

Why Leaders Should Hire Their Opposites

A lot was written about the need of hiring people that will support the culture you are trying to build. So called cultural fit. And a lot was written about inclusion and diversity with the idea being that the more diverse team the better for creativity, innovation and productivity. I will leave aside the problem of how do you reconcile these two ideas and focus today on how you as a leader can personally benefit from hiring people who are very different from you.

Cognitive biases

Based on popular psychology our perception of reality and our decisions are influenced by a wide array of cognitive biases. Here are couple of them very relevant to your ability to hire the right people to your team:

  • Stereotyping – happens when you attribute specific traits or expected behaviors to a candidate based only on them belonging to a certain group without having actual information about that individual.
  • Social comparison bias – nudges you to be wary of candidates who may compete with your particular strengths.
  • Status quo bias – urges you to hire candidates similar to the ones you already have on the team to preserve the social equilibrium and things to stay the same.
  • Ingroup bias – pushes you to attribute positive traits and give preferential treatment to candidates who you perceive to be from “your group”. This can be people with similar educational or cultural background, from the same school, town, class, etc. You are essentially following this logic, “hey we went to the same school, the best school in the universe, of course you are a great fit to my team”
  • Halo effect – probably the most frequently quoted bias that makes you transfer positive or negative traits you observe in a candidate in one area to another area even if they are in no way connected. For example, “this guys has a nice shoes… he must be great… at selling software.”
  • Fundamental attribution error – this one, especially when combined with Ingroup bias and Stereotyping, leads you to put bigger emphasis on personality-based explanations for observed behavior of the candidate and dismissing the environmental and situational influence. It may lead to this type of thinking, “so you were laid off, [from a company that just released hundred people,] you must have been selected because of poor performance.”

Why do I mention these? They are always with you and if you are not careful, they will result in you hiring your clones. You can easily end up having a team fully staffed with a little bit less smart versions of you and that is not a recipe for success of the team. What is worse, this leads to a situation where everyone on the team has the same opinions, you have a team of yes-men. You may have built a friction free environment that is very comfortable, but it doesn’t challenge you or anyone else on the team to grow.

How to build your team

As a leader you want to build a team that will get the job done, but you also want to build a team that will help you to grow as a person and as a leader since your better performance will again lead to the better performance of the team.

  • Hire to fill gaps in the team – I talked about it in How To Hire A Strong Software Development Team. You shouldn’t hire individuals, you should build teams. What I mean is that all of us have some strengths and weaknesses and you want your team to cover all the bases. For example, if you build software, you want someone on your team to be great at front-end user interface, some great at databases, some at backend logic, you want someone with good communication skills to talk to customers, etc. You don’t need every single person to have all these skills, but you want the team members to complement each other
  • Hire to offset your weaknesses – it is very similar with your own strengths and weaknesses. You should look for people who will fill the gap in areas you are bad at. The thing is, it is very likely that these people will be very different from you. They can’t be your clones. If you believe there is nothing you are bad at, then chances are you suffer from whole lot of cognitive biases, your judgement is impaired and you shouldn’t be in management in the first place.
  • Hire for critical skills – when designing a job profile don’t list all the skills and behaviors you can imagine as must-haves. Be very clear what is the critical skill or skills that you need to fill a gap in your team and to patch your weakness but leave the rest as optional. I described this hiring mentality in Hire For Strengths, Not Lack Of Weaknesses.
  • Hire for attitudes – as I mentioned in Effort And Attitude Beats Talent And Knowledge give proportionally higher importance to attitudes of the person and their capacity to learn. Ignore what their previous job was about, what school they attended, who were they born to and when, but rather try to understand whether their core values are aligned with the company’s and whether they can learn and adapt.
  • Hire to learn – when I’m hiring people to my team I always ask myself one question. “Is there something I can learn from this person?” If the answer is “no”, I tend to be very careful with extending the offer. Very often the answer is “yes”. The reasoning follows closely the previous point. I want to hire people who will supplement me in the area of my weakness and that means I can get better by tapping their area of strength.
  • Hire to get challenged and to grow – I strongly believe that the only way you can grow is by getting out of your comfort zone and get challenged. When I look at my management career the most progress in becoming better at managing people happened when I had on my team someone who was very different from me and challenged me regularly. I had to rethink my approach on how to manage people quite a lot and I always learned a lot from these encounters. I must admit that not all of them ended up well, but the lessons learned definitely stuck with me. Since I’m fairly introverted person the biggest challenge for me always was managing extreme extroverts especially when they are overconfident. I was even told by one such person that “you don’t know how to deal with me.” And he was right. Even though I was the boss, I felt very uncomfortable in our interactions and it took me some time to learn how to manage this person. This one person helped me greatly to improve my ability to manage people.

Everything in moderation

When I look at the example from my experience about hiring someone who was so much stronger personality than me that it overwhelmed me, I wouldn’t do it again. It was a useful experience that I learned a lot from, but it was almost too much for me to cope with and ultimately hurt the team. So yes, you should hire your opposites, but make sure you are still able to handle the relationship so it doesn’t burn you out or destroys the team.

 

Do you subscribe to the described notion that you should hire your opposites? How do you create a harmony in a team that consists of diverse individuals? Is there a better way for you as a leader to grow and learn?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.