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Learning to do the right thing well

by on
in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

For a high achiever, the thought of doing a poor or even so-so job is abhorrent. That’s why so many leaders find their upward trajectory fizzle to a plateau. Rather than trying something new and risking poor performance, they lock into routine.

How to get past self-imposed obstacles:

√ Put negative experiences behind you. A painful memory of trying something new and being disappointed with the outcome can keep you from taking on new challenges.

Exercise: Think of a risk-taking experience that went badly. Now retell the story from another person’s perspective as a way of reminding yourself that it’s not just about you. Or write down your memory of a difficult interaction, then underline the facts. There probably aren’t many. Use the facts to shift your interpretation of the memory and put it behind you.

√ Ask for honest feedback. High achievers tend to avoid others’ opinions when they fear their work is subpar.

Exercise: Engage trusted, key people in an “SKS”—a process where you ask what you should stop doing, what to keep doing and what to start doing. It’s possible you’ve been dismissive about a skill that comes easily to you, or that a behavior you view as a strength is something you should stop.

√ Admit to small failures. Practicing vulnerability can bring you a surprising degree of relief. Things might have gone differently with the financial crisis if somebody had been brave enough to say, “I’m not getting this—could you please explain again this newly created product to me?”

Exercise: Put yourself in situations where you know nothing. Take a language class. Join a book group where you don’t pick the titles, then speak up at every meeting.

√ Take the long view. You may be letting short-term fear of failure stop you from reaching a distant goal. But it’s a necessary step on the path to doing the right thing well.

— Adapted from “Managing Yourself: The Para­dox of Excellence,” Thomas J. DeLong and Sara DeLong, Harvard Business Review.

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