Why is it that some people have careers that resemble a marathon—methodically, progressively advancing on pace and towards a defined objective—while other people have careers that resemble someone running on a treadmill—exerting energy, doing good work, but ultimately going nowhere, ending up right where they started? The answer might very well lie in the words that follow the ellipses: “Yes, but…”
“Yes, but…” conversations
A mentor of mine first introduced me to the concept of “Yes, but…” many years ago. A “Yes, but…” conversation sounds something like this:
John: “Mitchell has been doing a great job in his current role. He’s really turned his department around and is hitting every metric we’ve established for his group’s success. I think we should consider him for a promotion.”
Barb: “Yes, but…he isn’t well-liked among his peers or his direct reports. He’s viewed as selfish and aloof. I think we should wait and see if he develops into more a team-player.”
John: “Interesting. Ok. How about Jane then?”
Have you ever participated in one of these conversations? Hopefully, you haven’t been the subject of one! Poor Mitchell. Keep in mind that he isn’t a poor performer. He’s getting the job done and it’s not going unrecognized. He’s probably being compensated well and likely has been awarded for his achievements. However, his career mobility—in this example, the promotion he undoubtedly thinks he deserves—escapes him.
“Yes, but…” comments center on a person’s weaknesses. All of us have areas where we are in the dark about ourselves. Everyone—even the most reflective, introspective people—have them. As much as you try to view yourself through the lens of those around you, your vision is obscured by your own predilections. This is best illustrated by The Johari Window, which was created in 1955 by American psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham:
Weaknesses fall into one of two categories: blind spots and derailers.
Blind spots are weaknesses that you cannot see, but they are visible to everyone else. So, what are your blind spots? It’s a trick question! If you knew what they were they wouldn’t be blind spots! The good news is that they don’t have to remain blind spots—you can discover what they are. And, once you discover what they are, you can fix them.
- It starts by admitting you have some. That may sound obvious, but it’s not. Too many people simply refuse to set their egos aside and accept the fact that they are wonderfully flawed.
- Since blind spots, by definition, are known to others (but not to yourself), ask others for the gift of their insight. Those that work for you, with you, and for whom you work can help bring your blind spots into focus. As the old adage goes, “Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it.” This is why Step #1 is so important. If you aren’t willing to accept that you have areas of weakness, then asking others to tell you what your weaknesses are is a recipe for disaster.
- Assess the feedback you get from others. Some blind spots you can fix. As a young sales manager, when I learned that I was taking control of meetings when visiting customers alongside my sales reps, which frustrated the reps and reduced their credibility in the eyes of their customers, I modified my behavior and learned to take a supporting role. Others you may not be able to fix—but you can mitigate them. When a colleague of mine discovered that her e-mail communications with customers was causing friction and hurting the business relationship, she delegated that task to another teammate. Her skill-set didn’t improve, but the customer complaints did and the blind spot was removed.
Derailers are different than blind spots in one very significant way: not all blind spots are career-limiting, but all derailers are. Sure, blind spots are weaknesses and we should strive to eliminate or compensate for our weaknesses, regardless of how significant they are. However, some weaknesses can be masked by your strengths and, therefore, be allowed to go uncorrected. Not so with derailers—no strength can compensate for a derailer. Derailers are weaknesses that require immediate attention because they prevent you from achieving your full potential.
The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) has compiled an extensive list of career derailers through their research. A few are:
- Failure to adapt to change
- Problems with interpersonal relationships (such as being insensitive, manipulative, overly critical, and aloof)
- Failure to hire and staff effectively
- Lack of follow-through
The folks at DecisionWise have also compiled a list of career derailers, including:
- Lack of focus
- Not trusted
- Lacks confidence
Getting the gift of feedback
Your blind spots may or may not be the subject of a “Yes, but…” conversation about you (depending on the severity of the weakness). A derailer will absolutely lead to a “Yes, but…” conversation. Therefore, it is important to seek out your blind spots and address them before any become derailers. I have helped several mentees uncover their blind spots through a simple process called “The Gift of Feedback”. It works like this:
- Mike (mentee) provides me with a list of people who can offer true insight about Mike. It could be anyone with whom Mike has direct, regular contact. Good friends may not be appropriate, as they may not provide the balance of feedback being sought. Six to eight people provides a good sample pool.
- Mike than notifies each person that I will be contacting them to set-up time to discuss Mike. He assures them that their feedback will be confidential and anonymous (Mike will know what was said, but will never know who said what). He informs them that this is part of his ongoing professional development, that he asks for their honest, candid comments, and thanks them in advance for participating.
- I then spend 20-30 minutes “interviewing” each person, seeking answers to these four questions:
- What does Mike do well?
- What could Mike do better?
- What’s the one thing you think Mike would benefit from knowing about how others perceive him?
- What should Mike start doing/stop doing/do differently that would make him even more effective?
- After all the “interviews” are complete, I compile the feedback, grouping the comments into major themes and discuss it with Mike.
- Once Mike has had a chance to digest the feedback and reflect on it, we then work together to create a plan for addressing the critical weaknesses (action, deliverable date, resources required).
I encourage you to embark on a journey to uncover your blind spots and eliminate potential derailers. The hardest part is swallowing your pride and committing to self-improvement. You can employ a formal, professionally-administered 360-degree survey, a less formal process such as the one outlined above administered by a mentor or coach, or simply solicit feedback from your co-workers directly. Finally, use the feedback you receive to formulate a plan of action and commit yourself to making changes. If you do this, you will greatly reduce the chance of being the subject of an unfortunate “Yes, but…” conversation.