Life

Beyond the Grind: Why Ability Isn’t Enough to Get You Promoted and How to Develop What Really Matters

Readers frequently inquire, ‘I excel in my role, so why does leadership overlook my potential?’ There exist varied pathways to address this query. Consider a scenario: at the grassroots level, an individual demonstrating remarkable prowess, diligence, and dedication often ascends to a team leadership role or managerial position. However, for those already leading a team or positioned midway in the hierarchy, solely relying on ‘ability’ as a sole breakthrough may prove insufficient.

This is because, at a certain juncture, the underlying principles governing promotions undergo a transformation; relying solely on one’s ‘ability’ becomes inadequate to adapt to the elevated promotion dynamics. To a certain extent, exceptional ability only ensures the lower limit of progress, but not the upper limit. Today, we shall delve into this theme.

01 Attitude Surmounts Ability in Significance

Du Yuesheng categorized individuals into three classes: the first-class, capable without temper; the second-class, capable with temper; the last-class, lacking ability yet possessing a strong temper. If ‘temper’ in this context is interpreted as ‘attitude’, it resonates with numerous professionals. Many individuals regarded as possessing ‘ability’ fail to ascend to ‘first-class’ status in the professional realm due to their deficient ‘attitude.’

1. Work Attitude

Fairly speaking, approximately 80% of workplace competency issues are fundamentally attitudinal in nature. For instance, certain individuals procrastinate when faced with tasks, evading challenges and rarely proactively resolving issues. However, when subjected to adequate external pressure, they deliver commendable results. Isn’t this fundamentally an issue rooted in attitude?

I once managed a subordinate of such nature. Whenever I delegated somewhat challenging tasks, he instinctively declined, ‘President K, this goal isn’t realistic,’ ‘President K, this is unattainable.’ Yet, when faced with a more serious or assertive demeanor, he would oblige. His work outcomes were closely linked to the pressure I imposed. He performed better when closely monitored; when the vigilance relaxed, the results often fell short.

As a leader, confronting such individuals, they are often not entrusted with greater responsibilities. The rationale is simple: the managerial costs are excessive. Each task assigned to them engenders prolonged deliberation by superiors. They either undertake tasks beneath their capabilities, rendering it somewhat trivial, or when assigned pivotal tasks, their performance becomes hard to regulate, necessitating constant supervision. Such individuals prove burdensome to utilize unless they possess an unparalleled skill others lack; otherwise, why should leaders seek unnecessary trouble?

2. Human Attitude

An individual’s ability, akin to ‘force’ in the physical realm, comprises both magnitude and direction. When selecting individuals for roles, apart from assessing the magnitude of their ‘ability,’ it is imperative to consider the ‘direction’ of this ability. Anchoring this ‘direction’ is the person’s values, sense of responsibility—their comprehensible attitude.

Sound values and life perspectives serve as a catalyst augmenting an individual’s ability. These elements effectively amplify their capabilities and influence others, galvanizing collective effort. Conversely, if an employee’s attitude is flawed, their ability may be ‘misdirected.’ Not only does it fail to positively impact the team, but it might also detract from achieving overarching objectives and hinder the team’s accomplishments. This elucidates why esteemed corporations place considerable emphasis on candidates’ alignment with the company’s mission, vision, culture, and values when recruiting key positions.

02 Communication: A Paramount Skill

Princeton University’s analysis of 10,000 personnel records revealed that intellect, professional aptitude, and experience constitute merely 25% of the factors driving career success, while adept interpersonal communication accounts for the remaining 75%. As a professional, possessing adept communication skills and awareness equates to seamless management of hierarchical and subordinate relationships.

1. Nurturing Positive ‘Upward Management’

Renowned financial writer Wu Xiaobo shared an anecdote: Amidst his hectic schedule, he inadvertently delayed responding to several proposals submitted by his subordinates. Usually, in such circumstances, subordinates set aside their proposals, deeming their responsibility fulfilled, assuming that if the boss failed to reply or discuss, they wouldn’t be held accountable in the future.

However, one of his subordinates adopted a different approach. After submitting the proposal, the subordinate appended a note: ‘Professor Wu: Presently, we have two proposals, A and B. I favor Proposal A. If you harbor alternative suggestions, kindly respond before midnight today. Lacking additional input, we shall commence preparations based on Proposal A at noon tomorrow. Thank you for your guidance, Boss!’ This brief yet assertive communication transformed passive subordinates into proactive ones. Wu Xiaobo, previously passive in this scenario, now became the recipient, compelled to allocate time to review the proposal and make a decision. This effective communication elevated the previously mentioned subordinate, distinguishing them from those accustomed to waiting for directives, thereby catapulting them to an executive position within Wu Xiaobo’s company.

2. Foster Openness and Transparency: Minimize Unnecessary Tasks

Organizational Behavior introduces the concept of a ‘psychological contract,’ encapsulating a series of implicit expectations between individuals and organizations at any given moment

. Essentially, this contract denotes mutual responsibilities between employer and employee. However, these ‘hidden’ expectations often result in a fatal flaw in management practices. For instance, employees may burn the midnight oil, toiling overtime on tasks not aligned with the leader’s expectations. Plans submitted to superiors following meticulous optimization might be criticized for their belated submission.

This necessitates superiors to engage in comprehensive communication when managing subordinates, elucidating this ‘psychological contract’ explicitly. By doing so, everyone gains clarity regarding expectations, time constraints, and the support available. Employing a language comprehensible to all, fostering open communication, attentively listening to suggestions and opinions, arriving at a genuine consensus—enables minimizing futile tasks and elucidating clear goals and pathways to task completion.

03 Vision and Perspective Transcend Position

Psychologist Li Songwei posits that ‘perspective’ constitutes breaking one’s beliefs, altering decision-making systems established post-cognitive advancement. For professionals, a pragmatic perspective advocates an ability to scrutinize issues from a higher vantage point, being less preoccupied with immediate gains and losses, fostering vision and perspectives transcending immediate positions.

President Kennedy once visited NASA and encountered a janitor mopping the floor. Inquiring about his task, the janitor responded, ‘I’m contributing to the mission of putting a man on the moon.’ Is this a banal platitude lacking substance? Is this custodian compelling himself to deliver an insincere statement? I believe otherwise. When confronted with the same task, diverse perspectives and broader mindsets offer distinct interpretations of significance and relevance. The effort, concentration, and ultimate results dedicated to a task may vary considerably based on differing perspectives. Such distinctions may differentiate an individual’s recognition and progression from others—this epitomizes the genuine essence of ‘perspective influencing outcomes.’

In the film ‘The Devil Wears Prada,’ the protagonist, Andy, lacks outstanding ability. Nevertheless, she ascends to the right-hand position of a discerning boss. A pivotal reason behind this feat was Andy’s aptitude to ‘elevate’ herself, adeptly aligning her vision with her boss’s. Consequently, she gains comprehensive insights into the boss’s intentions, effectively addressing the diverse work demands instead of fixating on the perceived excessiveness or necessity of the tasks.

However, within the real workplace milieu, many still adhere to silent diligence and ardor. They espouse the ‘Buddhist’ philosophy of ‘effort leads to reward’ and ‘hard work pays off.’ However, such commendable efforts, while self-affirming, might not necessarily resonate with superiors. This is because they fail to realize that to a certain extent, an individual’s suitability for promotion and recognition doesn’t merely rely on their ability to comply but on their awareness of ‘looking beyond.’ When your thoughts mirror those of your boss—be it team cohesion or steering in the right direction—when your actions mirror your boss’s requirements, steering the team’s overall development and achieving collective goals, this marks a substantial departure from obsessing over one’s ‘ability’ and renders an individual more comparable to others. Why should they promote you?

04 Resilience Over Fragility

Zhou Hongyi once asserted, ‘In youth, one should proceed slowly and robustly, withstanding the trials and tribulations of life.’ However, within the workplace, one frequently encounters individuals akin to ‘glass-hearted’ giants—extremely sensitive souls, ill-equipped to weather the slightest adversity. They lack resilience, emotional intelligence, and struggle to cope with challenges. This ‘glass-hearted’ disposition typically stems from two ‘inner demons.’

1. The Focus Effect

The ‘focus effect’ manifests when one erroneously assumes themselves to be the ‘center’ of attention, overestimating the attention directed toward them. However, this is largely an illusion; everyone is preoccupied with their own affairs. Others may momentarily notice when you face criticism or embarrassment, but they seldom retain such thoughts. To overcome this ‘glass heart’ syndrome, one must dispel this illusion of being the center of perpetual attention. Learning from mistakes or revising rejected plans is common workplace practice, devoid of any concern for dignity or reputation—it is unnecessary to distress oneself.

2. Embrace a Growth Mindset

Carol Dweck, a renowned American psychologist, categorizes people’s cognitive approaches into ‘fixed thinking’ and ‘growth thinking’ modes in her book ‘Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.’ The ‘glass heart’ syndrome isn’t merely a personality quirk but is intrinsically linked to one’s cognitive approach. It predominantly stems from a ‘fixed thinking’ mindset.

Individuals with a fixed mindset habitually reinforce their cognitive patterns, irrespective of feedback—whether positive or negative. For instance, when they perceive themselves as making a fool of themselves, they amass evidence affirming this belief, fortifying their self-perception and constraining personal growth.

In contrast, those with a growth mindset react differently to criticism. Instead of dwelling on notions of ‘making a fool of oneself,’ they prioritize understanding the leader’s specific expectations and actions that might have led to discord. Such discernment fosters genuine growth and progress, paving the way for an effective transition from fixed thinking to growth thinking.

Charles Dickens, the eminent English novelist, declared, ‘A sound mind is more powerful than a hundred wisdoms.’ This adage rings true in the workplace as well. In the long run, a professional equipped with the right attitude, adept communication, vision, and resilience supersedes those with particular technical skills alone. Here’s wishing you success.

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