A Team Member asked me the other day what they needed to do to get promoted. In the moment, I couldn’t come up with anything more insightful than work hard and learn everything you can about your job. Yet the question stayed with me because there is no simple checklist. Or rather, you can conjure up such a list but there is a world of difference between checking off boxes and accumulating deep knowledge, functional wisdom, and the ability to apply same in a skillful way, day in and day out.

Ability is one of the most difficult things to verify and so many of the markers we use (not all of which we admit to!): formal education, past work history, confidence level, presentation skills, likability; are shallow indicators at best. I’ve found that unless I’ve worked directly with someone over an extended period of time in a wide variety of circumstances, I’m more evaluating someone’s personality than their true competence. Furthermore, it is always challenging to separate out an individual’s contribution from the team’s, either peers or subordinates plus the impact of a rising or falling market further complicates things.

And we really don’t fully understand how learning occurs. We put those desiring to learn in proximity with those that know, be it on the job or in the classroom or via books or podcasts and hope that somehow, some way, expertise is transferred and proficiency is gained. But it’s hard to know how much learning has really occurred and how deep it has sunk in versus just a superficial learning of models/formulas and the ability to regurgitate terms and industry jargon in a confident sounding manner. All of which is very, very different from understanding the underlying “whys and wherefores” that support the competent handling of new situations that constantly arises in our ever changing, increasingly complex world.

And then there is the Dunning–Kruger effect; “the cognitive bias whereby people with low ability at a task overestimate their ability”. The effect is particularly pronounced in newcomers to a field or a position; manifesting itself in a desire for promotion long before they are prepared.

So after much mulling it over, the greatest insights I could come up with were to add: 1) also learn all you can about your boss’s job and her boss’s as well, how they see/approach their responsibilities, 2) practice CANI: Constant And Never-ending Improvement, become a voracious learner of anything and everything related to your goals, become a lifelong self-directed learner, and 3) Study yourself, journal, grow in introspection and self-knowledge, sculpt yourself, get a self-administered PhD in Emotional Intelligence, set goals, create action plans and accountability checkpoints, review regularly, acknowledge that the best you can be, you must be.

Closing Quotes:

“Being a student is easy. Learning requires actual work.” — William Crawford

“I don’t think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.” — Abraham Lincoln

“Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.” ― Abigail Adams 

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” ― Dr. Seuss

As always, I share what I most want and need to learn. – Nathan S. Collier