Graduate to Greatness

To make it to the upper echelon in any field, we need to be able to do one thing:

Graduate from competence to confidence.

The foundation of any career is technical capability. You need to prove you are a competent accountant, lawyer, marketer, electrician, whatever. This is your time in the field and getting some metaphorical dirt under your fingernails. It’s when you convert study and training into action. It’s also when you find out that nothing is more valuable than real world experience. At this point in your career, you ARE the factor of production. It’s a vital stage to becoming a leader in any field – people want to know you’ve had your time on the tools. But you can’t stay there. You have to graduate.

The next phase in your career is all about confidence. In fact, you don’t even have to be the greatest ‘technocrat’ to rise above. It’s all about the belief you have in yourself to be more than someone who manages tasks and projects.

This time, there is no graduation ceremony.

You need to decide when you deserve and want to be more – and it is all about attitude. The ironic thing is the people who give you the chance to lead in your field are looking for the signs that you’ve made this internal decision. They are not looking for technical ability. They are looking for vision and leadership. When it comes to decision makers around you and your career, one simple thing is true: they believe what you believe. If you don’t believe in yourself, they’ll be able smell it.

The reason this matters is that you’ll never be able to know everything in your field.  No one does, no one ever will. There’ll always be someone who knows more, and the next generation coming up will have new technical skills and abilities you won’t. Yes, it’s important to be across what’s new and its impact, but going back to study its implementation is a fool’s errand. Leave that to the newbies. If you go there, you simply drag yourself back into the competence pool. You become an undergraduate again.

Don’t think for a second that Steve Jobs was writing code for the new iPhone, Elon Musk is sketching out blueprints for new car batteries or Jeff Bezos is designing his new in-home drones. They have competent people to do that for them. How many times have you seen people who are great technocrats, the best at getting stuff done, who know more than anyone in their field, but never seem to get to the top? It’s because they didn’t graduate. I used to write code, build new technologies and be very hands on – but now, I get other people to do that for me instead. My job is to think, write and speak about technology and economics. I graduated and it was the best thing I ever did in my career. I didn’t ask for permission. I just did it.

Sometimes you might even need to change places to graduate to confidence. For example, you may be overlooked for promotional opportunities in your current organisation. As soon as you are overlooked – move on. If management doesn’t have confidence in you – leave and leave quick. Go somewhere where you can refresh your self confidence and your personal brand. I’ve seen people who were out of favour in one company, change places and go on to become CEO elsewhere or start a successful business. The world’s a big place.

Next week, I’ll lay out the three competencies that great careers are built on, once you graduate from the operational level.

– – –

Keep thinking,