Remember the Trojan Horse story? The city of Troy thought that the wooden horse was a victory trophy, but it turned out to be the cause of their destruction. Similarly, in computers, a Trojan Horse is a malicious software program that users willingly run, not realising the damage until it is too late.
How many such Trojan Horse programs are you running in your professional life which appear to be benign or even helpful even while it undermines every project and endeavour? Face and neutralise the enemy within yourself to unblock your career.
- Logic is your enemy
All your education and work trains you to master the logical construct using which you analyse, explain and solve problems. However, combine strong logic with large fragile egos and what results is a powerful ability to rationalise what went wrong, whose fault it is, which circumstances were beyond control and how intentions were honest.
Logic is meant to focus on problems. When it shifts focus to a person and why you are not really to blame for a failure – it is no more logic but an excuse. Recognise that excuses sound equally rational, but they strengthen and defend failed behaviour and shackle your progress. Instead of trying to escape blame, simply discard all logic and take full ownership for failures even if it is not justified. Once that is done, focus only on the future with “Now what do I do?” and commit to an action plan for today and this week.
- Planning is your enemy
The 40-70 rule comes from Colin Powell, US Chief of Armed Forces and then US Secretary of State, the first black person in both cases. It says that leaders should make decisions when they have 40% to 70% of information they need. Any lesser information is a gut shot and more than 70% information means that the decision was too late.
So, while it’s true that lack of information and planning leads to failure, at the same time, a love for planning frequently leads to its uglier form—over-thinking. When you endlessly seek information to make a better plan, you also avoid taking concrete action or tangible steps towards the goal and end up in “analysis paralysis”. To overcome this, set time and resource limits, decrease options available, focus on a single objective and action the first step before you are fully ready.
- Safety is your enemy
Like every professional you have a right to be risk-averse and to seek safety zones at your workplace and within your career. Focusing on job security, continuity of minimum income, perfection or zero-error syndrome and coasting along with minimum effort are all outcomes of an excessive focus on safety.
If you find yourself achieving your deadlines without any stress or much effort, then you are warmly ensconced within your comfort zone. This also means that you are relying on a surplus of past skills to achieve sub-optimal goals. The price you pay for short-term pleasure is no new learning, no growth and no path to long-term success. To avoid this Trojan, always seek roles and goals that are slightly outside your current abilities so that you are always pushing and expanding your limits.
- Busy-ness is your enemy
Being busy is an addictive and rewarding state of mind. You have been taught from childhood to avoid wasting time and your workplace also seems to appreciate people who always have a full calendar or are buried in work. Thus, you have permission to feel good about yourself if you are extremely busy.
However, consider a person making a xerox of a 10,000-page legal document. He is likely to remain busy for a long time but engaged in meaningless work. Like the hamster on a treadmill, how much of your busy-ness is achieved by filling your day with such work? Consider all this time as lost opportunity when you could have been up-skilling or simply letting your mind wander free to rejuvenate or come up with creative ideas. How much of your career path was lost to such busy-ness? Seek to change what you do and how you do it.
- Access is your enemy
The boon of our times is bountiful access to information, connections and entertainment. The Internet and the powerful device in your hand—your cell phone—means that you have nearly the same amount of opportunity to create wealth as anyone else through the one-click access to information and people that was denied to the previous generation.
However, your brain wasn’t built to constantly process humongous amounts of information or opportunity. Small wonder that you are addicted to the interruption provided through your personal devices and thus have little motivation to assimilate, ponder, take good decisions and then act upon them. Full access takes over your life leaving you with no freedom or opportunity to make progress. Choose to isolate yourself from such access for specific times in a day, week and year when you make time for your human connections, self-renewal, deep thought, important decisions and serious action.
Versus your superpowers
1. Show up
Your biggest superpower is the simplest—you consistently show up every day where you have decided to or where you are expected to. The hours, days and months add up—whether it’s your daily workout or your sales beat. Some months are slow and yet the progress adds up. Opportunities emerge, confi dence grows, and you succeed.
2. Speak up
While speaking up is essential in personal relationships, it is a superpower in your professional space. Voicing your concerns, providing inputs, contributing ideas, resolving differences and updating on tasks and deadlines account for at least 50% of the value you bring to your employer and thus you progress faster when you tap this power.
3. Disagree and commit
After showing up and speaking up, your third superpower lies in disagreeing with your team or boss and thereafter committing to make the common goal come true. The alternative is to grumble, gossip and groan against opposing views and then actively sabotaging the goal. The superpower leads to success and lack of it begets collective failure.
Your next superpower is your human need and ability to make connections with others. Don’t block this power when you show up at work. While connecting with people beyond a transaction level makes you happy, it also reduces stress, builds trust and this increases the velocity of your work.
Your final superpower lies in knowing yourself and what you will refuse to do or accept. In business, good strategy includes saying “No” to everything else. Similarly, know what you don’t like and what doesn’t work for you. Then avoid these assiduously. Working in a wrong role, environment or team drains you and your career.