Scene: A room full of ladybadass, accomplished, curious women looking to up their professional game. A professional game that honestly is pretty rad already.

Me: Write down five things you want to be known for professionally.

Ladybadasses: [Frantically writing. Worrying that it’s not good enough.]

Me: How many of you wrote a version of “I’m really great at getting things done” as one of your top responses?

Room full of ladybadass women: 80% or more put their hand up. Every. Single. Time.

If you’ve been to one of my sessions, you’ll know that I then have a little chat with the audience about the importance of being unique. Particularly that while “getting shit done” is an important aspect of your job, being known primarily for “getting shit done” doesn’t help you or your team. (Want to know more about why come to a session!)

I was thinking the other day about this whole idea of “getting things done” and accomplishment, and it’s powerful hold as a tangible measure of success. Why do so many people consider “getting shit done” as a notable feature?

We should re-examine why just completing a task, regardless of size or importance, is the most prominent measure of success.

In all honesty, accomplishment is an almost paralyzing measure of success. Yes, paralyzing. Here are some of the things I regularly hear:

  • “If I execute this project I will get the promotion.”
  • “My value is measured by my ability to accomplish projects.”

Invariably, as is human nature, this pressure to succeed leads to self-doubt and hesitation.

  • “What if I fail?”
  • “What if I’m wrong?”
  • “I’m not good enough.”

As I work with people from entry to executive level, fear of success is a consistent theme. We consistently promote that success is pushing beyond perfection. However, before trying something new, that powerful voice in each person’s head keeps her on the same, prescribed safe path. Do what is expected. Check the boxes.

Put yourself in a CEO’s shoes for a moment. Better yet, put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Do I want you to deliver on expectations? Absolutely. But do I also want you to create new things, make it better, anticipate the need I didn’t know I had? Even more so! I don’t know about the rest of you but if I had an employee, a company, a product that consistently did THAT, I’d be a fan for life. To accomplish that feat not only do we have to complete the task, but we might have to adjust the process / break the rules / do something differently. Done is not done in this situation, “done” is thinking creatively, “done” is thinking about today and tomorrow’s result.

So how do we change the attitude that completing a task is an accomplishment worthy of notoriety? Because whatever I might say, we are, as people, measured by our ability to “get shit done,” to be “perfect” from the moment we pop out the womb. This is probably why that voice in our head is so strong.

Maybe it’s time to change the measurement. Maybe it’s time to change the conversation from “What did you do?” to “What did you learn?” Promote thinking overproduction.

What did you learn manifests conversations with phrases like:
“This is what I’d do differently.”
“Here’s what we can improve.”
“We could…”

I’d hire, promote, give strategic and interesting opportunities to someone saying things like this person all day. Wouldn’t you?

So next time you’re in a conversation with someone on your team, or a peer, or a manager even, let’s replace “What did you do?” with “What did you learn?”

Maybe together we can change how we measure success.

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