It’s about courage, curiosity, and a willingness to be candid.
Having spent the better part of the last five years going from one opportunity to another, a three-month break was just what the doctor ordered.
Keep in mind the break wasn’t exactly planned. I had accomplished a twelve-month project in just under six months, looked around at my professional situation and found myself stagnating in my growth. The question was, what exactly does growth actually mean?
At the time, I was reading a book called Radical Candor by Kim Scott. In this book she imparts some important wisdom that if you’re not getting what you need from a situation; “you can’t forget to quit.”
Fresh off a huge professional win but with not a lot more growth ahead of me in that particular position, I heeded her advice. I packed up my stuff and decided to take a month or two off.
The decision took a lot of courage. I was walking away from a job I had taken just that year. What would future employers think about a move like that? How do I explain taking time off for myself in a world where “hustle” is the thing?
I had to jump, though. I couldn’t go on the way I had been and I had to trust that something bigger and better was out there. The courage to walk away ended up being the first prerequisite of my growth.
The second prerequisite of growth was that – for the first time in a long time – I didn’t know what I wanted.
I ended up having dozens of conversations with former co-workers, friends, executive mentors, and recruiters. I sorted through piles of job opportunities, notes from feedback sessions, and professional evaluations.
What was interesting is that I found out that the opportunities where I was both the most successful – and where I built the best relationships – were the environments where I could focus on being curious.
Not all places I had worked enabled this. They might say they encourage curiosity but they don’t actually enable teams or individuals to be curious.
In my experience, at least, curiosity leads to questions and questions lead to challenging assumptions. If teams and leaders aren’t ready for assumptions to be challenged, I personally probably won’t be good fit.
This is where Kim Scott’s work comes back into the picture. During the three months I ended up taking off, I read an enormous amount including finishing up Radical Candor. One of the key points is that to grow you have to have an environment where growth is possible.
For instance, if you want an environment where the focus is on getting along and being nice, that’s great. However, there have been multiple studies that have shown this isn’t just bad for organizational and professional growth but is actually bad for employee relationships. Kim Scott calls this “Ruinous Empathy.”
On the other hand, you can’t swing to the other side of the spectrum. Focusing on just being direct or just having open communication often encourages teams to throw empathy out the window. This situation ends up being what Kim Scott calls “Obnoxious Aggression” and it ends up promoting defensiveness over growth.
The Job Search
My goal was to find an environment where I could both care deeply about what I was doing and who I was working with. I wanted to care so much to the point that direct communications were a forgone conclusion. In other words, I wanted to find an opportunity where curiosity – both professional and personal – was the focus.
Now, this was a great insight for me personally, but this isn’t exactly something you can filter for on LinkedIn. I had to find a way to probe for this in my conversations with potential bosses and/or employers.
What ended up happening is that, during interviews, I brought up my personal experiences with radical candor. When the subject turned to how I work with people, I brought up examples in my career of using curiosity to balance caring about people and the job and how open and direct communications played into that. I was also candid about the times that I wasn’t able to achieve that balance and why.
Being honest about what I wanted and what I was looking for might have closed some doors for me. My interview-to-offer success rate was definitely impacted. However, the offers I did receive were not only better, but I was more excited about them. The fires of curiosity were stoked even more so by the open communication and honest empathy created through the interview process.
In the end, that was the key to finding the right growth opportunity. I decided to accept an offer with a company where I can bring radical candor to work.
I know they subscribe to candor not only because I asked about it, but because they brought it up themselves. I’ve been told my job is to grow the function by being curious about client opportunities, about the relationships we need to capitalize on those opportunities, and the ways the function can integrate and innovate.
I would tell you I’m excited but that’s an understatement. These last three months have been an unexpected gift.
As much as I’m glad to be moving on, there’s a piece of me that has loved the struggle of where I’ve been. By reconciling what I want with what my next opportunity needs I have found not just the right opportunity but one that will offer the kind of growth I’ve been looking for.
It’s also a nice way to sum up my learnings about growth. First, you have to have the courage to make a move. Second, you have to have curiosity to learn the truth between what you’ve been through and what you want. Finally, you have to be willing to be candid about what you want.