Two of my favorite metaphors involve both of these points. They involve Hot Water and Stretching and when applied to your career will help you stand out, get ahead and to develop a reputation for getting things done.
The first one is:
People are like tea. You never know how good they are until they get into hot water.
How do we test someone’s mettle? How do we know they can handle the task at hand? What kind of indicators are there before the gauntlet is thrown down? Often times we don’t. We don’t know how someone will react in a specific situation. However, we can make inferences based on past behavior. Even though the situations are different the behavior, the demeanor and the outcomes may be able to be inferred from past performances.
In a sense you may not want to be in “hot water” on a regular basis. The way I interpret this metaphor is in the sense that when the situation demands it, people will rise to the occasion. For example, Gene Krantz of Apollo 13 mission fame. If you’ve seen the movie or read the book you know a little bit about the situation. He received a terrible, and now (in)famous, transmission from the space craft. It said “Houston, we’ve had a problem”
Gene Krantz was the flight director. It was his job to figure out a solution. He, along with some of the brightest and best scientists, engineers and fellow astronauts had to think fast, work fast and under tremendous pressure develop a solution to get the astronauts home safely. As part of this effort he uttered an equally famous five words. He said “Failure Is Not an Option” and meant it. And, he delivered.
As you can imagine he was in the hottest of hot water. He (and as mentioned a lot of very talented people) had the eyes of the world on them and they had a very short window of time… which only upped the water temperature… to design, develop and deploy a solution… in space. Peoples lives hung in the balance.
The best way to prepare for situations like this is to get involved at various stages of challenging tasks. Not everyone can be (or should be) a Gene Krantz. But, everyone can do something. Everyone can step up their game and lend a helping hand. The best of the best can do this over and over again with predictable and repeatable results… even when the situation (aka the rules) change every time. By insinuating yourself into challenging situations you’ll be ready when one presents itself.
So, What kind of hot water are you putting yourself into?
The second one is:
People are like rubber bands. You never know strong they are until stretched.
I really like this one because it’s true. Until someone is put to the test they themselves often don’t know what they are capable of doing. That big presentation that needs to delivered to a client in the morning. That “impossible” task that no one has been able to accomplish. That challenging client that no one likes to deal with because they are demanding and keep changing the rules.
When you were early on into your career someone took a chance on you. Not just in hiring you (people don’t often just hire warm bodies anymore), but they saw something in you and took a chance that you had the potential to deliver something really big. Potential Energy… just like that which is available in a rubber band applies to people too. Hence, the meaning of this metaphor.
If you are that young person just getting started. Seek ways to stretch yourself.
Just like with your physical and personal well being there are preparatory steps along the way. Take the time to learn new skills (often on your own time — 20 hours or 10,000 Hours – you decide). Whether it’s joining a Toastmasters group or learning how to write computer code or to become better at some piece of technology. Take the time to learn how to use them, tweak them, and make them perform now. Because you never know when your boss or your best customer might be looking for just that skill set. Even if they don’t come calling you’ll have another skill in your arsenal.
And the Benefits Are
The business and career benefits associated with these two points are applicable to anyone at any stage of their life. There are some that may seem quite obvious and they are. However, doing each of these consistently and repeatedly takes focus, fortitude and often the ability to take on tasks that others can’t or wont.
- Communications – The best leaders can do these two things extremely well.
- Communicate in a way that everyone can understand what needs to be done
- Delegate. The best leaders know they need to involve others and make it as simple as possible to accomplish the task and mission.
- Stand Out – People will call upon you because they know who they can rely upon. There is an old saying “If you want to get something done, assign it to a busy person” This saying holds true because in order to get something done they will often invoke point 1 (communications) and point 3 (innovation) in order to Get It Done! When this happens consistently you will Stand Out in Your Career
- Innovation – In order to put yourself to the Hot Water test and the Rubber Band test you will need to innovate. Not everything needs to be developed from scratch. Stand on the shoulders of giants and seek new ways to deliver something and solve a problem that has been.