Margie Blanchard, wife of bestselling author and consultant Ken Blanchard, once said that the gap between knowing and doing is greater than the gap between knowing and not knowing. Boy, how right she was! As a young MBA student, I heard variations of this quite often from my professors, but nothing could’ve prepared me for the real life experience.
How I Learned My Lesson
In my first position, fresh out of B-School and recently informed by my new bosses that “they didn’t think they had a snowballs chance in landing me,” I knew I was on top of the world. And I would’ve been on top of the world had I simply married my insight with action. Instead, here’s what happened:
After observing for several weeks the dysfunction of the business, I recommended to my managers that I write a case study on the organization, making it easier for us to dissect the issues and address them one at a time. Furthermore, each of the four centers we owned would benefit from having this information. Of course, it went unsaid, that I would save the organization.
What kind of response do you think I received? You’re right: they did all but laugh—well actually, I think they may have done that too. My managers gave me a pat on the head and said “Nandi, this isn’t B-school. This is the real world.” To say I felt embarrassed would be an extreme understatement.
Embarrassment aside, I knew I was on to something. Unfortunately, I only had half of the answer.
In retrospect, I was pretty smart for attempting to diagnose the issues in my organization (if I do say so myself). More important, diagnosing and fixing the issues that affected my P&L was my job—considering that I served as the director and was in charge of 30 employees and 75 clients. What I was missing, however, was proper approach.
Here’s the difference between what I did and what I should have done.
I postured instead of becoming a partner. One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in my career is assuming that I’m already supposed to be an expert. In this particular situation, I touted my MBA and pretty much negated all of the work they’d done previously to fix the issues. I naively introduced a case as a panacea for a problem they’d been seeing and dealing with for years. I was insensitive. I should’ve asked about how I could join the current fight.
I failed to meet them where they were. Where were they? The space to provide me with guidance and first-hand accounts of success and failure. Where was I? Channeling Joan of Arc. I assumed myself a 21 year-old modern day Harriet Tubman, ready to lead my business to financial freedom. Amiable but unnecessary. The misalignment between us was actually a greater detriment to the business than anything else. I should’ve relaxed my expectations and sat in the backseat a little longer.
I didn’t let the results to speak for themselves. I would’ve been much better off in this situation had I shut up, taken notes, and started fixing the issues one by one. Then, I could’ve written a case in retrospect. This path to would have been a win-win: my bosses could’ve worried less about the holes in their pockets, and I could fuel my intellectual curiosity as well as my desire to set myself up successfully for future endeavors.
My Advice for My Fellow Millennials
The organizations we work for know that we’re smart. Hiring managers have clearly read our resumes and heard all of the grandiose stories told in STAR format during the behavioral interviews. What our organizations really need from us, though, is for us to be a clean dry erase board with a few markers—visibly prepared but a blank slate ready to be written on. Bottom line: Be quiet and get to work.