I’m not a video game guy although I must admit that they have fascinated me in the past. And like anyone that plays, beating a level and getting to the next level was always an anticipated achievement. Especially because the last step to complete a level was usually the toughest – the Boss Level! You knew when you had arrived!
Don’t you wish life was like that? Wouldn’t it be so much easier if there was some flash of light and triumphant music saying congratulations? Ian Munro – you have achieved level 7 in Friendship or level 16 in Marriage or level 11 in Leadership!
In fact doesn’t it usually work the other way around in life? We tend to go along quietly working away at the level we are currently at, not necessarily thinking that there is a next level until either we get bored or disillusioned with where we are at. We feel stale. We wonder where the excitement went.
This is also true of relationships. I thank my stars that my wife understands this. We have this conversation regularly. We have committed to each other that when we start taking our relationship for granted, when the lustre isn’t quite as bright, that we will recognize that we aren’t growing as a couple at that moment and thus we will deliberately look for the next level. That’s another difference between life and video games. In life, the next level doesn’t just present itself to us. We have to look for it, think about what is next in our growth, and then think about what we need to do next to achieve it.
At work, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes the experience is more like a video game. That happens when our leader appears and offers us a promotion, or we apply for a new position and win the competition. The new level is obvious from a title or career success point of view. And like the video game, there may be some time required to explore this new level to find out what new expectations and accountabilities exist. We may underachieve a few times and then learn the new skills we need to meet these new benchmarks. We become proficient, and then move towards mastery and are ready to take on the work version of the Boss Level!
But what if we differentiate between career growth and personal growth? Career growth is measured by external markers such as titles, salaries and others perceptions. Personal growth is measured by us! We decide through self awareness and inspection that there is a next level to go to and we decide what that level looks like, how to get there and how we will know when we are there.
- We decide that we want to be more comfortable speaking to larger groups. We know that the next level for us is groups of 20 people or more, that we will attend Toastmasters to do it, and we will know we are there when the fear of speaking to this size of group has been replaced by nervous anticipation or outright eagerness.
- We decide that we want to be a better listener, and the next level for us is to work to draw others into conversation, that we will do it by practicing the art of asking good questions, and we will know we are there when we first hear all of the ideas in the room before expressing our own.
- We decide that we want stronger connections with others in the office, and the next level for us is to willingly accept interruptions in our day to just talk, that we will do it by creating some of our own interruptions by inviting others to speak with us and we will know when we are there when we are sought out as a conversation partner much more frequently.
For me, this is now my constant quest as a leader. Where am I at in my current level. Have I enough practice at the things I am working at now? Am I growing as a leader? Am I looking for new ways to bring the best out of people? And what would be my next level to strive for as a leader?
I think I do know what that is. Someone once told me that the greatest role of a leader is to hold a space in which others can be great. I believe that. And I also believe that it is something I can grow into. So I will decide to learn to hold this space. What is looks like for me is that I make a whole lot less decisions and those I provide leadership to make more really good ones. I will do this by practicing the art of evocative leadership and by asking those same people to tell me how I am doing. I will know when those I lead soar on their own and are respected and sought after by those they work with. I will know when those I work with come to ask me to ask them questions!!
So there we are. No flashes of lights or triumphant music. Just a subtle urge within in us that longs to be listened to. Hey you … level me up!!