I used to rack my brain trying to figure out how to get ahead.
Was it all about luck? Did I need how to learn how to play politics? Were there secret skills I needed to learn? Should I do my best work and trust that things would work out? How far can hard work get me?
It turns out that there are both visible and invisible components to any field. As a swimmer and tennis player in my youth, I’ll share a few examples:
In swimming, there is the skill and technique of a fluid stroke. Then, there is the invisible “feel” for the water, that all great swimmers possess and instantly relate to.
In tennis, there is the practicality of knowing how to set up a stance for the proper swing of the racket. Then, there is the “sense” of knowing when to chase a ball across the court vs let it go. There is the “trust” of swinging at the ball and applying just the right amount of pressure to keep it barely in bounds while evading the opponent. Savvy players get this.
Likewise, at work, much of the game is hidden and hard to articulate.
I recently had a session with a coaching client who is a senior leader at a world-class tech company. We spoke about their specific challenge in proactively completing important cross-organization communications. Instead of doing them promptly, they were caught in researching and organizing material in preparation for the task – and getting caught in a bunch of stressful thinking about it – but not actually getting the task done.
In this case, it became obvious that they were fixating on the visible components of their work and avoiding placing attention on the invisible.
The visible aspects were the emails to organize, read, and responding to urgent team needs.
The invisible aspect was their state of mind and the feeling in which they were operating.
We explored what it would be like to approach the important work with a keen sense of their state-of-mind. Can the important work be done with more of a light-hearted feeling and connection to the natural joy that arises from learning how to do something?
You see, the most hidden dimension to success at work resides in our inner world. Everything flows from the quality of one’s state-of-mind.
While techniques and skills aren’t irrelevant, they can only be effective to the extent that one’s state-of-mind is calm, settled, and capable of applying a skill properly.
As Tim Gallwey said in his breakthrough book, The Inner Game of Tennis (a superb read, whether you play tennis or not):
“The player of the inner game comes to value the art of relaxed concentration above all other skills; he discovers a true basis for self-confidence, and he learns that the secret to winning any game lies in not trying too hard.”
I now know that without putting sincere attention towards my inner game, the hidden dimension of performance, I will never be able to operate with my full potential. It’s this insight that has fueled everything I do in my work and forms the basis for how I coach.
I hope that in sharing this insight, through this article and others like it, I can save you years of effort and stress.