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Succeeding at Something New

There are parts of my job that I had never done until I did. I had never designed an employee on-boarding program until it was done. I had never considered a coaching strategy until I was in the process of designing it. I had never managed employee resource groups until I did. Sure, I had done similar things, like managing a club in my earlier career, but never to that scale. Nor had I ever created, designed, and managed a week-long conference until it was done that first time. Or facilitated a group to think about LGBTQ inclusion in their synagogue – I had barely spent time in a synagogue.

With each new project, I said yes, either explicitly or implicitly. Part of it is the nature of work – sometimes you do what is assigned. Part of it is the mindset I use to approach my work, which I couldn’t necessarily articulate. And then, I came across this quote:

“Whenever you are asked if you can do a job, tell ’em, ‘Certainly I can!’ Then get busy and find out how to do it.” -Theodore Roosevelt

I realized that a large part of my success so far as a professional has been an element of this – saying yes with measured confidence and then delivering. I believe there is a way to say yes without past experience without also being arrogant. There is a way to do something new without simply googling the answer, though Google can be a supplemental resource.

Most of the organizational leaders I know, don’t like the word “no” – especially when it comes to their request that work gets done. So what can you do when you’re tasked with a big, complex, or new job you have little experience with?

  • Begin with the end – What problem are you trying to solve? This is your North Star, your goal, your destination. You have to know what you are trying to accomplish so you can know where to begin and measure progress along the way. Clarify expectations with the person assigning them the work in terms of goal, format, timeline.
  • Trust your own brain – Be open to your own ideas. Sometimes, the best new ideas come from someone who hasn’t done the work before because you offer a new perspective.
  • Check-in early for directionality – Do not wait until the project is due to make sure you’re on the right track! Ask for feedback early on to make sure that you are going toward the right outcome. It is better to know that your work is not meeting the expectations earlier in the process than finishing and finding out what you’ve delivered was not up to par.
  • Be open to suggestions – Find an expert. Ask for more ideas; include others. Google it. Research best practices. And then use your amazing brain to apply what you have learned to your unique organizational context.
  • Set aside your need to be right – This is so hard and why it’s so important to check in early. Try to remember it’s about the best outcome, not about you being the best. Try to remember that you have done your best knowing what you know, without making excuses, and then learn from that. As Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

While these tips can help you navigate a new challenge, it is important to be honest about what you have done before. Telling someone, “I have never done that before, but I have done something similar” or “I can figure out how to do it”, is better than simply saying you can’t.

So get to it. How do you know what you can do until you have tried?

“If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.” – Thomas Edison

*Leadership Lesson*

When promoted with a new task, try conducting a SWOT Analysis. Identify the goal or focus and fill in the table below, following the prompts:

  • Strengths: what are some areas in which you excel that will help you be successful in this task?
  • Weakness: what are some areas in which you need to grow, develop, or change for you to be more successful?
  • Opportunities: what are some favorable external factors/situations that you might be able to take advantage of that would help you be more successful?
  • Threats: what are some external factors that could potentially interfere with your ability to be successful?

This can give you a holistic perspective. Acknowledging your threats and weaknesses, helps you prepare and seek to overcome them, so you are not caught off guard later on. Further, acknowledging your strengths and opportunities allows you to see that you are equipped and capable, helping you feel more confident and prepared! 

*Meet the Author*

Kenna’s life work is about helping people work better together – and she’s starting to realize that this is not just professional work but personal too! Kenna fills her time with meaningful relationships with her husband of 11 years, 3 year old daughter, incredible family & friends and significant work at City of Hope, Alliant International University and Leadership Inspirations while carving time for herself.