Three little words that can kill a career

1 June 2015
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MANILA, Philippines – As I have said many times, there is nothing more disheartening than to see amazing talent go to waste. When you see a great athlete fail to attain his or her potential, or a young business executive with CEO potential flounder and fail, it literally brings tears to my eyes. Such a waste of great possibilities.

In working with the national team in athletics, it is a source of great joy, but also of great sorrows.

One of the marathoners I have coached recently is one of the joys. She’s not a national athlete. She’s not a professional earning a stipend from the Philippine Sports Commission. Her name is Kristy Abello and you probably have never heard of her. She was neither a child prodigy nor a past winner of Palarong Pambansa. She just started running a few years ago and juggles trying to squeeze runs in around a demanding job working as a global IT manager for the leading consumer goods company in the world, Procter and Gamble.

On her own money and time, Kristy just went off to Canada and ran the Ottawa marathon at a blistering pace. She qualified for the prestigious Boston Marathon. She clocked a time that places her in the top 15 Pinay marathoners! All this from a part-time runner with only a handful of years of running!

 How is this possible? The answer is simple.  Kristy is the most coachable athlete I have ever worked with. She listens. She takes coaching. I have never heard her utter the career-killing sentence, “I know that.”

Yes, the people who are always saying, “I know that,” whether in athletics or business, are killing their careers.

The fact is, underlying this simple three-word sentence, “I know that,” lies two major issues that will impede success.

Issue one is lack of coachability. The best improve every day. They remain students for life. In today’s world, be it in sports or business (or any part of life), the bar is continually being raised. What was a great performance in 1999 is now considered mediocre. One has to keep growing. People who are coachable listen. They are open-minded. They place an inherent value on experience and the wisdom of their elders and believe everyone can add value to a discussion. They realize that “Nobody is smarter than everybody.” So they take in counsel. Coaching. And they keep improving. When you continually say, “I know that,” you shut yourself off from any new perspectives. You don’t grow. So in sitting still, in reality you fall behind.

Issue two is the signal you send to someone when you mutter, “I know that.” The main signal is one that says, “Shut up. I am smarter than you and I know all you know. So just clam up.” This pisses people off and in a world where working with others is so critical, you shoot yourself in the foot. Who wants to work with a know-it-all?

The second signal it sends is you have weak self-confidence. If a person can’t politely listen and has to “brag” by saying, “I know that,” it means they are light in the area of self-esteem. They have to show off and brag about their brainpower. I mean, even if you do really know it already, what is the harm in just listening? Being polite? Holding off on saying anything, because perhaps the next thing you hear will be new information? When your urge is to cut someone off and tell them, “I know that,” what you are really doing is turning the discussion back into some sort of showcase of your wisdom. And in doing so, it shows a lack of self-confidence. And this will also bring a career down.

Bottom line, these three words, in this order, are a dangerous combination. My advice is to strike the sentence “I know that” out of your vocabulary. Listen. Learn. Be open.

And that is Kristy Abello’s secret. She’s coachable. So she gets the best knowledge and wisdom from the world around her. And that’s why she is a star in business, and a star in marathoning.

I just wish some of the other athletes, and some of my own employees, would take note.

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