How to excel in a stretched assignment

You will never get the new results you want from the existing behaviors that you like. Stretching yourself is therefore essential to get ahead in (corporate) life. But this is only part of the story. The reason is that it is very difficult to improve and look good at the same time. (Partial) failure while stretching may therefore lead to reputation damage, a dent in your self image and even burn-out.

What we have found is that success in stretched assignments is closely linked to the skill to make yourself obsolete in your current job first. This skill is essential to release the time and energy to break through the hurdles and obstacles on your way to success. You have to let go in order to reach out.

For example, while working with high performance operations executives, we came across a most remarkable thing: the most successful individuals were invariably very good at building processes and systems which took them almost completely out of the equation of their current job. One executive joked that she could do her job in two hours a week. She was not slothful. She had more than 2000 people reporting to her, but she had built a system which took care of 95% of all her responsibilities. She was only involved in key decisions and critical moments. Not unlike an airplane pilot, who is paid handsomely to perform flawlessly during only a fraction of the entire flight time (preparation, take off, emergencies and landing). By making herself obsolete, our high performing executive used the freed up time to stretch herself to sow the seeds to smoothly transition to even bigger assignments.

The process of making yourself obsolete is called Strategic Quitting: it requires three key behaviors:

Delegation: the ability to give something which is work for you, to someone else for whom it is play. This is the essence of High Performance teams: they seamlessly build on each others strengths and thus compensate each others weaknesses.

Elimination: the ability to understand that the worst use of time is not to do things inefficiently, but to do things which should not be done in the first place. In other words, to become excellent at something irrelevant

Outsourcing: the ability to only do those activities which are your Highest and Best Use of Time (that is: you are good at it, you are passionate about it and it creates value for others.)

When it comes to career acceleration, ’More’ is no longer the answer to ‘Too Much.’ Stretched assignments can work well, if combined with making yourself obsolete in your current job first. This can be done by applying the three behaviors of Strategic Quitting: delegation, elimination and outsourcing. If done consistently, you will create your own corporate fast track to stand apart like a Giraffe, surrounded by field mice.

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