Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Self-Awareness: Dealing with Reality

According to, the definition of the Peter Principle is, “An observation that in an organizational hierarchy, every employee will rise or get promoted to his or her level of incompetence."

I was not a good banker. There, I said it. When I was employed in a human resources capacity at TSYS, I always admired the bankers at Columbus Bank & Trust Company. TSYS was a high-tech company. Casual dress was the norm. But the bankers wore wingtip shoes and dressed in dark suits. That whole culture appealed to me, visually.

When I was asked if I wanted to move over to the banking side of the house, I said yes but I would be lying if I didn’t admit that there was some trepidation on my part. For starters, I majored in history. I never went near the business school when I was in college. But the recruiting pitch that I was given was that banking was all about relationships, so I thought I could do it. After all, I never had a problem getting along with people.

It was a challenge from the start. I will never forget the day they threw me to the wolves to work alone on the first Friday of the month. I was standing in the teller window counting money for a customer. In the left line about six-rows deep was a famous local chef.

“You shorted me five dollars,” he yelled up (the teller window was raised slightly) at me looking agitated.

I glanced at him and quickly looked away as if I was ‘Joe Cool.’ “You shorted my five dollars,” he yelled again more agitated than the first time in what seemed like a second and a half later.

That was my introduction to the banking industry.

However, working in banking was not solely an embarrassment. I did have some success in branch management. Being an Emergenetics (a brain-based approach to personality profiling) Associate has taught me that I am a concrete thinker, which means that I learn best when I have details, checklists, and formulas. At that time, just about all of the loans that I made were consumer loans. Consumer lending consisted of formulas and checklists.

But my career changed when I became an underwriter. Underwriting is vital to any financial institution. But I hated it. Underwriting is a very abstract and mostly left brain undertaking. I am not and abstract thinker, and I am certainly not left brain. In underwriting there were a lot of moving parts, and because there were not formulas, I simply could not connect the dots.

Going into the position, I really didn’t know what to expect. I did know that underwriting was the training ground to being a commercial lender, which was one of the most coveted and elite positions in the bank. I actually thought I was going to perform well. However, after about five months into the job, I realized that I was not going to be a proficient underwriter, and therefore I was not going to be a commercial lender. I had to face the reality. I was not good.

When you don’t enjoy your job, it affects your attitude. I loathed going to work every day. I didn’t want to get out of bed. And if truth be told, and I did, it was my fault and it was a learning experience that has shaped my philosophy of self-awareness.

It is because of my banking experience that I will never tell a child, let alone and adult, that he can be anything in life, if he puts his mind to it. That is simply not true. At the Jim Blanchard Forum several years ago, I stood up during a question and answer period, in front about 800 people, to ask bestselling author, Malcolm Gladwell, after he finished his talk on his bestselling book, Outliers, could a person be anything wanted to be in life. I was glad to hear Gladwell confirm my answer when he said, “Of course not, no matter how hard I tried, I am not an NBA basketball player.”

The Peter Principle doesn’t just exist in the workplace. I have also seen it in our schools. I can’t tell you how many times a student with no aptitude (or work ethic) for science or math has told me they are going to major in pre-med. Or the parent who thinks that his child should be the starting quarterback on the football team as a sophomore when the kid who is actually starting is being recruited by every major college in their region.

In order to be effective in anything, a person must understand who they are and who they are not. For many, including me, it is all a part of the journey. This is the only way to deal with your reality.

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