The British Museum Reading Room. A panorama of 2x5 segments. By Diliff. CC BY SA 3.0.

Even in the Library, Biggest Person Takes the Heat

E. Forrest Christian Careers, Coaching, Overachievers, Underachievers Leave a Comment

Did you know that if you have more capacity to do work than the people you work with, they’ll oftentimes respond by addressing things to you even though you’re not the boss?

I’m busy putting the finishing touches on the launch of a new program Overachievers or Adult Underachievers, people who are not doing a role that is big enough for what they are bringing to the table, people that I call Hidden High Potentials. While you’re waiting for that big announcement (I know: long time coming!), here’s a great story from one of our readers that describes how a Hidden High Potentials create problems for themselves at work, simply by being good humans:

“Reilley” works as an assistant to the head librarian at a law school. I’ve worked at academic institutions before and I can tell you that this position is universally treated as “replaceable idiot”. (Confession: I belonged to this group.) But even the bad position can’t keep other people from recognizing the Biggest Person In The Room, even if she has the role of Lowly Assistant.

Let’s let Reilley tell her story:

I used to be embarrassed and puzzled about why the circulation desk staff would come running to me when something unexpected happened. Literally running down the hall and yelling my name in panicky voices. My boss would come looming into his doorway and give me a look like, what the hell….

After being summoned by the spooked women, I go and see what’s wrong and talk to the person or whatever is needed while my supervisor stands behind me wringing her hands (this has happened more than once).

This really isn’t rare. The funny thing is that the boss will never be able to see that Reilley is capable of doing much more than her current role. Why? Because managers cannot see overperformance.

But that doesn’t stop outsiders from quickly being able to identify the biggest person in the room. Reilley continues with a story of being asked to take notes in a meeting with external architects who have been contracted to handle a major renovation at the library:

The architect directs a lot of what he is saying to me. Directly to me, as if I have anything to do with anything! I was so embarrassed and the executive types are giving me these looks….OY.

In case you are someone who is playing the architect in this game, here’s some advice: ALWAY STARE AT THE DECISION MAKER.

Somehow, though, we tend to look for validation from someone in the room how is getting what we are saying. Reilley has the horsepower to understand what is going on.

And somehow, people can pick up on your current level. It’s not conscious but it’s there. If you are a hidden high potential, this has consequences: no matter how hard you try, you will still be advertising your current level.

Reilley thinks that what she has learned from me will help in her current position, even as she looks for more fulfilling work:

Now I don’t have to feel funny—embarrassed, confused, ashamed even—about this stuff. Often the higher up person seems to be growling under his/her breath “who the hell does she think she is” and I used to feel bad because I didn’t know what I was doing to “cause” these situations. I don’t suppose my boss wants to know, but it sure helps me to understand what is going on.

If you are a hidden high potential, you don’t have to live your life in fear of being found out. You can live with your head up high, living fully in the gifts that God gave you.

Because you are the killer app.

Image Credit: The British Museum Reading Room. A panorama of 2×5 segments. By David Iliff via Wikimedia Commons. (CC BY SA 3.0)

About the Author

Forrest Christian

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E. Forrest Christian is a consultant, coach, author, trainer and speaker at The Manasclerk Company who helps managers and experts find insight and solutions to what seem like insolvable problems. Cited for his “unique ability and insight” by his clients, Forrest has worked with people from almost every background, from artists to programmers to executives to global consultants. Forrest lives and works plain view of North Carolina’s Mount Baker.  [contact]

Comments 0

  1. “I used to feel bad because I didn’t know what I was doing to ’cause’ these situations.” — This reminds me of the beginning of the first Harry Potter book, when unexplained things would happen around him, his foster parents would get cross with him, and he had no idea what was going on.

Tell Forrest how wrong he is: