Before I start, I have to emphasize that I’m only talking about Hidden High Potentials (HHPs) and not Normal People. Normals give HHPs advice which is lousy because it’s the advice that works for them (other Normals, that is). They can’t imagine that this Slacker / Underachiever / Idiot to whom they’re talking is in a completely different league, workwise. Heck, y’all aren’t even playing the same game.
Let’s do this by looking at the advice you get and what you really should be doing.
1. You need to work harder. (or the thought behind it: “You’re lazy!”)
Ah, the classic! Truer words have never been spoken except for almost everything else they ever said! It’s completely wrong for two reasons.
First, you more than likely work pretty hard. You may not work very long hours, since you’re horribly bored and this boredom is killing you, but you actually work pretty hard. If you didn’t you wouldn’t be hearing that you should. Which is confusing until you consider our second point.
To do better at jobs too small for them, HHPs should actually stop working. I know what they’re telling you, but it’s not born out in practice. When you stop working very hard — I’ve even seen people move to coming in late, taking long lunches and leaving early — people start liking you more. Possibly because they don’t see you very much.
But what is even more startling is that your performance reviews will be better when you stop trying.
I think I know why this works but it seems overly complex and the real root of the matter is that you are simply too big for the role. It’s like putting a yak into a miniature horse show. Managers aren’t good at seeing overperformance, or not least not in the way that you think. My experience is that the boss-subordinate role gets in the way of their being able to see you as being too big for the role. (This is monkey politics, and a topic for another time.)
You should stop working hard when your performance review sinks. It is counter-intuitive because it is counter to what people in jobs that are close to fitting should do. When you are way overpowering your role, you can’t follow normal advice. You have to do the actions that fit your problem.