The “S” Curve

Are you familiar with the S-curve?

The concept is that at the beginning of any new “thing”, be it a new job, or a new hobby, the early phase is all new. You are inexperienced, in total learning mode, and it is often uncomfortable. Then you reach a point where you start to get in the groove. You hit an inflexion point on the curve and go into a rapid growth phase, increasing your experience and gaining confidence. You may have some setbacks, because you are still on the path to mastery, but overall you are learning and growing. At some point, the curve flattens and you move into a phase of mastery. This can be a place of great accomplishment, but it can also become a place of boredom or complacency. You may look around and wonder “what else is there?” Yet jumping to something new from this place feels risky.

We coach women who are often holding themselves back from opportunities. They can’t see themselves in new roles, perhaps because their identity is tied to the mastery they’ve achieved. They worry about taking a role in a new area that they don’t know as much about. Often, thinking if they don’t know everything that is listed on a job posting they wouldn’t be a suitable candidate.

We have workshops of women who struggle with finding their voice in their roles, or feeling like they shouldn’t be in the roles they are in, and lack confidence. They may feel like they are in a fishbowl, as one of the few women in the organization, and their personal beliefs of how they will be perceived make the glass even more fragile. Fearing that they may be asked a question in a meeting that they do not immediately know the answer. Fear of being held to a different standard than their male counterparts.  These are all likely truths that need to be acknowledged, then overcome.

They speak of imposter syndrome. In the roles that “got them there”, they were the go-to, knowledgeable experts. In new or bigger roles, they forget about the learning curve they endured to get to that level of mastery. To them, it feels like the words “I don’t know” or “I’ll have to get back to you” are taboo.

As I ponder the S-curve, any truly new experience, where REAL GROWTH is happening, is going to be unfamiliar and maybe uncomfortable; you may even feel like an imposter. That feeling may dissipate if you recognize that you don’t have to try to be someone you are not. You are valued for what you know, as much as for your willingness to say “I don’t have that answer, but I will get it and share it with you” and then delivering on your word.

You are selected for positions for what you know, but more so for the potential of what you can do. And in leadership, it is not as much about what you personally can do, but how you can motivate, inspire and lead a team to accomplish its goals.

Are you holding yourself back from new opportunities because of the discomfort of learning something new?

When was the last time you were in the beginning of the “s-curve”?

Written by Dawn Rowley