Whether it’s writing a business plan, conceptualizing new product, pitching a major prospect, or troubleshooting a piece of technology, at many points in my career I’ve found myself doing something for the first time.  Often times it’s also something that’s totally new for the company, like launching a new line of business.

I love being in this position.  It’s exhilarating.  Doing new things helps me learn and grow the fastest and also helps maximize my impact on the company.  It’s really where I always strive to be.  And whenever I’m in these types of positions I always feel the same thing:

A burning passion to prove myself.

Prove that I can do it better than anyone else.  Prove that I was the right choice for the job and I will exceed all expectations.

This mentality usually leads me to put my head down, think a tremendous amount, draw whiteboard pictures, put post-it notes on the wall – and come up with what I believe is the right solution to the problem at hand.

I then take my work and evangelize it – I sell it privately to key influencers, I present it publicly at all-hands presentations.  I go on the war path to move the company the direction that I think we should go.

Last week, I starting having second thoughts about this approach.

I was talking with a colleague who has had an extremely successful career.  He’s the inventor of some of the core technology that powers the ad tech space, he’s led companies, invested in companies, taken companies public, and sold companies.

He said, in his career, he’s experienced the exact same need to prove himself.  However, that feeling went away when he sold his last company to AppNexus.  He said – “After that, I had nothing left to prove.”

Nothing left to prove.

He no longer tries to put the whole company on his back and march up the mountain.  Now he takes a different approach.  He influences where he can, he inserts his opinion where appropriate, and always tries to maintain a high level “forest from the trees” vantage point.  Rather than evangelizing his ideas to others, he now gently nudges others by inputting critical information and leading them to arrive at his same conclusions.  If someone else presents an idea that he authored – that’s how he knows he’s being effective.   However, he doesn’t point out he was the one who thought of the idea first or take credit for the success of an initiative.

Rather than struggling to wrestle control of each situation, he’s embraced a level of chaos and then, with some tranquility, quietly nudges folks the right direction.

At the time of the conversation, I joked that someday I will have earned the right to behave in the same way – after I have completed some of the same spectacular accomplishments that he has.  For now though, I still need to prove myself.

He then said – “The funny thing is: I’m much more effective today than I was when I was always trying to prove myself.”

Very interesting to think about.

Nothing Left to Prove