Have you ever been so impressed by someone that you were “in awe” of them?

I remember early in my career, when I had just become a manager.  I was conducting my first interviews with candidates for a role that had opened up in my team and I was very nervous.  My fellow interviewer was a highly experienced colleague, and she was superbly skilled at making candidates feel comfortable, and yet asking questions that drilled them down to quite specific detail.  She made it all look so easy.

I walked out of the interview in awe of her interviewing skills.

And that was a mistake.

Awe is dangerous

Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, “Admiration for a quality or an art can be so strong that it deters us from striving to possess it.”

Being in awe of someone puts them on a pedestal way above you.  It’s as if you’ve discovered that they’ve got a super power that you could never have.  They’re so special, they’re so skilled, and you’re mightily impressed, because you’re not.

From wow to how

A mentor of mine taught me that if you’re in awe of someone, you’re telling yourself that you can’t have what they’ve got, and in the vast majority of cases, that’s simply not true.  If you knew what they knew, if you did what they did, you’d have that same level of skill, too.

If someone has a skill that you’d like to have – say interviewing, or public speaking, or giving great feedback to team members – and you’re starting to go into admiration mode, it’s time to switch gears.  It’s time to move from wow to how, and the secret is to transform awe into curiosity.

When you want what they’ve got

If someone has mastered a skill that you’d like to have, and you observe them with curiosity, you start noticing things about how they do what they do that you would never notice while you’re bowing down to them for their godlike skills.  When you are able to ask yourself, “I wonder how they did that,” you open a door to learning how it might be done – by you.  You create a space where what they’ve got becomes – in some measure – accessible to you, and you get yourself out of the trance of admiration.

Who are you professionally in awe of?

So who is it that has a professional skill you’d like to add to your toolbox to an even greater degree?  Who’s the absolute best at it, the kind of person who normally leaves you with your mouth agape at how well they do what they do?

Time to get curious.