Have you got a “Barney” ?

ted“Have you met Ted?”

If you’re a fan of “How I met your mother”, you’ll recognise Barney’s catch phrase. As self-appointed wingman to friend Ted, he essentially chats up for him a series of women for dates.

Have you got a Barney in your life? For Ted, characterised as more shy and more self-effacing, Barney plays a crucial role in getting him connected. He’s Ted’s bro.

A wingman or woman can make a massive difference to your career (as well as your love life, which is out of the remit of this blog). When you hit a career blockage, have a bad meeting or sink beneath pressure, your wing-person can help you to regroup and move on.

They’ll be there for you, and cheer you up. And if you’re really lucky they’ll tell you some home truths about yourself.

In fact, if they don’t do this, they’re not actually doing their job properly. A work buddy is one thing. The person who you moan to about your boss being short with you, or who makes you a cup of tea when you’re flagging. The buddy will comfort you when you’re down, commiserate when you didn’t get a promotion, chat with you when you’re bored, cover for you when you’re late.

This is not a wing person. The wing person – or WP – plays a different role in your career. They will make connections for you and talk about you when you’re not there. They will create opportunities for you. They will be thrilled at your success, even if it sometimes is better than their own. A great WP thinks about you when you’re not around.

They push you out of your comfort zone.

They tell you what you got wrong.

They make suggestions about how you should change that they know you won’t want to hear.

They keep on at you about those changes, even if you tell them not to, because they care as much about your career potential as you do, and honestly, in my personal experience, sometimes they care more.

Listening to them and then acting on it is essential. It’s a big part of having a growth mindset, and that’s the mindset you need to succeed.

They are not just your cheer-leader, in proven fact they are much more important than this.

In an interesting experiment, Professor Serena Chen of the University of California, together with Juliana Breines from the University of Rhodes Island, worked with participants in 3 groups all of whom had been asked to name their biggest weakness. One set were asked to write themselves a letter talking about their weakness from a “compassionate and understanding” perspective. Another set were asked to write in terms of boosting their self-esteem – to focus on validating themselves rather than on that weakness. The third group were the control, and weren’t asked to do anything. Participants in the weaknesses seen with compassion group showed much more of a growth mindset, and were much more likely to agree that with hard work they could change than either of the other two sets. A follow up experiment showed that behaviour change was much more likely from people who experienced compassionate but clear understanding about what they’d got wrong, than from those who had been given unconditional approval.

Here’s how wingperson differs then from a buddy or even a cheerleader. They’ll point out your mistakes with kindness and compassion, and won’t let you get away with being stuck. Self-esteem by HBR’s analysis is over-rated. You need a wingman to make sure that you are really working on your weaknesses not just glossing over them. If you haven’t got one, find one. And as Barney also says, it never hurts to Suit Up.



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