At one point in her career, Kim Scott says she “probably would have cut off my left arm” for the chance to be CEO of Twitter.
But when a member of Twitter’s board approached her in 2008 and asked if she’d like to interview for the position (she was working as a manager at Google), she wasn’t certain. Ultimately, she declined.
The rationale behind her decision to opt out is a prime example of the way people can shift between what Scott — the founder of Radical Candor and author of a book by the same name — calls “rock star” mode and “superstar” mode.
When you’re in rock star mode, you’re on a more gradual growth trajectory and you’re all about stability. For whatever reason, you’re happy with the job you have, and you’re not necessarily interested in the next shiny-new role.
When you’re in superstar mode, you’re on a steeper growth trajectory. You’re constantly seeking out new challenges, and a promotion or a new opportunity may be exactly what you’re looking for.
Scott says she’d been in superstar mode for much of her career. But when she was asked about interviewing for the position of Twitter CEO, she was carrying twins and it was a high-risk pregnancy.
When she asked her doctor whether it would be advisable to take on this new challenge, the doctor replied: “What’s more important to you — that job or the hearts and lungs of your children?”
“I realised I did not want a new, challenging opportunity at that moment,” Scott said when she visited the Business Insider office in March.
“What I wanted at that moment in my career was what I had at Google — the ability to keep doing a job I knew how to do and knew how to do really well and to focus on being able to carry those twins to term.” (She did.)
In the book, Scott emphasises:
“I am not saying that other pregnant women can’t be fully committed CEOs — many have proven it’s possible. I’m just saying I couldn’t.
“It wasn’t until the twins turned seven that I felt I had the capacity to get back on a steep growth trajectory and start a company.”
What’s more, your reason for being in rock star mode might not be kids — it might be another personal conflict, or it might simply be that you’re enjoying the work you’re doing right now.
Interestingly, Scott was later asked by then-CEO of Twitter, Dick Costolo, to help him design a class called “Managing at Twitter.” At that point, she’d already helped design a course called “Managing at Apple,” for Apple employees.
He then asked her if she wanted to interview for an operating role on his team — but they both soon realised that it wasn’t a fit for her at that time in her life. Instead, she became his CEO coach.
“Dick’s ability to help identify the perfect role for me at that time in my life has made an enormous difference in my career.
“It not only allowed me to be on a gradual growth trajectory at work when I wanted to write and be with my kids, it also set me up perfectly for when I was ready to shift gears again.”
To anyone struggling against pressure to keep climbing upward, Scott recommends taking stock of your personal and professional priorities. She told Business Insider: “It’s really important to be gentle with yourself.”
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