The Art of Chickening Out

I was on a call with a prospect last week, and near the end of a very productive 30-minute conversation about how I could help her complete her CEO’s top initiative on time, she said, “I have to tell you, I started on this project with someone else a month ago, and two weeks into the project, he chickened out.” Though he had great credentials (and clearly a strong network since he’d been hand-picked by the CEO), he didn’t have the specific knowledge that was needed for this particular project. So why had he said yes in the first place?

While we high achievers may hate to admit it, we actually do have our limitations. In knowledge. In skills. Sometimes even in raw talent. And while I believe that most limitations can be overcome with hard work, that doesn’t necessarily mean we can overcome our weaknesses on the spot. Or on the job.

So what do you do when you’re offered a job you don’t have the skills to perform?

Chicken out.

But with professional grace.

  • Turn down the work before the project is in progress, and certainly before you’re seen as the spoke in the wheel who has stalled an important initiative.
  • Recommend a peer who may have the skills to do the job well. You’ll be seen as a wise professional and a valued resource by both the prospect and your peer.
  • Take a close look at the skill you lack and determine if it’s something that may add value to your offerings moving forward.
  • Gain the knowledge you need to fill the gap in your portfolio. Do research. Find training. Do the work. Then make your clients, colleagues, and prospects aware of your new skill.

We can’t all be everything to everyone, no matter how much we want to be the world’s best silver bullet. By chickening out when an project simply isn’t a good fit, you can boost your credibility significantly—as well as have a much better chance of being the go-to professional the next time a project comes up that sits smack in the middle of your sweet spot.