The great American poet, Ke$ha, once said, “We R who we R.” Grammatical critiques aside, the woman has a point! You come hard-wired with unique strengths and weaknesses. Understanding and embracing them, rather than attempting to change them, is the key to your success at work. K-money knows what's up.
Go with me on a brief mental journey. Assume your career is a cross-country race, and that in this race you can split yourself into two people. The first person is a compilation of all your weaknesses, and the second person comprises all your strengths. Both athletes have the same coach. Which athlete should the coach focus on developing?
Option 1 would be to focus on the mediocre runner. This will ensure that the two runners form a “well-rounded” team. The average runner, with enough practice, may even get to “pretty good” status and won’t be embarrassed by finishing near the bottom. Neither runner will, you know, win—but at least no one will lose face. Both runners can fade away in comfortable anonymity as middle-of-the-pack athletes.
Option 2 would be to focus on both runners simultaneously. In this case, the coach would have to split his time up, so neither athlete would get his or her full attention. But hey, at least each athlete would get a little better, and both would cross the finish line feeling like they’ve improved.
Wait, I’m sorry, I thought the goal of a race was to, um…win! That’s why I prefer option 3, which is for the coach to de-prioritize the average runner and focus entirely on the strong one. After all, it’s a competitive race, and if the coach wants to win he needs to focus 100% of his time developing his top talent. This maximizes the coach’s chance for greatness.
The career lesson: Stop playing so much defense by trying to fix what you’re not good at. Stop walking out of your performance reviews thinking that all your time should be focused on fixing your “opportunity areas” (code name for weaknesses). Stop looking for a career path at your company that will “round out your skill set.” Start thinking about what you have the potential to be truly great at and then get after it. Recognize that this world is too competitive to not do what you’re truly good at.
Don't fix your weaknesses; amplify your strengths.
If you have a little work experience and a shred of self-awareness, you already know your core strengths. The trick is to make sure you are, like the cross-country coach, giving your strengths the attention they deserve. This will require you to be more deliberate and disciplined in the way you manage your work.
Step 1: Scrutinize Your Time
Look back on your last month of work and make an honest accounting of how you spent your time, then compare it with activities that you know directly relate to your core strengths. If you find that you spent more than 50% of your working hours on activities unrelated to your core strengths, this should be a wake-up call. It’s time to re-balance your daily activities by figuring out which non-core activities you can delegate, de-prioritize or straight-up ignore so that you can focus more on activities that align with your core strengths.
Step 2: Have That Conversation With Your Boss
The relationship you have with your boss is the most important relationship you have at work, and if you are going to materially change the way you spend your working hours, you will need his or her support. Set up time with him or her and make your case. Discuss your core strengths, how you think your time would be best spent, and why this plan is the best for the business, for your boss and for you. Getting support from your boss will give you power to execute your plan with confidence.
Step 3: Start Raising Your Hand
The best defense is a good offense when it comes to de-prioritizing non-core activities. If you can identify several projects that leverage your core strengths and get involved in them, you’ll keep yourself so busy that you won’t have time for the other stuff. Let go of the fear of, well, letting go. Being really good at something has a way of making up for a few things slipping through the cracks.
Step 4: Start Saying “No” More
Despite your deliberate efforts to work on the right things, you will inevitably still get asked to do projects or be in meetings that will suck time—and life—out of you. Sometimes you can’t avoid them, but many times these requests are negotiable. It never hurts to ask the following questions: has someone in the organization already done this? Can I narrow the scope of this request? Do I really need to be in this meeting, or can I get and update afterward? How does this request directly tie back to my business objectives? Many times, weak requests crumble when these questions are asked, and you’ll be freed up to work on more valuable things.
By taking these steps, your inner coach will be free to focus more attention on your "talented" runner. This will build your momentum and confidence over time. Most importantly, it will give you a shot at achieving what we all aspire to: greatness.