Careers develop when people are prepared for opportunities because they know their strengths, their method of work, and their values.
Gone are the days when we could easily answer the question: “What do you want to do when you grow up?” Yes, some people know early on that they want to be a teacher, a doctor, an engineer, a pilot, a chef but for the majority of us not only does it take a while to discover where our talents lie and how and where we can best use them, in today’s fast changing world, we need to be able to take advantage of new opportunities as and when they arise.
Management Guru, Peter Drucker suggests that most people do not really know where they belong until they are well past their mid-twenties. By that time however, they should know “who” they are and the “environment” that enables them to succeeed.
In order to do this, he says, you should know the answer to these three questions:
What are my strengths?
The only way to discover your strengths is through feedback analysis. Whenever you make a key decision, or take a key action, write down what you expect will happen. Review regularly, compare the actual results with your expectations. Ask others, too.
Remember, though, your strengths are often the flip-side of your weaknesses, so avoid wasting effort on improving areas of low competence.
Drucker noted that “It takes far more energy and work to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than it takes to improve from first-rate performance to excellence.” so make sure you play to your strengths and work in organisations that value you.
How do I perform?
How you perform is unique and is formed long before you start work. Certainly, you can modify your way of performing but, just as leopards can’t change their spots, you’re unlikely to be able to completely change your way of working. You’re likely to achieve the best results by doing what you’re good at, and by working in ways that enable you to perform at your best.
If you’re someone who’s not performing in one situation when you performed well in another, ask yourself “Is this me or the situation I find myself in?” Be honest with yourself – it could be either.
What are my values?
This is not a question of ethics, but of “What kind of person do I want to see in the mirror in the morning?” To work in an organisation where the value system is unacceptable or incompatible with your own is condeming yourself to frustration and to non-performance.
In addition to the above, Karen Blackett OBE, country manager for WPP and chairwoman of MediaCom, suggests you also ask yourself the following question on a regular basis:
What is the contribution that I plan to make?
This is a killer question. Answering it enables you to work well with colleagues, stand out from the crowd and helps you when you’re seeking promotion, a salary increase or at a job interview.
You won’t feel satisfied if your answers don’t fit with your company. They’re hard to answer properly and it takes time, but I ask myself every six months, because the answers change.
Only when you can answer these questions honestly can you decide where you belong or, just as importantly, where you do not belong.
You may be a big organisation person, you may prefer working in a start-up, a for-profit or a not-for-profit. You may be a decision-maker or you may prefer to let others do that. You may be happy with ambiguity but equally you may prefer to know exactly what’s what, when and where.
Knowing “who” you are means you’re not only better placed to ensure that you’ll thrive but you’lll be better placed to assess an opportunity, an offer, or an assignment.
You may be able to say a straight “Yes” knowing you’re the round peg for the round hole. But you might say: “Yes, but it’s only going to work if …. (I do it this way. That it should be structured this way. This is the way the relationships should be. These are the kinds of results you should expect from me, and in this time frame.) Equally, you can say “No” (and if necessary explain why) knowing that it isn’t going to work for you.
Understanding how to manage yourself is an important skill and process. As Drucker said: “No matter where we go or what we do, our selves will always be with us.”
[Words: Gwen Rhys]