Career Tip #1: Find and Follow Your Strengths
I’ve been ‘pinged’ for career advice from time to time. So, I’m starting on a series of perhaps 15 or 20 posts that summarize my career learnings, principles and philosophies. This is the first.
For this one, I’m going to answer an email from a reader asking about finding passion and leveraging strengths. Let me share my story…
Thanks to Bryan Eisenberg, I’ve got to know Roy Williams over the past 5 years. He’s a best selling author and founder of Wizard of Ads and Wizard Academy. One day I asked him for perspective and advice for my career after 3 startups and 7 years at Dell. He didn’t tell me what to do, but he’s a master of extracting essence and principle. In a private conversation in his office he crystallized my core competency. With dramatic pause he started, “Sam, you have a gift very few people have. You are multi-lingual”. “Gracias. Sé, pero apenas un poco,” I thought. But he wasn’t talking about my limited Spanish skills. What he knew about me is I enjoy metrics and can talk about the P&L with the CFO. And I also enjoy creativity – I used to be a designer, love to write and have managed creative teams. And I am good at ‘translating’ between both. I enjoy using both sides of my brain. In a word, “multi-lingual”, Roy captured what it is I do.
In addition to this, I’ve learned that I find fulfillment in starting, building, and growing something. In addition, I want to do something innovative, forward-thinking, and unique. I’m in my fourth startup and my 7 years at Dell I spent in entrepreneurial change-leadership positions. My father was a film producer and an entrepreneur, my mother was a copywriter. I believe I have a ‘create’ gene that needs to be scratched (maybe everyone does), and I gravitate towards opportunities that allow me to do so. My passion is fulfilled in the journey in these things as much as the destination, so the culture, environment and relationships are as important to me as the function and subject matter (and I believe they are critical to success anyway).
Have you discovered what you are great at and what you like to do? Not knowledge and skills, but your core competency and the kind of situation, culture and environment where you thrive? For some people passion is functionally specific, like cooking. Not for me. However I would say marketing and sales as functions have exposed me to a diverse set of experiences and the kind of multi-tasking that exercises that ‘middle-brain’.
Sometimes companies suggest employees take jobs where they have ‘development opportunities’. In the book “First Break All the Rules” (best management book!), Marcus Buckingham asserts an empirically-based argument that that employees (and therefore companies) are more successful when they play to their strengths. That’s not to say you don’t try to learn something new, but in the words of “Good to Great” you want the right people on the bus in the right seats.
It seems the first half of a career is the process of finding what you love and what you’re good at. The best way to do this is to try new things. However, the sooner you learn what you were born to do and start doing it, the faster you will reach your pinnacle of success.
Read “Now Discover Your Strengths”, the follow up to “First Break All the Rules”, and you can discover your core competencies. Then you’ll discover the type of work that plays to your strengths.
There are 34 Strengths possible. Going through the extensive survey you can identify your top five. My top 5 are in bold, and you can see how they correlate to the findings about my passions and strengths above.
Think about a time when you were happiest and most effective, in your current job or a previous job. Was there a time when the days flew by and you looked forward to the next? You were probably exercising your top strengths. And when that happens, you can excel beyond either your expectations, or the expectations of others!