Following the Great Utility Tradition, We Learned to Hide Our Flaws at an Early Age. We were encouraged never to expose our weaknesses to the light of day.
Not community minded? Join Kiwanis.
Poor speaker? Join Toastmasters.
Finance is not your thing? Take night courses.
Not management material? Get an MBA.
It was understood that we had it in our power to morph our weaknesses into strengths if we worked on them hard enough. Then, we would be on track for that next career step, because we could now demonstrate our commitment to our company and because we could showcase our enhanced skills.
What if the converse was true? What if we did not take sufficient care to hide those insidious flaws, those chinks in our armor? A peer, if he could, would unleash sufficient verbal steel (behind our backs, of course) to cut us and expose that soft inept underside for the world to see. We understood all too well that we were competing with our peers for the same jobs in this cutthroat world. And if we could bring another down, it would only increase our odds for progression.
Quite Darwinian. Quite exhausting. Quite real.
Of course, not all companies are wired this way. When I accepted the job here at Transmission & Distribution World, I decided to masquerade as an editor until I became one, unwittingly taking with me a page right out of the utility survival manual.
Without formal training as a writer or editor, I expected my literary weaknesses soon would be exposed. But I was amazed to discover that the publisher, Barry LeCerf, hired me for my strengths. I became so comfortable under his tutelage, I told Barry, "I've decided to flaunt my flaws." With a huge grin, he responded, "Rick, that's an understatement."
Barry never tried to force me to do what I wasn't wired to do. He coached me sufficiently to minimize my weaknesses, so I could focus on putting strengths into play. Barry also removed impediments. When I asked, "How many meetings do I have to attend?" he responded, "How many meetings are you going to call." When I asked, "How much paperwork will I have to do?" he queried, "How much paperwork are you going to create?" How freeing; I found myself in a job with essentially no meetings and no paperwork.
So, how do I spend my time? Freed from the mundane, I act as our advance scout, searching for T&D content and insights that will change how we approach our jobs.
Here at Penton Media, I am a real fan of Lisa Parks. Lisa leads with her strengths. A vice president in operations, Lisa is the most wonderful, encouraging person, believing everyone will perform at higher levels if they focus on their talents and strengths. She recommended I read the book Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton. In fact, most of the people in her group have taken the Stengthsfinder test, so Lisa knows the strengths of all who work in her group. It is telling that the profile results never even mention weaknesses.
The authors are not just proposing a theory. Instead, they have access to more than 30 years of Gallup Poll data on more than 2 million people who participated in systematic studies on excellence.
In doing their research, Buckingham and Clifton discovered that most organizations have been built around the flawed assumption that every person can learn to be competent in almost anything. The authors exposed the flawed thought that each person's greatest room for growth is in his or her areas of greatest weakness.
If your company is built on these flawed assumptions, it will:
Place heavy emphasis on work rules, policies, procedures and behavioral competencies.
Give the greatest prestige, the most respect and the highest salaries to the most experienced, well-rounded people.
Spend more money on training people than in selecting the proper employee.
Focus training dollars on converting "skill gaps" into "areas of opportunity."
I hope this doesn't sound like your utility, but I am afraid it is right on for too many corporations today.
Our companies can do better than this. Buckingham and Clifton found that the best managers believe:
Each person's talents are enduring and unique.
Each person's greatest room for growth is in the areas of his or her greatest strength.
The Gallop research efforts unearthed 34 patterns or themes that bound areas of performance excellence.
The authors sum up with this: "The real tragedy of life is not that each one of us doesn't have enough strengths, it's that we fail to use the ones we have."
Most of us undervalue our strengths, because we use them every day and they are instinctive to us. When given accolades, doubt creeps in, because we don't perceive ourselves to be as talented as others see us to be. Instead of confidence, feelings of insecurity and inadequacy worm their way into our brains.
If we put our strengths into play the majority of every day, our companies will benefit and we will be energized. Gallop asked: At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day? Those who answered "strongly agree" to this question were: 50% more likely to work in business units with lower employee turnover; 38% more likely to work in more productive business units; and 44% more likely to work in business units with higher customer satisfaction scores.
As predicted, my personal Strengthsfinder results weren't a surprise to me. But again, as predicted, I probably undervalue them. My five strongest categories were ideation, strategic, winning others over, connectedness and maximizer. I can truly state that in my editorial job, I get to put these traits into play every day. Emily Saarela, our managing editor, tells me, "Rick, you are the only person I know who loves everything you do." And she is so right. As you can imagine, I am energized because I love what I do. I even have a screen saver that says, "I love my job."
Emily has traits that are quite complementary to mine. She is deliberative, disciplined, consistent and focused. Not traits that are commonly ascribed to me. At the same time, I can warn Emily of things on the horizon that would otherwise catch her off guard and retard progress. We look out after one another.
Our entire editorial staff might be considered a little odd. But by being ourselves and not hiding our idiosyncrasies, by leveraging our individual strengths and compensating for one another's weaknesses, the whole is greater than the parts.
Career consultants still tout the need for us to camouflage our true selves. I recently read a piece in the local paper detailing how job hunters should exhibit characteristics that would appeal to potential employers.
Not confident? Lean forward in the interview.
Shy? Make eye contact.
Too pushy? Make "I" statements.
It made me exhausted just thinking about it. It is time we quit hiding what makes us unique. Instead, as we go through our professional and personal lives, let's maximize our innate strengths while minimizing the impact of our weaknesses. Then, instead of coming home exhausted at the end of the day, we will find ourselves excelling in our chosen fields while finding great satisfaction in our work.