I was recently asked by my management to participate in the Strengthfinder program. This is a book and an online test that is aimed at helping you to identify and develop your strengths. I am quite interested in self-analysis and they are paying for the book/test, so I was quite happy to cooperate. At this point, I have started reading the book …
The broad idea of the program is very simple. Everyone should avoid wasting their time trying to learn how to excel at things, for which they have no aptitude. If you do not have the talent, you probably do not have the motivation, so the best that you will probably achieve is some degree of competence; being great at it is very unlikely. The key to personal progress is figure out what you are good at and what you like [which are very commonly one and the same thing] and focus on that.
These ideas struck a chord with me. When I was a kid my Dad was an architect. It was what he had wanted to do since he was a child and he loved doing it. As the building industry went up and down, so did our household finances, but he was not driven by money. So I was raised in an environment where my Dad did not have a boss and did not dread Monday mornings. Sometimes he worked at the weekend; other times he took random days off in the week to do things with the family. Seeing the join between his work and the rest of his life was near impossible. I grew up thinking that this was what everybody did. This was until well into my teens, when it dawned on me that many people actually hated their jobs, but did them because they needed to eat. However, I was suitably brainwashed and followed my father’s lead. I did not become an architect [although I do enjoy architecture], but I found something that fascinated me [software] and made a career out of it. I know that I am lucky and I am very grateful.
Beyond my career, there are other things that I have found I enjoy and turn out to be good at. I like writing and people say I have a knack for it. I enjoy presenting and often get positive feedback. Photography is my #1 hobby and I’m told that I have a “good eye”. I seem to have naturally played to my strengths.
I am reminded of an event that occurred nearly 20 years ago:
I had my annual review with my then manager [whom I will call “M”]. He had a list of things that he thought I was doing very well; he had another list of things with which he was less happy. He wanted me to focus on the latter list. I pondered this and realized that the things that he felt I was underperforming at were all areas that did not interest me and he wanted me to spend more time/effort on them. This was not the way I like to spend my life. I requested a meeting with him and his boss [whom I will call “W”] to put my case. They listened and said that they would consider the matter.
A few days later, I was summoned to a meeting with M and W. W explained that he totally understood my viewpoint and felt that it was pointless to force me to do things that were not my natural talents. They had identified someone else to attend to those matters and had a proposal to expand my role in the areas at which I performed well. I have always cited this as a fine example of smart management.
I have different managers now, but ones who I believe take the same approach. In the coming days I will do the Strengthfinder online test and analyze the results. It could be interesting …