We're delighted to have collaborated on this piece with Pierre Landy, executive mentor to legal leaders and ex-GC at Yahoo, Ledger, and The Walt Disney Company. To learn more about Pierre, check out his Legal Spotlight here.
Let’s talk about the power of the Force! What do I mean by this? Our strengths, of course! This is the first thing I work on with each new mentee (I like to think of myself as a bit of a Jedi Master…).
Let’s start at the very beginning (it’s a very good place to start…🙂).
There are two types of leadership. Firstly, there is 21st-century leadership and then there is 20th-century leadership. In the 20th century, management was very much a top-down approach. Managers would create development plans on everything that was wrong in their teams (including what was ‘wrong’ with their team members!). Back then, managers would instruct their teams, without flexibility, on how everything should be done.
In the 21st century, thankfully, we have moved from managers to leaders - flipping the 20th-century approach on its head! Now, people are recruited based on their strengths and what they can bring to a role. With those foundations, it’s up to the leader to show their team the mountain they need to climb, giving them a goal to aspire to. Above all, leaders now let their team decide how they will reach this goal.
That said, to tackle said mountain, it is essential to know and understand your strengths. It’s a bit like being given a whole bunch of tools (say, an ice axe, a pickaxe, ropes, and a lightsaber). Which ones should you choose to reach the top? Understanding this is essential to identify how you will climb that mountain.
I suggest you start by asking yourself the following questions.
- What does your "sponsor" have in mind? What is their vision for the company and the department? What goal are they trying to achieve? Your sponsor is the person who has the power to give you a raise, to recruit you, to keep you in their team (or not...).
- What does your sponsor need? What skills or experience will help them conquer this mountain?
- How can your strengths "match" the project they have in mind and help them achieve their goals?
First things first. What you need to understand is that you can’t change your strengths. An executive mentor that I used to work with said, “a rose can grow to be a better rose, but it shall never be a daffodil”. You have to be who you are and not waste your energy trying to become someone else. Your goal should be a better version of yourself.
Let’s be clear. I’m not giving you permission to ignore your flaws or weaknesses. On the contrary, you should absolutely know them. You simply need to know how to manage them, rather than correct them. So, while we should focus on our strengths, we should still give due attention to managing our weaker abilities.
For example, it is good practice to surround yourself with people who are better than you in your weaker areas. Doing so allows you to better focus on what you are great at (win-win!). Let’s not forget that it’s completely fine to hire leaders with areas of expertise that are more senior to yourself if they’re going to deliver better than you can.
Your job as a leader is certainly not to be the expert in all things (that would be impossible!). Your job as a leader is to focus on growing tomorrow’s business while your team handles today’s. Having experts in place (in the areas where you’re not as comfortable) is, therefore, an effective strategy to achieve this.
Now, I appreciate that hiring those who are ‘better’ than you in certain areas may make you feel a little inadequate at first - after all, it’s not how we’ve been programmed to think! Remember when you were a high school student and you brought your report card back to your parents and they discovered you were ‘underperforming’ in some subjects. What was their response? Likely “Let’s give Pierre more calculus tutoring!”, right?
Instead of congratulating kids on all the areas they were exceptional at, time was spent trying to course-correct the areas their weaknesses. Trust me when I say, this strategy has very little chance of succeeding - whether you’re at school or in the workplace!
So, how do you uncover your strengths?
Well, it’s actually quite easy and there are many ways to do it. My first choice? An online “Strength Finder” test.
This test is not new by any means and yet I still find it quite amazing. It will allow you to identify your top five strengths. In order to interpret these strengths in a meaningful way, I recommend reading StrengthsFinder 2.0 (Discover your CliftonStrengths). This is also not new but it is still hyper-relevant and works very well.
For example, for those who know me, you won’t be surprised to hear that my number one strength came out as positivity! However, be careful, as each strength has its flawed counterparts that require managing. For instance, if you’re very strong in terms of positivity, you might view things through rose-tinted glasses - missing out on critical issues that need to be resolved.
This test is only the foundation to helping you understand your strengths. It cannot sum up who you are at your core. Therefore, it should be completed alongside further analysis.
So, besides the test, here are some additional ideas to help you understand your strengths.
The energy test
In the morning when you arrive at work, what excites you? What are the first emails you work on? What is the first thing you do when you arrive at the office? Chances are, those things you do very naturally are your strengths too.
The six-month rolling contract
Imagine you are on a 6-month contract (vs. an indefinite one). Every 6 months you must explain to your "sponsor" why they should keep you on in the company. Your strengths are likely to be the first to emerge in that conversation.
The Burj-Khalifa elevator
Imagine you ride the elevator to the top of the world's tallest tower. You are stuck with only one other person who happens to be your CEO (eek). You’re stuck for at least 2 minutes (although in reality, it takes exactly 1 minute 22 seconds to reach the 150th floor of the Burj-Khalifa!). What are you going to tell him during those two minutes? You have two minutes to explain your role and the value you add. Perhaps you’re trying to persuade them to give you that promotion you've been dreaming of. Once again, it is probably your strengths that you will naturally put forward.
A trusted friend
You can simply ask the people you trust around you; your associates, your best friend, people you've worked with before, etc. Ask them, “what (aspects of my job) am I good at?”. It’s important to only ask people that you respect otherwise their answer won’t have much impact.
In short, rather than continuing to rack your brains about what you're bad at, look for the areas where you excel - and, importantly, focus on these!
This is what I did when I was at Yahoo! My raw strength was positivity but I'm also a relator and an organizer - all of which are leadership qualities that have proven to be particularly useful in my career! My career took a very different turn (for the better) once I decided to focus on my strengths.
So, know your strengths, work on them, put them forward and you'll see your career boom!
May the force be with you!