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What are you good at? And how does that hurt you?

April 22, 2016

Intent and Intense: As part of a review earlier this month, our team in general got extremely positive feedback along the lines of: it is great to see a group of such competent people explaining what they are doing, and that it all comes together. Along with that positive feedback was a warning that we were a very “intent and intense” team, and we should just be aware of that, and to make sure the people down the chain are being heard.

I liked that description, but understand the warning that goes with it. Like many traits, it is a strength that has a flip side.

A long-ago post on Ask A Manger got me thinking about talents, and I’d had half a post drafted for a while that discussed strengths and their associated weaknesses As I have matured in my career, it has been easier for me to pick out my strengths and figure out what types of roles I’m likely to excel in. I’m a big believer in strengths-based management, and mitigating your weaknesses.

Here is what I think are my top 3 professional talents are, and the other side of the coin that comes with them.

1. Talent: Picking out the key information that matters when making a decision or designing a system.  Similarly, listening to three paragraphs of information and distilling it into the two or three sentences that matter.

Associated weakness: I have limited patience for ramblers who won’t answer direct questions. My mind can wander if someone goes too deep into details that I have deemed irrelevant. Proofreading is the bane of my existence, so I try to avoid doing it.

2. Talent:  I’m good at accurately assessing situations and predicting eventual outcomes. I see things that others miss, and quickly do “if this, then that” logic trees in my head assessing the best and worst case scenarios (sometimes they aren’t different). I am good at predicting how various options are likely to play out, what is likely, what is possible. Sometimes I can use my insights to influence outcomes, sometimes only play defense.  I am good at planning contingencies. I’m rarely without a plan B.  If it becomes likely that plan A isn’t going to work out, I also will have plans C, D, and E.

Associated weakness:  Sometimes I trust this ability too much, and judge possibilities as unlikely before I truly have enough information to do so. I’m receptive when others point this out, but if no one is there to point it out, I may charge ahead believe something is a foregone conclusion – when it might not be. If I have considered a problem in-depth, I trust my judgement almost absolutely until new information is brought to my attention.

3. Talent: I have a strong initiative and willing to take ownership.  If you give me a task, I not only will do it, I’ll understand why I’m doing it, make sure that it is being done to my standards, and take care of any dependencies that are required for it to be a success. If something that affects my responsibilities isn’t being done, I’ll take it on if I can. This is a common trait of high performers, but after working with someone who simply didn’t take ownership or need to understand what he was doing, I felt the need to call it out as one of my an important talents. The person had other strengths, namely that he was very calm and agreeable no matter what the request. This is the one is most analogous to the “intent and intense” comment we received.

Associated weakness: I adopt problems that are not my own, resulting in stress that I don’t need.  I probably annoy people by occaisionally doing things myself rather than letting people do their jobs. For example, I spent 4 hours (7 pm until midnight) completely redoing something that a junior colleague had spent a not-insignificant amount of time on. I felt terrible about it – but we had a deadline, he had a other stuff to do, and the product he was working with couldn’t be adapted to meet what I needed. We had to start from scratch, but I wasn’t about to make him do it.  (A more effective approach would be to pay closer attention to progress so I could redirect much sooner. I overestimated his ability/intensity.)

What about you?  What are you good at? What undesirable outcomes go along with the things your best at? 

Closing thought: “We can’t take any credit for our talents. It’s how we use them that counts.” Madeleine L’Engle

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 25, 2016 10:12 pm

    I’m struggling with this question a little bit right now, so I’m going to have to come back when I’ve formulated the answer. But I’m right there with you on #3. Sometimes I forget that it’s not micromanaging to keep tabs on progress and performance at a closer level than I would be comfortable with from my manager and then I have to redo work or coach the junior staff on how to do it over :/

    • April 26, 2016 7:27 am

      I guess skills don’t have a flip side if they are concrete things, like “I’m great at excel!”

      I’m good at excel, but so little of my job is doing anything concrete like that… much easier to sell on a resume if it is!

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