We live in a world that idolizes superstars. Yet business success usually hinges upon knowing and focusing on your own strengths and the specific situations you thrive in. Success won’t come from attempting to be the next Steve Jobs, Jack Welch, or any other business superstar. Success comes from understanding and leveraging who you are.
Way too often we’re advised—subtly or not so subtly—to emulate the behavior of some clever entrepreneur or a CEO who just delivered stellar results to investors. The best selling business books idolize the moves and the careers of standouts. Thousands studied Jack Welch’s story in Jack: Straight from the Gut. Many tried adopting the tactics and strategies of Neutron Jack, the world’s toughest boss. Walter Isaacson’s biography on Apple co-founder Steve Jobs led executives to believe that following the wisdom of Steve would put them on top. These books and others are great reading and provide instructive anecdotes. They also feed our cultural fascination with superman stereotypes. We get stuck on how to do things Jack’s way or Steve’s way and never understand how best to do things our own way.
Concentrate on accurately understanding who you are, what you do best, and how to apply that knowledge to your present role.
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Do you know how you work best with people? Do you know how you’re best managed by your boss or board of directors? Wouldn’t specific, actionable answers to those questions vastly improve your ability to reach your business goals?
You may think you know the answer to these questions, but the grim statistics on poor job fit suggest few of us really do. What would the camera reveal if you were filmed during some of your most successful, fulfilling achievements?
Perhaps the video would show you’re at your best when initiating a project. Or perhaps video would confirm that you achieve more when you join an undertaking someone else started. An objective look at your business style may show you thrive on adversity. Or it might reveal you prefer to work in calm collaborative relationships.
Are you motivated and energized when there are few rules and guidelines? Are you at your best when success means understanding and navigating through a myriad of rules and policies? Do you excel under a boss who checks in on you regularly or one who touches base infrequently? Do deadlines drive you to excel or drive you crazy?
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In his 2011 book Managing Yourself Managing Others, Steven M. Darter argues that there are literally hundreds of combinations of these types of attributes, qualities, characteristics, and style preferences. The problem is we try to simplify it all into four quadrants, three variables, six categories, or some other type of classification that leads to denial of a critical point.
That critical point is that the millions of us in business function quite differently from one another. You can’t reduce us to four types of that or six types of this or anything that fits nicely into a few boxes. When we try grouping millions of executives into categories we fail to identify, understand, and capitalize on what’s most unique, powerful, and performance-enhancing in each one of us.
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I take an idiosyncratic view of executives, teams and successful businesses. One individual or team or business is never exactly like the other. Warren Buffett would have failed at being Fred Smith. Fred could never be Warren.
Here’s my take on Steve Jobs’ success. The key to his meteoric success was his amazing capacity to harness his strengths in ways that created the most value for Apple. That, from my perspective, is the most important lesson to take away. Don’t idolize the man. Understand him and see how his self-knowledge empowered him to get the most from himself and from those around him. (If you think your understand Steve Jobs, see the April 2015 Fast Company cover story for a fresh perspective.)
Ever watch a great baseball player with an extraordinarily high batting average? Even the best hitter does not attempt to hit every type of pitch thrown at him. Instead, the best hitter learns which pitches he can hit. He looks for only for those pitches and jumps on them when they come.
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So the best way you and I have to succeed is to clearly understand our strengths and put ourselves with those people and in those situations where we can bring our strengths to the table. Knowing ourselves well gives us the best chance at spotting our next job promotion opportunity, the next project we should be on, the next investment to pursue, or even whether or not we should change jobs.
We must also better understand how we need to be managed. Steve Darter, among other management experts, points out the power of understanding:
- The type of boss we work best with
- The sort of organization we’ll thrive in
- Our natural strengths and motivational drives
I’m arguing for being yourself. That’s not easy in a world that idolizes others. You need to specifically and scientifically gain a keen awareness of your strengths. You need to examine the fit between you and your organization—those above you and below you – as well as the structure, and environment.
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The Greek philosopher Plato captured this concept in just two words, “Know thyself.” The application for business leaders is to develop a very specific, detailed understanding of your strengths, how you relate best to others, and which situations you thrive in most.
SIMA® International is a worldwide group of consultants who use the proprietary assessment technology, SIMA®, to help our clients make the best possible “people decisions.”
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