Have you ever noticed that some people are drawn to work on or with certain things? If you are the parent of more than one child, you’ve probably noticed that each child is drawn to different toys or activities. One may love to build things; another may love finger painting, or reading. It almost seems to be inborn.
As an advisor to organizational leaders I am fascinated at how this phenomenon continues into our professional lives. In some jobs it’s pretty obvious: plumbers focus on the subject matter of pipes, tools, flow, pressure, and (hopefully) customers. Professional athletes thrive on competition and focus on strengthening and perfecting their bodies to extract speed, agility, form, and results. Surgeons focus on human anatomy and complex, physical tasks that require manual dexterity and attention to detail.
What About CEOs, Managers, And Organizational Leaders?
The desire to work with or focus on certain things (aka subject matter) is also true for business leaders, but it is often less obvious. Each of us has a distinct set of “favorite things” we prefer to work with or on. Some executives focus on communication and language, or numbers, or product engineering (tangible features), or concepts (intangibles), or relationships with other people. Some are driven to work only on projects that align with their internal values. Other executives favor working with groups of people. The numerous engineering executives that I have evaluated during the past 30 years consistently report a lifelong fascination with mechanical things –whether building, fixing, or inventing.
The child who thrives on theatrical or musical performances often becomes the CEO who is continually out front with customers or excels when addressing large employee gatherings. For such a person, the attraction of working with audiences and groups is irresistible. Likewise the manager, who as a child organized the entire neighborhood to build a tree house, tends to excel at leading projects or development teams.
We All Have Specific Favorites
You are no exception. You have your favorite subject matter, but it may not be immediately evident to you. And, if you are like many other executives, you may occasionally find yourself in positions where you cannot work with the subject matter you prefer.
Recently an executive complained to me about a colleague’s need for a large budget for lab space and equipment. He felt this was unnecessary since much of the work could be done via computer modeling and simulation. But his colleague insisted that he must be “hands on” with the technology to be most effective and productive. This is a classic example of two smart, successful professionals with different subject matter (tangible versus intangible).
When your job allows you to work with your ‘favorite things’, you excel. When your job focuses on other subject matter, you are less motivated and tend to underperform.
How To Discover Your Favorite Things
So how do you discover your favorite things? Start by writing down your answers to these questions:
- What types of projects or tasks do you most enjoy working on? Make a list of the resources or objects you liked using on these tasks.
- How frequently do your important achievements involve other people or groups?
- When you are learning something new, do you prefer to read and study or interview an expert or experiment with trial and error?
- Are you most excited or interested when working with ideas or concepts? Do you prefer work that focuses on physical or tangible things?
- Is it more satisfying for you to solve problems alone or with others?
- When you are doing your best work, do you notice and remember details or the big picture?
- What do you do for fun? Do you enjoy crafting objects (woodworking, perhaps)? Do you enjoy competitive situations (poker, golf tournaments, racing)?
What Success Boils Down To
Gaining a finely tuned sense of the subject matter you like to work with makes it much easier to chart a path toward work that fits you and will satisfy you. it is important to your success that you understanding what you’re motivated to work with and find ways to keep that subject matter central to the work you do.
A personal SIMA MAP® has helped thousands of executives clearly define the work they love and find fulfilling, and is an accurate predictor of career success and satisfaction.
MAPs also generate important benefits for organizations. Over the past 50 years thousands of for-profit and non-profit organizations have used SIMA MAPs to:
- Make strategic hires and promotions
- Diagnose performance issues
- Think through succession planning
- Improve organizational effectiveness
- Develop teams with complementary skills and motivations
Now, go have some fun and think about how you can weave more of your ‘favorite things’ into your normal workweek.
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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