When you get your first job, you’re hired based on your strengths. To get promoted, you need to be highly self-aware of your weaknesses and compensate for them through who you hire and collaborate with.
When I look at the most successful of my clients over the decades, one thing has really stood out. They all stink at something.
The key is that they know what they stink at and hire or partner with people who can help. They may also ask their network for help with what they stink at.
Many of my clients aren’t exceptional at strategic analysis or deep quantitative analysis. However, they know this, and that’s why they hire me.
The clients who have the most success working with me are the ones who will do what I tell them to do… and do it incredibly quickly. They are very fun to work with.
I have two really big weaknesses. I’m terrible at attention to detail (it hurts my brain too much) and even worse at anything aesthetically oriented (anything from fashion to website design to creating visually impactful slides).
I find others to help me with problems in those areas 95% of the time. The other 5% of the time, I forget I stink at those things and try to make a decision myself, and it’s always a bad outcome. This has been true since I was 16 years old.
The other thing I’m terrible at is following instructions. When I buy a new product, the first thing I do is throw out the product manual. Yes, I’m one of those people. I like to figure things out. I like to figure out how to make things better.
Years ago, I had the opportunity to buy into a franchise chain (think: McDonald’s, but smaller). Up until that time, I had never really thought about an opportunity like that. When I stopped to think about what makes a franchise (the local owner of a big chain) successful, it’s really two things: 1) They follow instructions really well; and 2) They are good at hiring and managing a lot of employees.
I realized that I’m terrible at #1, and the idea of hiring and managing hundreds of employees felt like torture to me. (In contrast, my clients are really good at following my instructions and really world-class at the people-management side of things.)
My clients and I have a really good complementary/symbiotic relationship. They are very good at what I’m terrible at. I’m excellent at what they aren’t good at. Either of us alone achieves less than we do together.
There are two lessons here:
1) As you move up the corporate hierarchy, hire into your weaknesses.
If you’re not great at finance, hire someone who is. If you aren’t great technically, go find a colleague in the tech side of your company to be a mentor. If you’re not great at sales, find someone who is.
2) Forget about picking the best career choice… instead, focus on the career choice that’s the best fit.
The people who struggle are those who pursue careers that require skills they are inherently terrible at.
If you have very wobbly hands, you shouldn’t be a surgeon.
If you have poor spatial reasoning skills, you probably don’t want to be a professional baseball player.
If you lack warmth and empathy, you don’t want to be a therapist.
If you hate math, you probably don’t want to be a physicist.
If you find case interviews painful, you definitely don’t want to be a consultant.
It’s not that these careers — surgeon, professional baseball player, therapist, physicist, consultant — are bad careers. These are all great careers… for the right person. A great career might be a bad fit for you.
It all depends on knowing your own strengths and weaknesses.
In comparison, life is so much easier and far more successful if you pursue career opportunities that are in your “sweet spot” of skills.
The key to having an amazing career is as much dependent on finding the great opportunities out there as it is on understanding yourself and what’s a good fit for you.
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