by Laura Garnett
“What is your most valuable contribution at work? What is it YOU do best?” How many times have you been asked this type of question? And how many times did the question leave you with sweaty palms, wishing you had studied your notes more and feeling as though your response sounded as generic as a description of what you had for dinner last night?
What can be even more disheartening is feeling that although you know deep down that you bring special value to the table, you are somehow unable to explain it. There are those fleeting moments when you can almost crystallize what it is that makes your efforts unique...but then you just can’t quite put it into words. You also may work for an organization that is on top of employee development and you have received copious feedback on things that you do well (and the dreaded “opportunities for growth”). Still, when you sift through other’s positive remarks you’re left feeling, “is this really the best that I have to offer?”
In my search to find what I was best at in the corporate world I turned to my performance reviews. They’re supposed to provide honest, third-party feedback on what your strengths and weaknesses are, right?
While performance reviews are a necessity to calibrate your performance and compare you to others, the problem with such reviews, and many times with feedback from others in general, is that the intention of the review process is to assess how well you do the things you ARE doing, not to identify those things you SHOULD BE doing. As an employee, we crave to understand ourselves, and often we take this feedback to believe that its an accurate reflection of who we truly are. As the result of such a mindset, I spent my time at Capital One “knowing” very clearly who I was: a results driven communicator who worked well with others and lived the company’s values.
The problem with this awareness was that when I left Capital One, I realized that this was a fairly generic and underwhelming expression of who I was. I ended up getting a job at Google, which I was excited about, but that ultimately I was not well suited for, because I didn't know in great detail, what kind of job I should have been hired for.
How then can you begin to understand what you’re best at without relying on what others think? There are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, is that you can’t do this alone. You have to find or hire someone that is committed to NOT giving you advice or their perception of you but actually just support you in uncovering what it is that makes you unique. And the best way I know of describing your uniqueness is to use your Zone of Genius as a guiding principle.
I have defined it as the following:
Your Zone of Genius = your innate talent + your greatest passion.
I believe that your innate talent is the approach you take to the work that you do that is unique. Your approach to what you do that is innate, it’s something you do without thinking, which is why its so hard to see and describe.
Your greatest passion is the activity that you could do for countless hours with unending fulfillment. This is not always straightforward, but can be embedded in your psychology and linked to your personal journey. My greatest passion is helping others find work that excites them. This will be endlessly fulfilling to me because its one of the biggest challenges I had in my life that I have conquered.
When you are able to identify your innate talent and apply it to your greatest passion, you are then able to understand what it is that makes you unique. You are then able to navigate your career with authority. You know what two variables need to be in place in order to be operating in your Zone of Genius.
Here are some questions that can kick-start your process. Survey 5 – 10 current or past colleagues and ask them the following questions:
1. What is my unique approach to the work that I do?
2. What is the experience of working with me like? Be specific
3. What do you enjoy most about working with me?
The answers to these questions will reveal a pattern. The pattern will be a recurring approach to problem solving, execution or leadership. Your support person can help you identify these patterns as it’s easier for someone else to see these things than for you to see it yourself.
Once you have identified this characteristic you will know what you do better than everyone else and you will start talking about your approach, not “what you do”. Others will start to see and understand the unique value you offer and you will be able to more actively create opportunities that need your unique approach.
Let me know how it goes and please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you need support.
Laura Garnett is a Talent Strategist and Leadership Activator. Her Zone of Genius is being able to see the underlying patterns within people that is indicative of their Zone of Genius. She then connects them to their personal brand and career strategies that are right for them. Her mission is to help everyone know their Zone of Genius and use that as a driving force for their career decisions. When you have clarity, focus and passion, anything is possible. Laura brings years of experience as a high-level corporate executive for companies such as Google, American Express and Capital One as well as her own personal time “in the trenches” as a solo entrepreneur who’s created her own dream job. You can follow Laura on Facebook, LinkedIn, or on Twitter @garnettl.
*image via drempt.com