Get real, get strong … and prosper

Venice Muscle Beach

This article first appeared in Dec/Jan issue 2014 edition of Government News.

Knowing what you’re good at ‑ and less so ‑ makes for satisfaction and success. Dr Marianne Broadbent helpfully dissects the differences.

Over the past few years I have had the privilege of sharing and stimulating thoughts and career reflections with many executive groups in workshops, and with individuals as part of either a capability process or an executive search. To date most of these columns have drawn on observations and made suggestions at the organisational level. This column, and the next several, will focus more on some personal tips about leading and managing your career over time.

 Reflect on your real attributes and play to your strengths.

We each are better at some things than others and need to really understand what those strengths are. Most of us are happiest when we are succeeding, or succeeding enough. Being stretched is great, but trying to be something that you are not is not good for one’s health.

I spend considerable time with people who are very keen to get the ‘next role’. When I ask why they are interested in a particular role, they will say something like ‘well it is the next step for me’.

What our clients want to hear, and what I want to hear on their behalf, is why they are passionate about this role in this organisation at this time. Why would it be a good fit both for the organisation and the aspiring individual? How does it play to their strengths in terms of their experience, their capabilities, aspirations and values?

Working with a large corporate firm a little while ago, a colleague and I were having a feedback session with an ambitious, youngish senior manager who reported in two levels below the CEO.

He was desperate for the next level role, and, unbeknownst to us, had just missed out on that role for the second time in three years. He was something of a specialist in high demand inside and outside that organisation. Our view was that he still had quite a bit of personal and professional maturing to do, and that that role would likely still elude him, as he just did not have the breadth or perspective required.

At the end of the session, he asked straight out: ‘Do you think I will ever obtain that role, Jr one just like it?’ Our response went something like this: ‘Well if you spend ages developing in a few particular areas, and then turn yourself inside out and become a different person, maybe in five years you might get there. But why would you want to do that?’

He was a bit stunned at the response and we then had a more measured discussion about his real strengths and where these and his great experiences could take him. Three years later he continues to use his attributes well, but not in the type of role to which he originally aspired.

And he is now quite fine about that.

In my case, I know I enjoy working directly with clients. I have taken on other roles for periods of time because of the challenge and opportunity, but knowing I would at some stage revert to a more heavily client-engaged role. I like to be involved in a quite a few things concurrently, so I look for that in what I do — within the bounds of reason that is…

We might get that information about our strengths, limitations and development needs from reflecting on what has, and has not, worked for us to date. It might come from our boss, colleagues, our friends or those we lead. It could come through a formal 360 degree process.

Hopefully it comes from all of those sources.

That level of self-awareness about our strengths, together with our limitations, provides the basis of our personal development and investment plan. Where can our strengths, capabilities and attributes be best deployed? Are there areas that really matter, that we need to improve on, that, with a small investment, will make an exponential impact on our contribution, job satisfaction, or our options? What areas don’t matter so much — where we accept that these are not strengths of ours, are not likely to be, and so be it.

Figure out the trade-offs with which you are comfortable

Our comfort level with our career and personal choices and options often comes down to the trade-offs we are prepared to make.

We each make different choices at different points in time, and we often do not know what is ahead of us. We need to be prepared to be flexible and adjust to, to our changing circumstances. Sometimes we make trade-offs consciously, and sometimes more intuitively. Just as with focusing on your strengths, it helps if those trade-offs are clearly articulated to ourselves and to those around us.

Most of us will now have quite a few different careers over our lifetime. I figure I am into my fifth career (well, I did start out a long time ago…. ). That 40+ year career has meant many choices and trade-offs, and probably quite a few that others would not make.

We had our four (now adult) children in our 20s, and, for various reasons, both worked mostly fulltime and studied part-time. Our version of ‘Livin’ in the 70s’ was a bit different to many others, that is, there was not much social life that decade. Come to the second half of the 1980s, and you might ask who would be willing to stretch the family relationships through doing a doctorate part-time with full time work and four kids?

In the mid-1990s who would willingly spend five months away from their husband and kids if they did not have to (well I guess I thought I had to) on sabbatical? And for much of the ten years from the later 1990s, who would have been willingly spent an itinerant hotel-based life for half their time every month, out of one’s home country?

I realise this probably sounds an ideal arrangement to some, but to many it is a bit odd. Yes you do need to have the right partner, and you need to ensure you bring your kids up to be independent and confident individuals (and yes they are!). There are things you miss out on, and it really helps not to do the guilt thing. If we make our choices the worst thing we can do for those around us is to feel bad about them or to keep on regretting them.

We each need to figure out the trade-offs that work for us for periods of time. These will change due to all sorts of pressures, and if we have a modicum of choice, we are luckier than many other people.

Dr Marianne Broadbent is Managing Partner, with the Leadership Consultancy at NGS Global (EWK International has rebranded as NGS Global).




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