I read an article recently that reminded me how many people try to be something they're not, in their career, their job search, and in other areas of their life.
They believe that in order to be successful in a certain field or in a certain role, they have to have certain personality traits. If those traits aren't natural to them, they often try to fake them, or work to develop them regardless how difficult or awkward it is for them. In most cases, that's a mistake!
The article was written by Bill George, a former CEO of Medtronic Corporation and currently a professor of management at Harvard. It was titled "Leadership skills start with self-awareness".
Some key quotes from the article…
- Traditional leadership development programs have missed the mark for years, as they tried to make leaders into someone different.
- We've all seen dozens of leaders fail in trying to emulate great leaders.
- The essence of leadership is not trying to emulate someone else, no matter how brilliant they are. Nor is it having the ideal leadership style, achieving competencies or fixing your weaknesses. In fact, you don't need power or titles to lead. You only have to be authentic.
- …we learned that the essence of leadership comes from not having pre-defined characteristics. Rather, it comes from knowing yourself – your strengths and weaknesses – by understanding your unique life story and the challenges you have experienced.
Although the article primarily focused on leadership, and leadership training, the principles are true for being successful in virtually any other role as well. While there certainly are limitations people may have to do some things (i.e. not everyone is capable of becoming an Olympic athlete), most people can be successful in roles where their personalities don't fit the stereotyped mold.
My own career is an example. Over the years I've taken various personality and assessment tests. Some on my own, some administered by companies I was interviewing with or working for. My results consistently point to personality traits that typically are not thought of as fitting sales positions. In fact, early in my career, I had an experience where I went through 3 rounds of interviews with a company I was pursuing, then they had me take a personality test. After they received the results, I was turned down for the job because I didn't have the right personality profile for sales. As a recruiter, however, I've had a great deal of success for now over 25 years. Sales is an everyday part of my life, and yet I've been able to succeed even without the right 'profile'.
Knowing and understanding what your natural personality traits and strengths are, and using them fully in order to achieve results in your chosen field is the key. I've been able to succeed, not because I'm the classic "hunter" in sales, but rather because I have strong natural abilities to build trust and long term relationships with my clients and candidates. I tend to build new business at a slower pace than others. However, the business I do build is more sustainable and builds to much larger levels over time. When I've tried to be a more aggressive cold-caller, I've failed. When I use my natural strengths of building relationships and garnering referrals, I've succeeded. I'm motivated by having people trust me. In order to gain that, I need to be trustworthy, and that drives all my conversations and relationships.
Most people, however, don't know who they are very well. They don't really know their natural strengths or weaknesses. They don't know what really motivates them or what doesn't. They see others that they admire in some way and try to emulate them. That is rarely a successful strategy though, and generally leads to a great deal of stress and discouragement.
The Bible teaches this concept repeatedly, that God has endowed each of us with gifts to be used in ways that are unique to us:
1 Peter 4:10 - Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others.
It's terrific that today's leaders are "discovering" this. However, the Bible, written thousands of years ago already laid it all out!
So What? When pursuing a job, building your career, raising a family, or living virtually any other aspect of your life… learn what your strengths are and use them to their fullest. When networking for a job, or interviewing with a potential employer, being able to articulate what your personality strengths are and how they make you successful in your field goes a long way to overcome objections or preconceived notions of what kind of personality is required to be successful.
Be confident in who you are and what you were made to be, rather than try to become someone else. You will most likely be more successful and certainly more content. You won't be creating stress from trying to be something you're not.
Take personality assessment tests. Ask others how they see you. Evaluate your past experiences, looking for what you've done well and why. Look for things you've enjoyed most, and why. Look for times you've been successful, and how that happened. Be honest with yourself. Be willing to face your weaknesses as well. And look for reasons, and ways your strengths can be used most effectively in what ever role you choose.
Self-awareness is an attractive trait to employers! It shows someone comfortable in their own skin and confident in who they are. Don't try to be someone else, but pursue who you are fully!