I’ve often heard senior executives go way out of their way to tell me how bad they are at certain things.
Early in my career I interviewed with the CEO of a major marketing strategy firm. He was a genius at positioning companies. But he told me, “I’m terrible at managing people.”
Another time at a conference I sat next to the CEO of a large New York book publishing firm. He told me his background was in accounting and he couldn’t spot a best-seller to save his life.
I found this confusing when I was an inexperienced manager. But at some point I figured out what they were doing: They were telling me, in code, that they were EXTREMELY good at their core competency. So good, in fact, that they didn’t need to be good at other stuff.
What a great message for a typical line manager who wants to grow and get promoted. Top executives bristle when they see “jack-of-all-trade” managers. They know that it’s impossible for anyone to achieve excellence in multiple roles. They’re looking for people who can get off-the-charts results in a single area of specialization, and then have the wisdom to hire a high-performance team to do the things they’re not good at.
You probably already know what you’re good at. It’s the stuff you put on your resume. Now, make up a list of stuff you’re not good at, don’t want to be good at, and will probably never be good at. Would you be willing to show this list to your boss? To your team? It’s not as risky as it sounds (your boss and your team probably know already). It can be liberating. And it will enhance, not diminish, your credibility as a leader.
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