When Are You At Your Best?
Bill Peper wrote in to ask:
I wonder what you think of the underlying premise of Positive Organizational Scholarship, a hot topic at the University of Michigan Business School these days. In particular, I am curious of your opinion of the Reflected Best Self exercise.
Thanks for drawing this to my attention, Bill. By way of background, the Reflected Best Self exercise is a way of getting feedback from those you have worked with (or family or friends) asking them to relate stories about you when you were at your best and made your largest contribution. It’s worth checking out. The underlying idea of the approach is that, as Marcus Buckingham pointed out in a series of books (starting with First Break All the Rules) a person’s success is usually obtained not by working at correcting weaknesses, but by finding out their core strengths and building upon them. (This is the source of the word “Positive” in the name of the area of research.)
It’s too soon to know whether this particular method of self-discovery is the best approach, but I am very sympathetic to the insight that most of us, for better or for worse, have a package of strengths and weaknesses, probably very hard to alter.
Two very important conclusions flow from this. First, know thyself. And second, find a way to play a role that fits who you are, not some organization’s generalized statement about what we all need to be good at.
(The conclusions are critical insights in managing someone, too. To help someone succeed, you must help them find a role where they can flourish, not fit everyone into a cookie-cutter set of standards)
True Professionalism (1997), I wrote about it this way:
Don’t worry about what you’re good at. If something turns you on, you’ll be good enough. If it doesn’t, you won’t. Your “strengths” are irrelevant: What you like is critical.
One key to discovering what you really like and love is to ask yourself what are the things you don’t like to admit. “I don’t like to admit it, but I need to be the center of attention.” O.K., find a career path that will let you show off. “I don’t like to admit it, but I don’t like dealing with other people.” OK, then devise a role that will let you make your contribution through things done at the office, such as intellectual creativity and true technical superiority. “I don’t like to admit it, but I really want to be rich.” Fine, go out and build a business. “I don’t like to admit it, but I’m an intellectual snob.” That’s all right, so find a career path that will allow you to work only with smart people. Play to your “evil secrets.” Don’t suppress them. You are a lot less flexible than you think.