You cannot win the marathon by sprinting.

The winner of the 100m in the Olympics might also win the 200m, but will never be competitive in the 10K… or marathon …or rowing, or judo…

Gold medal athletes focus on their strengths and work to amplify their strengths. Usain Bolt doesn’t spend training time trying to improve his long distance capacity. He works on his start, on acceleration, on sprinting and finishing. He works on his strengths.

Recently I’ve felt a lot of pressure to spend time on areas that for me are weaknesses. I am writing this blog post mainly as a reminder to myself to stay strong, and accept these weaknesses. As a leader, I am responsable for making sure there are people and systems around me so that our business doesn’t have weaknesses… but it is not me that should spend time in areas where I am weak.

Dan Sullivan on working on your strengths

If you work throughout your life on improving your weaknesses, what you get are a lot of really strong weaknesses.

Dan Sullivan

In order to do well in school, you need to get good grades in all the subjects. If you are good at sports when you are 12 or 15, you are probably the best at most of the sports you try.

I did well in school. It became painful for me to not get good grades… in any subject… even the ones that I really didn’t care about.

In business (and professional sports), you do well by being really good in one subject. In order to be excellent, you need to deliberately choose to be bad in almost everything else.

I am good at some things, I am not good at lots of things. A lot of the people around me are great at letting me know what I’m not doing so well… I have to stay mindful in order to not get drawn into trying to spend effort improving my weaknesses.

Stephen King says “I was lucky. I was born only good at one thing. Imagine how hard it is for people who are good at 2 things… or what is truly difficult… being good at most things.” (I paraphrase as I can’t currently find the original quote)

Are you working on your strengths?

If you liked this post, you will also like Managing Oneself and Meaningful Contribution.

There are 2 ways to categorize work:

  • cognitive or manual
  • repetitive or non-repetitive.

4 Kinds of Work

There are basically 4 kinds of work:

  1. Manual repetitive – Assembly line factory worker, farm labourer
  2. Cognitive repetitive – Call center operative, Bank teller
  3. Manual non-repetitive – Jewellery maker, Custom car builder
  4. Cognitive non-repetitive – Project manager, Sales of large complex systems

Generally speaking, repetitive manual work requires the least self-management and is the lowest paying, and cognitive non-repetitive work requires the most self-management and is the highest paying.

Are you good at Self-Management?

“We must manage ourselves, and help others manage themselves” Peter Drucker

Peter Drucker wrote an article called Managing Oneself that is still the best summary of Self-Management.  As a summary, you need to be answering these 6 questions:

  • What are my strengths?  Feedback is the only way to find out.  Do you have a systematic process for getting feedback on your behaviours?
  • How do I perform?  How do I learn best?  Don’t struggle with modes that don’t work for you.  (on Mastery)
  • What are my values?  “What kind of person do I want to see in the mirror in the morning?”
  • Where do I belong?  Mathematicians, musicians and cooks are mathematicians, musicians and cooks by the time they are 4 or 5 years old.  Successful careers are not planned, they happen when people are prepared and positioned for opportunities that suit them.  Knowing where one belongs can transform an ordinary person into an outstanding performer.
  • What should I contribute?  Given my strengths, methods and values: what is the great contribution to what needs to be done?  Don’t look too far ahead – 18 months is the range of good planning.  Define courses of action: what to do, where and how to start, what goals, objectives and deadlines to set.
  • Who can I work well with?  Adapt to what makes those around you successful.  Adapting to what makes your boss most effective is the secret of managing up.  Take responsibility for communicating how you are performing; take responsibility for building trust

Past Posts on Work and Money

Companies today aren’t managing your career. You must be your own HR guru. That means it’s up to you to identify your place in the world and know when to change course. It’s up to you to keep yourself engaged and productive. This is the premise of Peter Drucker’s 2005 HBR article “Managing Oneself”.

Managing Oneself Drucker

Peter Drucker asks some great questions the article (available as a short book).  This is a very brief summary of his article.  (The summary image above is a wonderful thing to print and keep in your notebook.)

  • What are my strengths?  Feedback is the only way to find out.  Do you have a systematic process for getting feedback on your behaviours?
  • How do I perform?  How do I learn best?  Don’t struggle with modes that don’t work for you.  (on Mastery)
  • What are my values?  “What kind of person do I want to see in the mirror in the morning?”
  • Where do I belong?  Mathematicians, musicians and cooks are mathematicians, musicians and cooks by the time they are 4 or 5 years old.  Successful careers are not planned, they happen when people are prepared and positioned for opportunities that suit them.  Knowing where one belongs can transform an ordinary person into an outstanding performer.
  • What should I contribute?  Given my strengths, methods and values: what is the great contribution to what needs to be done?  Don’t look too far ahead – 18 months is the range of good planning.  Define courses of action: what to do, where and how to start, what goals, objectives and deadlines to set.
  • Responsibility for Relationships:  Adapt to what makes those around you successful.  Adapting to what makes your boss most effective is the secret of managing up.  Take responsibility for communicating how you are performing; take responsibility for building trust

  Final thoughts from Peter:  In management…

  • Success is at best an absence of failure
  • People outlive organisations
  • People are mobile and will move
  • We must manage ourselves, and help others manage themselves
  • Each worker must think and behave like a CEO

Further Reading

The Original Article is available at Harvard Business Review: Managing Oneself – Harvard Business Review or as a short book Managing Oneself (amazon).

Which question do you find hardest to answer in your own life?  I will share some resources with those that comment or email.