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Friday, June 24, 2011

Play to your Strengths-what it REALLY means

While reflecting on my first year here, and also while interacting with other summer interns, I came across this common theme of multiple skills requirement. I'm aware that the views expressed here may seem unconventional at first, but I request people to read the full post before jumping to conclusions. 
        In my view, the advice 'play to your strengths', when used to rationalize failure, is merely self help drivel used to comfort people who feel inadequate/incompetent in their present jobs. While our era of specialization demands that you  need to do atleast one thing extremely well, better than others, it does not mean that other experts will do the remaining things for you. In an ideal world, companies relieve their knowledge workers of the mundane tasks. But this is not an ideal world-very few companies do this, also when time constraints apply like in banking, one would need to roll up their sleeves and do the grunt work. So, in other things also, you need to reach the required standard from your work. The engineer must prepare financial projections, the lawyer may need to do his own VBA coding, the risk manager might have to make his own presentations. At entry level, you are just given a task and expected to do it. If you are lucky, others in your team will help you out but do not count on it.
       If you are the boss, you can afford(till a point) to indulge in ultra specialization and let your juniors do the grunt work/special skills part. But at entry level, remember your value proposition. The boss does not need your brains(ok they are useful but his technical knowledge/experience/intuition exceeds yours). What he could use is some more free time/new ideas. By doing his grunt work(formatting, reports, presentations) and offering+implementing new ideas, you leave him with more time to focus on his urgent/important jobs. 
      So if you feel incompetent in any skill, DO NOT console yourself with the fact that you are anyway playing to your strengths. Remember that you need to play to your weakness as well, without feeling despair that others are far better than you in that aspect. They may, but as long as you know enough to get your work done, that is fine. 
Moral:- The reason MBAs succeed is their ‘ability to integrate’ instead of only playing to their strengths like how functional specialists do.