Entering the battleground without a battle plan is a surefire way of losing. Unlike how it is in the movies, all the clever quips and charm in the world aren’t going to be enough to help you get to where you want to be without a strategy.
That said, the art of strategising for workplace success can be tricky. Hard work is, of course, indispensable, but without a smart strategy to go along with it, you’re not going to get as far or fast.
The trouble is, what, then, is a smart strategy?
Three of the most common false beliefs about strategies for workplace success revolve around strengths, weaknesses, and following your passion; here are 3 myths about them.
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The relatively recent advent of strengths-based management and leadership has changed the way we help each other to succeed. In the past, we used to tell people that they had to fill in their “competency gaps” by focusing on their weaknesses.
Recent research, however, has shown that the key to helping employees become their best selves at work is to focus on their strengths. Weaknesses, conversely, should be managed so that people can pay most of their attention to getting better at what they’re already good at.
It makes sense. No one would have ever told Achilles, the greatest warrior in Greek mythology, to keep watching his heel in battle so that he could protect himself. He would, though, have been better off finding a way to protect his heel so that he could focus more on charging ahead. In other words, you need to pay attention to seeking success instead of avoiding failure.
Similarly, you won’t attain success by keeping your eyes trained on your weaknesses. You do it by actively managing your weaknesses so that you can use your time and energy primarily on your strengths.
Detractors to the strengths-based-approach, however, caution that if we’re not careful, our biggest strengths can also turn out to be our biggest weaknesses.
A highly empathetic manager, for example, can excel at developing the strong personal relationships needed to provide good coaching and employee support. On the other hand, it could also be easier to take advantage of their empathy.
Marcus Buckingham, bestselling author and consultant, begs to differ. According to Buckingham, “overplayed strengths” only occur because people aren’t channeling their strengths in the right way. In this case, empathy is widely considered to be the most crucial leadership skill. Asking an empathetic manager to “pipe down” would be like telling Achilles not to fight so hard in battle; it’s guaranteed to disadvantage everyone else as well.
Empathetic managers need to channel their empathy into situations and skills that best benefit themselves and the people around them. At the same time, they must also know when to assert themselves and draw the line.
In a utopian world, all of us would know what our passion is in life and be able to monetise it enough to make a living out of it. This is the ideal to which so many of us aspire to when we plan our careers, and it’s understandable. From Steve Jobs to (seemingly) every Oscar thank-you speech ever, following the passion has been emphasised again and again.
Research from Stanford and Yale, however, has shown that those who build careers out of their passions tend to be less successful and less happy than those who don’t.
Conversely, those who guide their passion instead of being guided by it are statistically more likely to succeed. Meaning, if you want to be successful, you need to choose a particular skill and work on mastering it. The better you get at it, the more your passion for it grows. Once you’ve built up enough expertise, you can leverage it to guide your career in personally meaningful ways.