A few years back I went through a coaching experience that was both interesting and productive. As is typical, the first step was an assessment of my strengths and “opportunities for improvement.” Although I thought I was pretty aware of my “opportunities,” I really benefited from the chance to fully understand them.
For example, I knew I was impatient, but I didn’t fully understand the impact that it had on others. This insight gave me an area to work on, and also a better understanding of myself. Knowing yourself better can help facilitate your success by helping you to know what you should be focusing on and whom you should be surrounding yourself with.
I was taught early on in management to try to play to people’s strengths. The same thing is true when you think about yourself and your own career. While you can’t be afraid to challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone to grow and work on your weaknesses, your greatest chance for success is in doing what you do best.
While it’s most critical to focus on what you do best, it’s also important to surround yourself with folks who can help you identify your blind spots. While this may seem obvious, as Charlie Munger (vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and Warren Buffett’s right-hand man since 1977) put it, “Knowing the edge of your circle of competence is one of the most difficult things for a human being to do.” That’s where seeking out the right advisory and mentoring relationships comes into play.
This may seem easy, but there’s a natural tendency to be attracted to others who are similar to you. However, this isn’t the complementary relationship you need. If you’re a cautious, rules-based person, wouldn’t you get better input by running your ideas by a more creative venturesome type? And vice versa: If you’re a creative type, wouldn’t you be better off running a plan by someone more cautious who might see things in a different way and warn you of pitfalls?
This is also important in setting up teams. As a manager, a key benefit to knowing yourself is that you can then surround yourself with people who have strengths where you don’t. Just like on a great football team, you have to have someone who can throw, someone who can catch, someone who can run, and someone who can block — the team must be balanced. In business, you don’t want a whole group of execution people with no ideas, nor do you want a group of visionary types who can’t actually get anything done.
In ancient Greece, people came to the oracle at Delphi for guidance on major issues like where to establish a colony or when to go to war. At that site is the famous inscription that’s as good a piece of advice on success today as it was then: “Know thyself.”