Now More than Ever, be the CEO and Champion of your Career

In today’s volatile climate, it is becoming increasingly difficult and unrealistic to pre-plan a successful career path. Success will depend on our ability to seize the best opportunities that come our way after a careful examination of our unique skill set to answer the question: What should my contribution be? Given my strengths, my way of performing and my values, how can I most effectively contribute to what needs to be done? And, finally, what results do I need to achieve to make a difference?

So, opportunities will unfold as we demonstrate our ability to make a difference and bring value to an organization in this increasingly complex environment. When we know our strengths, how we operate and our values, we know where we fit in and can position ourselves where we can make the greatest contribution.

I recently rediscovered these wise words of advice from Peter Drucker on the essential skills needed to succeed in any career. "Don't try to change who you are," Drucker warns. "Instead, strive to improve your skills and take on assignments that fit your specific way of working. In this way, you will move from being an ordinary worker to an exceptional performer."

What are my strengths?

Most people think they know what they are good at. They are usually wrong. More often than not, they only know what they are not good at. And yet, a person can only perform from his/her strengths.

Therefore, we must know our strengths so that we can focus our efforts on them. Next, we must work to improve those strengths and position ourselves where they can produce the greatest results.

“It takes far more energy to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than to improve from first-rate performance to excellence.” – Peter Drucker

How do I perform? How do I learn?

Like one’s strengths, how one performs is unique. It’s a matter of personality.

Just as people get results by doing what they are good at, they also get better results by working in ways that work best for them. Are you a reader or a listener? You are rarely both. Do you learn by writing like Winston Churchill, or do you learn by talking? Acting on this knowledge is the key to performance. Too many people work in ways that are not their ways, which almost guarantees non-performance.

Another question: Do I work well with people or am I a loner? If you do work well with people, then you have to ask yourself, in what relationship? Some people work best as subordinates. General George Patton, the great American military hero of World War II, is a prime example. Patton was America’s top troop commander. Yet when he was proposed for an independent command, General George Marshall, the U.S. chief of staff—and arguably the best recruiter of men in U.S. history—said, “Patton is the best subordinate the U.S. military has ever produced, but he would be the worst commander.”

Still another question: do I produce results as a decision maker or as an advisor? Many people are more effective as advisors because they can't bear the weight and pressure of decision making. Other people, however, need an advisor to force them to think; they can then make decisions and implement them with speed, confidence, and courage.

Do I function well under stress, or do I need a highly structured and predictable environment? Do I work best in a big or small organization?

What are my values?

Organizations, like people, have values. To be effective in an organization, the values of an individual must be compatible with those of an organization. They do not necessarily have to be the same, but they must be close enough to co-exist. If not, the person will not only be frustrated but will also not get results.

For example, the choice of whether a pharma company's business strategy is to continuously improve its existing product line at reduced costs or to achieve an occasional "breakthrough" at very high costs is not so much an economic question. Both strategies could lead to very similar outcomes. However, two very different value systems are at the heart of these strategies: in the first, the desired outcome is to enhance physicians’ ability to optimize patient care; in the second, the goal is to develop innovative products capable of fundamentally transforming medical practice through new scientific discoveries. Thus, anyone who realizes that their primary motivation is to contribute to scientific discoveries would be well advised not to join a company that specializes in drug repurposing and/or treatment improvement.

Another example is the decision to run a business with a focus on short-term profitability rather than long-term growth, which also raises the question of its values. Clearly, the purpose of any business is to deliver short-term results. However, every organization will eventually be faced with a trade-off decision between short-term profitability and long-term growth and must have its priorities well defined in advance. Again, this is not primarily an economic issue. Rather, it is a conflict over the values associated with the company's mission and governance choices.

Taking responsibility for managing relationships with others

Success at work is as much about the quality of the relationships between people as it is about the work itself.

The secret to working effectively with others is getting to know their strengths, their preferred ways of getting things done and their values. Thus, the first step to effective teamwork is to understand the people we depend on and work with. This will allow team members to build on each other’s respective strengths and determine the best way to work together to achieve greater success.

The second step to effective teamwork is to ensure good communication. Most communication problems arise from not knowing what others are doing, how they are doing their work, or what they are contributing to the outcome and the results they are expecting. The reason for this ignorance is that members never ask questions and are therefore never informed.

Organizations are no longer built on force but on trust. A trusting relationship between people does not necessarily mean that they have to like each other. It just means that they understand each other. In an era of virtualized teamwork, taking responsibility for relationship management is an absolute necessity.

Final thoughts

The principles of Drucker's philosophy are all the more relevant today as they remain applicable over the course of a 50-year professional life. As life expectancy increases, a growing number of people are embarking on second careers, often in entirely new fields. Social entrepreneurs are one example. They are typically people who were highly successful in their first careers and are launching a new venture for their own benefit and that of society.

Knowing who you are, what your strengths are and what your passion is has never been more important than today.

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