We undervalue what we do well. Managers may consider this a lack of confidence. Psychologists sometimes call it the imposter syndrome. The overall result is the same: We think what’s easy isn’t worthwhile, and so we focus our attention on getting better at the things we aren’t great at and don’t enjoy. This mistaken belief has wide-reaching ramifications for individual and team success.
Happiness with a vocation is the direct result of combining what we love to do with what we’re good at. It is only at this intersection that our talents, our passions, and our strengths align to enable us to excel. Unfortunately, when we downplay and/or discredit our strengths, we cannot arrive at that intersection. Instead, we wander, distracted by the wrong things and resigning ourselves to mediocrity. We lose focus. We lose motivation, and our productivity plummets. Turning that around — and propelling ourselves forward — means refocusing on our strengths, often with the help of a mentor.
“There are four types of work tasks,” explains Nancy Wolk, Co-Founder and Principal of mentoring software company eMentorConnect. “Strengths are things we love to do and that we’re good at. Illusions are the things we do well but don’t enjoy. Distractions are things we enjoy but don’t do well, and weaknesses are the things we don’t enjoy and we don’t do well. Without guidance, our workflow easily slides toward distraction and weakness. We get hampered by the things we don’t do well, and that keeps us from moving forward. A mentor can help us correct that in a couple of ways.”
Mentoring to Increase Self-Awareness
“First and most importantly, a mentor can help us increase our self-awareness,” says Wolk. “Our superpowers are the things we do reflexively, almost innately, and it is through those strengths that we excel. But it takes self-awareness to know what we’re great at and to stop taking on the things we like to do but don’t do well. A mentor can help us identify our strengths, distractions, and weaknesses so we can refocus on what matters — our superpowers.”
Mentoring to Increase Risk-Tolerance
“A mentor also has the insight and objectivity to help us value our strengths — something people aren’t naturally inclined to do — and to show us that we’re most effective at the things we already do best,” says Wolk. “And sometimes those things we’re best at aren’t aligned with what we’re currently doing at work. A mentor can help us recognize that and give us the courage to take a leap that transforms our career.”
Take John Cave, VP of football technology at the National Football League, for example. Before Michelle McKenna-Doyle, CIO of the NFL, was hired and began shuffling people around to better suit their strengths, Cave served in system development. According to HBR, Cave did a fine job in that role, but it wasn’t what he was best at. McKenna-Doyle recognized that Cave was an innovator, so she tasked him with creating technology that has revolutionized how NFL coaches communicate with each other during games.
“Cave could have kept doing what he was doing until he was in blue in the face, but he was never going to be at the top,” says Wolk. “But then someone challenged him to use his unique strengths, and he designed an innovative tool that’s made him a rock star. Before McKenna-Doyle, Cave was in the completely wrong position to use his strengths, but once he realized what they were, he stood out in an area that he hadn’t even been involved in previously.”
Mentoring to Advance
Bridging the divide between what we’re doing and what we’re great at can make the difference between taking a risk and accomplishing something phenomenal or growing stagnant. A mentor is ideally suited to help us see where to go next and why.
“The first step to taking control of your career is identifying where we excel,” explains Wolk. “The second step is aligning our career goals in such a way that they prioritize those strengths. A mentor can help build a career path that does exactly that.
“Most career pathing software programs are competency-based, so it all comes back to the strengths piece. What are you best at? What roles and positions will highlight and use those strengths? We’re not always the best judges of what our true competencies are. A mentor helps provide that insight.”
Mentors also can help managers better understand and support employees in their quest for advancement.
“Automated mentoring has the ability to link to a company’s HR system,” explains Wolk. “If a manager has assessed an individual on his or her competencies, say for a performance review, then the mentor can actually download that assessment and use it in conjunction with his or her own insights to evaluate an individual employee’s strengths. The employee also can conduct a self-analysis. Combining the three evaluations creates a much clearer picture of the employee’s strengths than anyone would get alone and opens the door to advancement that truly motivates and inspires the employee.”