How To Become A Leader In Your Field
If you want to succeed in life, you have to deliberately and consciously push your time to focus on your strengths
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Having spent my adolescence in India, it was but natural that the staple of my inspirational diet was cricket and Bollywood. Hence, Sachin Tendulkar and Amitabh Bachchan have been my childhood heroes. Since I've spent most of my professional life in the hi-tech industry in the US, it's natural that most of my professional heroes come from the technology sector. Steve Jobs, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Bill Gates, and the great investor, Warren Buffett.
While it's fascinating to read their incredible life stories and watch their accomplishments - whether on the cricket field, on the big screen, or in the business world, I am much more intrigued by the question - How did they become legends in their chosen field of work?
It's a surprisingly simple answer. What all of these legends have in common is that they knew their strengths and honed them by playing to their strengths, day after day.
Sachin Tendulkar. "Cricket is our religion, Sachin is our god." - this quote repeated by millions of fans across India captures Sachin's dominant role in contemporary Indian society. What an amazing career - with him firing on all cylinders during his entire 24-year career from 1989-2013. And what a treat to go down memory lane reminiscing about all the great milestones with pretty much every batting record under his belt - the most Test and ODI appearances, aggregate runs, and centuries. Plus, the only cricketer with the 15,000 runs and 150 wickets "double? in ODIs.
Playing to your strengths means consciously saying No to other opportunities. For example, Sachin giving away the captaincy of the Indian team so that he could focus on his batting. In fact, I think that if he wanted to make his mark as an all-rounder, Sachin could have taken a lot more wickets if he bowled more often. But he's been clear about his strength and thus his focus on batting.
Amitabh Bachchan. Big B's (as he's popularly known) impact on the Indian film industry over the past four decades has been so large that he's often been described as a one-man industry, with multiple awards and accolades. Amitabh's acting versatility has been in evidence across different movie genres -the angry young man in Deewar, Zanjeer, Sholay; the romantic in Kabhi Kabhi, Abhimaan, Silsila; the action hero in Don, Coolie, Trishul; and a much wider range in recent years - Black, Pink, Paa. Amitabh's acting versatility stretches past the big screen with his inviting presence and performances as host of the Kaun Banega Crorepati series on TV. And his acting extends to his role in advertisements for numerous brands. Although Amitabh is now in his mid-70s - an age when most people have already hung up their boots, he is still going strong.
In the spirit of playing to his strength as an actor, Amitabh wisely did a U-turn from his brief run at politics as an MP from Allahabad, realizing that being a politician was not playing to his strengths.
Steve Jobs, the iconic founder of Apple, went on to perform the most amazing second act in the history of business leading the turnaround of Apple. Steve Jobs wrote and delivered a terrific commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005 and here's my favorite section from his speech, "I was lucky - I found what I loved to do early in life… And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition."
Bill Gates, dropped out of Harvard University in 1975 to co-found Microsoft, and to start the microcomputer industry. There's so much that's been written about Bill and there's so much to admire about Bill. But my take away from observing Bill Gates in action has been his ability to find and partner with others who are stronger at things that he's not great at so that he can focus on his strengths.
Warren Buffett. With his incredible long-term track record at Berkshire Hathaway, Buffett is clearly the greatest investor of all time. Here is Buffett's longtime friend and business partner Charlie Munger's explanation for why Buffett is a great investor- "it's that Buffett, who does happen to be smart, found something he liked and has worked at it every day for a very long time."
A few years ago, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates did a memorable town hall event at the Columbia University campus in a wide-ranging interview. Here's my key takeaway from that event when a student asked Warren Buffett for career advice.
"Find what you have a passion for. If somebody said to me when I was getting out of Columbia that Bill's business was going to be the one that would be exciting, I don't think I'd have done so well. But I knew what turned me on. I will guarantee, you will do well at whatever turns you on. There's no question about that. Don't let anybody else tell you what to do."
In essence, Warren Buffett was saying, "Go figure out your strengths and play to them."
You probably know other people who are wildly passionate about their jobs and other activities in their lives. Why do they have so much passion and enthusiasm for what they do?
As I have searched for the broader answer to the question, "how does one achieve greatness in life?" I've found Marcus Buckingham to provide a rather coherent explanation in his book, "The Truth About You."
Truth #1: As you grow, you become more & more of who you already are.
During your life, your dreams may change, your values may change, and your skills will certainly change. But the core of your personality - how patient, how competitive, how organized, how charming you are- will remain remarkably stable throughout the course of your life.
Truth #2: You grow most in your areas of greatest strength.
It sounds odd, but you will improve the most, learn the most, be the most creative, be the most inquisitive, and bounce back the fastest in those areas where you have already shown some natural advantage over everyone else - your strengths. This doesn't mean you should ignore your weaknesses. It just means you'll grow most where you're already strong.
A weakness is any activity that leaves you feeling weaker after you do it - an activity that bores you, frustrates you, or drains you. It doesn't matter how good you are at it or how much money you make doing it. If doing it drains you of energy, you'd be crazy to build your career around it.
A strength is any activity that makes you feel strong.
If you want to succeed in life, you have to deliberately and consciously push your time to focus on your strengths.
Truth #3: A great team player volunteers his or her strengths to the team most of the time and deliberately partners with people who have different strengths.
Of course, you will occasionally have to step out of your strengths zone and do whatever it takes to help the team. But the core of teamwork is partnering up with people whose strengths are different from yours.
To be that kind of team player, the kind of person who knows their strengths, knows their weaknesses and can stand up for both, takes a lot of courage. It takes a lot of honesty.
A few years ago, Warren Buffett gave away over US$ 30 billion to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He held a press conference to explain his decision. He gave two answers. One of them was predictable and one of them was not.
His predictable answer: "I gave it to the Gates Foundation because they can give it away better than I can. They'll give the money away better than I can." Typical, practical, Buffett like answer.
And his unexpected answer: Buffett went on and said, "Because charity is no fun for me." Who says something like that? Imagine what kind of courage and self-assurance it takes to stand up in front of the world and say, "You know what? That's not me."
At work, that would be like you saying - when everyone is telling you that to get ahead, you should want that job, that you should want to be promoted - "You know what? That's just not me."
As Steve Jobs said in his commencement speech at Stanford, "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice."
It takes a strong, self-aware person to be able to stand up against the "shoulds" of life and instead take a stand on who you really are and focus on your strengths.
After reading this article, if you're now wondering, "so how do I discover and articulate my strengths?" then you've just taken the first step on your journey to achieving greatness in life, to becoming a legend in your field. The journey of a thousand miles, after all, begins with one step.
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