When you work in any endeavor, your strengths accelerate the achievement of your goals while your weaknesses hold you back.
This is what it means to be an individual.
However, when you work effectively (keyword here is “effectively”) in collaboration with others, it is the sum total of your collective strengths that’s at play.
When someone else on the team possesses strength in your weak area, your individual weakness no longer holds back the progress for you or your team.
For example, if I’m terrible at engineering, but I collaborate with an exceptional engineer, my personal weakness is irrelevant.
If someone I work with is fabulous at sales but terrible at finance, when we work together, I benefit from their talent in sales, and they benefit from my talent in finance.
This is a profoundly important mindset to become accustomed to. It also happens to be the exact opposite mindset of what’s taught in academic environments.
What I call teamwork in the business world, academics call cheating.
In school, if I delegate my physics homework to one of my friends who knows physics well, and I do their economics homework, we are both called cheaters.
In a corporation, my friend would be called a chief scientist, and I’d be called a chief financial officer.
This dynamic explains two specific situations that seem counterintuitive at first glance.
First, the vast majority of millionaires in the United States were average students.
Second, companies often promote individuals who are not technically exceptional in their functional area.
The top software developer doesn’t always become VP of engineering. The best financial analyst doesn’t always become CFO.
What top performers in business tend to do well is assemble great teams and get the most out of them.
To do this, you must know your weak areas… and have the self-recognition that you need to hire people who are strong in your weak areas.
The late Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, was a brilliant visionary and product guy. He was terrible at supply chain management, finance, and managing foreign exchange currency risk.
However, his individual weakness never held Apple back because he was aware of his weakness and ended up hiring Tim Cook.
Cook was and still is exceptionally masterful at supply chain management. So many of Apple’s product innovations required product components and parts that were difficult to source.
Cook was masterful in pre-buying 12 to 18 months’ worth of parts on exclusive contracts with suppliers. Even if competitors could match Apple’s designs, they often couldn’t get the parts to manufacture their designs until one to two years after Apple.
At McKinsey, a few friends of mine would notice that some of our fellow first years were average analysts, but we could tell they were going to make exceptional partners.
Being a senior executive requires a fundamentally different skill set than being an individual contributor or manager in the same functional area.
Simply doing more of what you’re doing now doesn’t get you the next three promotions. You need to develop the (usually different) skills required at the next level and beyond.
This often doesn’t happen by accident. It is more likely to happen when you recognize which skills you need and deliberately seek out opportunities to acquire and develop them.
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