How to Avoid Being Average

Do you want to achieve more success? Or do you want to improve your leadership abilities?

It’s a nuanced, and important question.

When we want to advance our career, our first instinct is to focus on achievement, accomplishing certain milestones like pulling off the big deal, launching the new product, or finishing a high profile project.

Personal achievement is important. But it will only take you so far. Here’s what I observe, people who focus on personal achievement rarely make it past mid-level. If they do rise higher, their reigns are often rocky, plagued by hit or miss results and they have trouble retaining top talent. In short a leader without good leadership skills is average at best.

Personal accomplishment simply doesn’t scale in business, or any other organization. A more effective way to build a strong sustainable career is to develop your leadership skills.

Unfortunately, many organizations don’t teach leadership skills until people are already in high-stakes leadership roles, and some organizations don’t teach leadership skills at all. Instead, they focus exclusively on job duties.

Great companies teach leaderships skills early and often. For great companies, and great leaders, leadership development is not a check the box, you attended the seminar, congrats you’re done, line item. It’s an ongoing process of developing and refining your mindsets, strategy and behavior.

If you don’t work for an organization that doesn’t invest in leadership development, don’t let that stop you from developing yourself.

The challenge is that there are so many good models to choose from.

I recommend the first step is to focus on who you already are. You’re better off working to further improve your strengths, rather than trying to “fix” your weaknesses. Strengths-based leadership scholars, Robert Kaiser and Darren Overfield say, “The deficiency model is inefficient and ineffective because fixing weaknesses might get a manager to improve from “poor” to “average” but will never make that manager outstanding” because the only way to achieve greatness is to maximize one’s innate gifts.” For example, if you’re a raging extrovert (like me), you’re better off improving your already strong ability to connect with people. If you’re an introvert like my husband, work on your ability to think strategically and listen to several points of view.

There are some easy ways to get clarity on your strengths.

First, do your Myers-Briggs. While arbitrary letters and personality “types” may seem a bit hokey, your Myers-Briggs can tell you a lot about how you look at the world, take in information, make decisions, and react to structure. It’s not full-proof, no personality test is. But reading a description about people like you is incredibly self-validating. It gives you insights about yourself that you may not have realized.

Reflect on what people say about you. Do you hear “You are always so calm under pressure” or “You really know how to inspire a room.” They’re both great compliments, but they lend themselves to different leadership styles.

Pay attention to your own mood. How do you feel when someone says, “It’s time to sit down and really focus on a long-term financial plan” versus “Let’s start a new initiative to increase morale.” Whichever one of those makes you more excited is where you need to be spending your time.

Tom Rath, author of Strengths Finder 2.0, notes “Once you know what specific strengths you bring to the table, you can then start working on honing those strengths and enhancing them even further.”

Instead of thinking about what you want to accomplish, think about who you want to be, and leverage the areas where you’re already strong.

You can spend your whole life shoring up your weaknesses and you’ll die a perfectly average person

But you weren’t sent to this earth to fixate on your flaws. You were sent here to be magnificent.