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Underestimating Ourselves

career coaching career transition confidence executive coaching May 04, 2017

Every mid- to senior-level professional I work with has something in common. They all have a glaring blind spot. 

But not in the way you may think.

It's true, some of them are unaware of some traits or habits that are perceived negatively, though most people I work with are keenly aware of any negative feedback they've gotten and have worked to mitigate it.

The common blind spot they share are their outstanding strengths--the things they do so well and naturally, they take them for granted. They're not even aware these things might not be easy for others.

You may have heard this referred to as "unconscious competence." But now, more than ever, it's important to become conscious about those things you're really strong in.

Here are a few reasons why:

First, increasingly people are having to reinvent themselves career-wise, as once-stable industries get upended by new technologies.

That means they will have to determine how they transfer the skills they've spent a career building over to an entirely new industry or function.

Just because the industry or function has changed does not mean the skills you developed are not valuable or relevant.

Often people link themselves so closely to the industry they know, that they can't envision how their skills and talents might apply elsewhere. 

For example, one film producer I worked with is an outstanding project manager, relationship builder, negotiator, and innovative problem solver.

Yet, she never categorized her skills this way--they were just part of the job of getting the film made. 

Once we put a name to these strengths, she began to see how these skills could be valuable in so many industries beyond the entertainment world. 

Another reason why it's important to understand your outstanding strengths is that you will achieve the most career satisfaction and success when you combine those natural strengths with your passions in the work that you do.

Sure, we all develop competence in things that we're not particularly excited by. That's just part of being a responsible adult.

But those things we get so absorbed in that we lose track of time--those are the things that are likely competencies and interest areas. And that's where you likely shine.

So how can you become aware of your unconscious competence? Here are some ideas:

1. Ask a colleague outside your current function, but who is familiar with your work, what they observe and the unique skills they see that you possess. 

For example, if you are a brand manager in consumer products, you could ask your finance manager to share their perception of your skills and strengths.

2. Describe the types of things you do in your daily work to a friend or family member who is not in your industry and have them tell you what skills and traits they hear, and where they could envision those being useful.

3. If you are contemplating a career move, join a group program (e.g. The Five O'Clock Club), reach out to your alumni career office, or work with a coach to meet people familiar with a variety of fields and skilled in pulling out themes from your background.

Information is power. It just makes sense to know how you make your best contributions to others through your work. Then you can choose to put your strengths to their highest and best use.


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