Today post is by our friend and cohort Tom Webster. Tom blogs at Brand Savant and is a contributor to Social Media Explorer, and at his big kid job he’s the VP of Strategy of Edison research. Connect with Tom on Twitter at @webby2001.
If you’ve ever worked for somebody else, chances are you’ve gotten a performance review. This is not a day you should dread. If you work for a quality manager, this day should not be full of surprises – you know what you need to work on, and your review should be just that – a review of your progress.
If you work for a less competent manager, however, then your review will also provide you with valuable information – about your manager. In any case, it’s all information, and information is neither good nor bad. What you do with that information, however, is another story.
Years ago, near the start of my consulting career, I received the following helpful advice in a performance review: “Tom, if you could develop some sales skills, you’d be the complete package.” For a number of years, I operated under that assumption. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be a complete package? I had established an early reputation in my field as a sharp thinker, but even sharp thinkers need clients to put food on their family’s table. So I started to work on that aspect of my career. I’m not a natural salesman, so I enrolled in some training courses, read a few books, and – most importantly – tried to find a role model in my organization who could show me the ropes.
I started teaming up with another consultant in my firm who was a gifted salesman – I’ll call him “Jack.” While we were on the same level in the organization, he was clearly bringing in more work to the company. We were about the same age, and had gotten along well socially up to that point, so I was genuinely looking forward to working with him more often in the field. For about a year, Jack and I were a road team for a fair amount of the company’s international work, and we spent lots of time together in conference rooms, airports, and hotels.
I quickly discovered that we were basically oil and water;. While Jack took pains to couch his advice and make the client feel good, I was oblivious enough to call the baby ugly, even when the baby was in the room . Sometimes, when I felt as if he just didn’t “see” what I saw in the data, we would have open debates about interpretations and recommendations – in front of clients.
I saw these debates as healthy, and in service of finding the best solution; he saw them as presenting a message to clients that we weren’t on the same page. We were both a bit stubborn, and soon our perceptions of each other began to result in a more strained relationship. I began to dismiss Jack’s client communications as “happy talk.” Jack saw me as an egotistical loose cannon. We were, of course, both right.
You’re Not My Type
Several years later, Jack and I had both moved on to bigger and better things, and I didn’t spend much time reviewing this particular chapter in my career until I had the good fortune to take a management science class while working towards my MBA. In the course of this particular class, I took a number of assessments and psychological instruments that described my working style, inventoried my skills, and even analyzed my personality. The latter test, the famous Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), was particularly troubling to me at first, because I saw the results as prescriptive and limiting, rather than as “information.”
If you’ve never taken the MBTI, let me strongly urge you to do so – if you approach it with the right mindset, it will change the way you think about your work, and might even change your life. In my case (and I’ve taken the test twice with identical results), my personality type is what the instrument calls INTP, which basically means that I’m better with problems than with people In fact, I’m pretty much the very textbook definition of an INTP.
As I hinted earlier, at first I rejected the results of this test, because I incorrectly interpreted it as telling me what I can do and what I can’t do, and I don’t like being told I can’t do anything. What I learned, however, was that the test was exactly right – it didn’t tell me that I couldn’t be extroverted or empathic, merely that I would have to work at those things and employ coping mechanisms for those times when I need to be “out of type.”
For example, the “I” in INTP stands for introverted, which doesn’t mean that I am a shy wallflower (I’m not), but rather that people tire me out, and I have to be alone when I need to recharge those batteries. Extroverts, on the other hand, recharge with people. The test doesn’t say that I can’t be extroverted when I need to be, merely that I’d be more comfortable by myself. Maybe you’re the same way?
What Fits, What Complements
When I really came to grips with what I learned as a result of this process and accepted it, I began to rethink what it means to be “a complete package.” To return to my original example (developing sales skills), there is nothing in the MBTI that says an INTP can’t be a competent, or even very good seller. It’s simply a matter of either finding a sales style you are comfortable with (HINT: 99% of the “sales” books on the shelf at your local bookstore aren’t written for you) OR trying to play “out of character” when you need to, and allowing yourself time to recharge when necessary. In my case, I chose the former option, and have worked out a number of strategies over the years to find a sales style that works for me (by the way – and make no mistake about this – whether or not you are in sales, you are in sales. Believe it.)
Turns out, there is also a third option. While INTP’s like myself are not natural sellers, their polar opposites - the ESFJs – are. If you’ve ever met a pure ESFJ, you’ll know the type instantly – gregarious, easy conversationalists, natural connectors, and don’t particularly enjoy the abstractions and theories that an INTP swims in. I’m not even remotely like an ESFJ. I’m pretty sure I know one, however – my former colleague, Jack.
What I saw early in my career as “oil and water” – my opposite – I now see with the benefit of another decade of experience as my complement. Had egos not gotten in the way, I would have realized that “the complete package” I was striving for was really the combination of Jack and me. Jack was an exemplary salesman, and together we were actually a formidable team. Today I can “do” sales, but I’ll never be as good as Jack. I’m now OK with that – I have other gifts. That doesn’t mean I don’t still work on things like sales to be the best I can be, but I no longer see those things as “flaws”; weaknesses that prevent me from being the complete package.
You Don’t Need Fixing. You Might Need Jack.
So here’s the ultimate lesson about all of this. You’ve heard management gurus by the truckload tell you that you have to “break out of your comfort zone,” but sometimes it’s hard to see beyond the cliche, and extract the brass tack thinking behind it to make it work for you (yes, Amber and Tamsen, I DID just do that ) Often, when we form groups, teams and task forces in our jobs, we naturally gravitate towards like-minded people.
True, when I see people at conventions, conferences and in social occasions, there are some people I’d rather have a beer with than others. In business, however, the people you might steer clear of in social situations might, in fact, have completely different thinking styles, communication styles and ways of breaking down tasks and problems that are, if not foreign to you, at least uncomfortable – and that’s exactly why they are invaluable. Working with those people is exactly what I mean by breaking out of your comfort zone.
In the words of John Donne, no man [or woman] is an island. Had I truly been ready to break out of my comfort zone those years ago, I would have recognized that the Toms of the world and the Jacks of the world might individually be good at some things, not so good at others – but put the Toms together with the Jacks, and there is some serious ass-kicking potential. The Toms and Jacks of the world need each other. Together, they are the complete package.
What about you? When you examine your working style, your projects, and even your career, what holds you back? Do you encounter the same stumbling blocks and sticking points over and over? Have you succumbed to negative self-talk, defeatism or other unhealthy thought patterns as a result? Maybe you don’t need “fixing.” Maybe you just don’t know Jack…yet