Roll With It

Continuing the theme of leadership by being yourself and knowing your talents, gifts, strengths & weaknesses, here’s what to do once you know – or at least have a good idea of – what those are.

My first job out of B-school was as a “Market Development Representative” for a small medical software company here in Atlanta. That title was fancy for “tries to sell unproven stuff to unproven market segments that we haven’t identified yet.” I had reasonable success, though it was clear that pure sales from cold call to close was not going to be my long term career function.

We reorg’d six months later. And when you hear the term “reorg”, that means lots of people got let go. In this case, it was roughly half the company, but I was spared the bad news. However, my title no longer looked like I was supposed to sell stuff. Instead, my boss had recognized something that I never would have seen, most likely because I didn’t want to see it. I was really good at finding trends and decision points out of lots of data points. My new title: Sales Support.

So at this point, I know one (perceived) strength and one (proven) weakness. Now what? Here’s what you do when you discover a gift or talent that you did not know you had (or, like me, didn’t want to acknowledge):

  1. Roll with it. I was still employed! And I didn’t have a monthly & quarterly quota. I had people coming to me all day long asking me to do stuff they didn’t know how to do. That scenario is the basis for having value both inside a company and in an industry. When you can do something nobody else in the space can do, but everyone needs, you have value.
  2. Learn from it. I had taken one semester of “Lotus 1-2-3” in college, and my first internship was teaching volunteers for the American Cancer Society how to “do spreadsheets”, but I really didn’t know what I was doing. Looking back, I was leveraging one of Sir Richard Branson’s famous quotes: “If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you’re not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it!” Booyah.
  3. Leverage it. And this new gig turned out to be an amazing opportunity, because later that year, management decided to take the company public. Guess who got the job as “CEO’s spreadsheet lackey”? You guessed it. In fact, I had so embraced that skill (analysis) that I really didn’t like at first, that – without the permission of HR!! – I picked up my desk and moved to the cubicles right outside the office of the CEO.
  4. Nurture it. Having a skill is no different than being able to lift a hundred pounds. If you don’t maintain that ability, it will wither. So embrace your gifts and talents and strengthen them, because you never know when you’ll need them most. Like when you decide to start your own company, and you have to do everything until you have funds to hire someone who’s willing to do half your job for pennies.

I didn’t want to acknowledge or embrace my ability to analyze lots of data, because I wanted what I thought was a glorious career in Sales & Marketing. But along the way I learned that I did indeed have this skill and that other people needed it to solve a problem. That’s the basis for any startup: solve a problem using a skill or knowledge set that you have, that other’s don’t have, but need.

What do you think?