Elliot Tomaeno, founder of Astrsk, which has helped launch more than 200 startups and tech products and has been a part of four exits.
The best and brightest people in my life all share a common trait: they know what they’re good at, and they know where their skills are lacking.
This might not sound so revolutionary — we all know we have strengths and weaknesses — but what sets these individuals apart is they don’t seek to correct their flaws. Instead, they find success by building their best qualities. I’m notoriously bad at math, but I’ve always loved words. So, rather than force myself onto a numbers-based career path, I went into public relations. Once I put my people skills to work while surrounding myself with a team that addressed my weaknesses, my life as a leader truly began to flourish. Here’s how to fortify your strengths:
Highlight the Good (Not the Bad or the Ugly)
In an increasingly competitive business environment, mastering one or two areas of expertise is profoundly more useful than being a jack-of-all-trades with a bunch of just “OK” skills. Being open about your shortcomings will help you build trust. Admitting that you aren’t as talented as some of your teammates can come across as self-deprecating, but wise entrepreneurs understand the difference between being aware of their weaknesses and being consumed by them.
Being “good at business” looks different to everyone, so don’t emphasize protocols, formalities and practices everyone else thinks you should be good at. They won’t help you achieve success — but your God-given talents will. Build a team that addresses your flaws, and send tasks outside your wheelhouse to people who will actually enjoy (and excel at) them. I’ve hired folks who are analytical, rational and organized — essentially my polar opposites — to complement my creative and chaotic nature.
Identify Your Strengths
Learning what we can and cannot do well is an ongoing process that starts as early as preschool. But once we stop playing with blocks and start playing with complex business strategies, it becomes a bit more difficult to figure it all out. Here are four tips to help you find your professional strengths:
- Listen to praise. Pay attention to when your boss says you’re great at client relations, have first-rate filing skills, or demonstrate a remarkable understanding of business trends. You may not recognize these qualities because you’re caught up in day-to-day tasks, but those who watch you work can easily see where you outshine others. PR is a fast-paced world, and I never really noticed how much information I was receiving and digesting each day. But when an acquaintance pointed out how many tasks I could successfully juggle, I became aware that simultaneously tracking information from multiple sources was a real strength of mine.
- Audit your strengths. Make a list of the things you genuinely enjoy doing, and take it a step further by identifying the specific skills that make you feel good about your abilities. Don’t just write down your general strengths; relate them to how they can make you a better leader. I’ve always enjoyed connecting with people on a human level — learning about their dreams, what makes them tick and what inspires them. Fortunately, this is what PR is all about: building deep human relationships and helping people achieve their goals.
- Find your context. People often forget to observe, but context is crucial. Assess the success of similar startups to see where you’ve surpassed them and where you’ve fallen behind. Weighing your results against comparable competitors will provide key context clues to your unique skill set. When launching ASTRSK, we assessed why the best-in-breed agencies were thriving, and we looked for gaps we could fill in the PR environment. Combining this information allowed us to set our own standards and build a company that featured just the right traits.
- Use your intuition. Try different approaches to performing the same tasks. When you lead in a certain way, how does your behavior affect team morale? When you present an idea in a different light, what type of reaction do you elicit from your team? This type of experiment is like an A/B test of your strengths. Keep using the methods that yield the most positive results.
I feel most empowered as a leader when my actions benefit both my team and me — but until I developed a deep understanding of my co-workers, it was difficult to fill my days with moments like these. Once I fully grasped everyone’s unique motivations, however, I could correctly intuit which of my strengths would resonate best in certain scenarios.
If you focus on what you do well, you’re going to feel more empowered and successful and, therefore, become that way. Identify your strengths, and hire people who supplement the talent you lack. Beating yourself up for your shortcomings — or wasting time trying to change your natural traits — will only weaken your performance.
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