One of my goals for doing professional coaching was to get some help identifying my “zone of genius”. Basically, I want to know how make better decisions about what new work I take on and choose work that lights me up vs wears me out. Past experience has taught me that it’s easy to confuse exciting opportunities with that which is truly a good fit for me. To that end, one of the most useful concepts that I learned while exploring this with my coach is the idea of learned competencies vs strengths.
Before I get into the idea further, let me give some background that will help to explain how this applies to me. I’ll try to keep it brief.
During my career I’ve developed a ton of skills and expertise in project management (SAFE product owner, SCRUM master, PMI certified, etc).
During my career I’ve also developed a ton of skills in teaching, presenting, and written communication.
Being good in both of these domains, when also combined with other skills, has given me my own unique blend of abilities.
I’m proud of this “mix” but I’ve been puzzled by some experiences I’ve had where, even though I’m using a combination of these skills, I’m drained by the experience (and ultimately not as successful as I would like) and at other times I’m energized and feeling unstoppable. Why is this?
So, coming back to the idea of learned competencies and strengths:
Learned competencies are those skill-based things that we’ve gotten good at in order to do our jobs well. It has served our best interests to be good at them and, sure, we can be very interested and invested in these skills. They often get confused with our strengths, which on the other hand…
Strengths are those things that we are naturally inclined towards, that we seem to have an innate talent for (I don’t like that word talent, but it fits in this context). We lose track of time when we’re exercising our strengths. We are energized by them.
The trouble with learned competencies is that they can, at times, feel like strengths. It can be a super subtle difference at times and glaringly obvious at other times. It take a lot of self-awareness to recognize strengths. It’s a feeling, and we know it when we feel it.
The thing I’ve realized upon reflection is that my strength is in teaching: organizing ideas, presenting, writing, etc. My project management skills, while dear to me, are a learned competency. They aid my strengths but I can’t rely on them for anything else.
When I’m feeling flat or drained, it’s because I’ve fallen into work where I’m using my strengths very little and relying on my competencies instead.
I still might do “well”, but I’m not my absolute best. I might get plenty of kudos but inevitably I’ll feel a bit empty.
The goal now is for me to have the right mix in whatever I’m doing. My coach suggested thinking about this like a ratio: I need two parts strength for one part competency.
Have you thought about what your ratio should be?