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15. What is Your Genius?

One of the fastest ways to get ahead at work is to do things that play to your strengths. When you're playing to your strengths you get great results for very little effort and fantastic results for extra effort. We all remember those people at school, fortunately very small in number, who seemed not only to get brilliant results every time but who, infuriatingly, appeared to do very little work. People who did well but slogged and slogged at their books could be cheerfully dismissed with a 'he/she's a swot/nerd/dork', but these other people were very hard to come to terms with. Often they were nice as well, which was really the last straw. They were lucky because school work clearly played to their strengths. This week's tip relates to the spoke on the wheel in Tip No 11 , 'Using your talents'. Before you can accurately assess how much of your time you spend using your talents you obviously need to know what they are, and that's what this week's tip is about, helping you to tease out the things you're great at from the array of activities that you engage in at work. 'Talent does what it can, genius what it must' George Bernard Shaw A major influence in my coaching career has been Michael Neill, an American 'success coach' (, and last year I attended one of his regular coaching mastery courses. He gave us a very interesting exercise to do, on finding our 'genius'. This was a British audience so, naturally, none of had a genius. Van Gogh, Watson and Crick, now they had genius, but not us. So it was a bit of a struggle, but interestingly we all managed to come out with something we were, admittedly, pretty damn good at. The way we looked at it was this. First of all we drew a square that we divided into four quadrants. The bottom left hand corner we called: 'Things I'm useless at'. Well that was more like it. Most of us were pretty fluent on things we were lousy at, though not especially keen on divulging them. 'Saying no' appeared frequently in this box, along with 'keeping my accounts', and 'managing my emails,' but there were many others, different for each person. The bottom right quadrant we called 'Things I'm ok at'. We were fine with that too. Here we put activities that we didn't particularly excel at but had found a way of dealing with over time. For me there was IT skills, something I do on a 'need to know' basis rather than from any passion for the subject. For another it was being organised - again not their top favourite activity, but life had demanded a certain competence in this area. Then things became a bit trickier as in the top right quadrant was 'Things I'm excellent at'. When working through this with someone there is usually an embarrassed silence at this point. Then, after a few moments they might volunteer 'swimming, I'm good at swimming.' 'Driving' was a popular one, especially with men. It took a bit of pushing to get any further than this, but gradually people were able to say, coyly, a few things that they thought they were pretty good at. The most difficult was the final quadrant, in the top left, My genius. Even by then, most of us were confident that we had no genius. We wondered vaguely if any of the items in the 'excellent' quadrant might qualify, but were dubious. The trouble with genius is that it often isn't obvious to us, because we've always had it and it comes so naturally. A client that I worked on this with recently was very doubtful indeed, and yet after some cajoling he finally said, 'I'm good at finding exactly the right present for people.' He said this apologetically, as though it was something of little importance, and certainly little relevance to his work. I asked him for an example, and he told me how he'd found a particular vase for a cousin of his. He knew that she was interested in different kinds of pottery, had noticed the kind of pieces she liked when visiting her house, and happened to know that she lacked a particular size of vase because she'd been unable to find something suitable for some flowers he'd brought her once. She was absolutely delighted. When we looked at what it was that allowed him to be so good at finding the right present for someone, it turned out that his real talent lay in noticing small details about people that helped him to work out what would most delight them. We had no problem applying this talent to all kinds of work situations, where an appreciation for what a client or colleague needed was unbelievably helpful. One thing is certain, you DO have a genius, and you DO use it, because as GBS says we can't help but use our genius. Whether you use it as much as you could is another matter. Try this: 1. Draw a table like the one above, and label it. 2. Starting with 'Things I'm useless at', fill in each box until you get to 'My genius' 3. Stop and take a few minutes to ponder the answers to these questions: - what have people always told me I'm good at? - what do people in my life value most about me? - what do I find easy that other people seem to struggle at? - of things that I'm good at, what exactly is it that makes me good at them? - what have I privately thought that I'd be really good at, given the chance/nerve? - what is my genius? Write it in the box. 4. Now estimate the percentage of your working life that you spend in each of these quadrants, the four should add up to 100%. For example, you might spend 10% of your time doing things you're no good at (the number tends to be small because either we avoid doing these things or we get OK at them), 50% doing things you're ok at, 25% doing things you're excellent at, and 15% of your time using your genius. 5. Add up the top row, which would be 40% in this case, and then the bottom row. You should aim to spend more than 50% of your time in the top half of the diagram, and ideally 80% of your time. If you're a fantastic administrator, and most of your work is spent in administrative duties, then you will undoubtedly be doing very well at work and feeling pretty energetic. If, on the other hand, a major part of your duties is in dealing with complaints and 'dealing with conflict' is one of the 'Things I'm useless at', the chances are that work is pretty tough for you, and you often feel tired. 6. How could you increase the amount of time you spend doing things you're great at, and doing less of the things you're not so good at? Do let me know how you get on, and have a good week!

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