The sweet spot at work

I had a wonderful conversation with my manager’s manager the other day. She wanted to know more about what I was working on with Innovation Discovery, and the other things I was doing at IBM. I told her the story of how I joined IBM after getting to know so many incredible people throughout the organization. Two and a half years later, I’m even more in love with the amazing people, talents, and opportunities within reach, and I’m doing work that’s exactly in line with my skills and passions.

“You’re so lucky,” she said.

Yes, I am. But it doesn’t have to be luck. I think we can help many, many people have these kinds of experiences, particularly as we get better at bringing down the walls of geography and organizational division. I want to figure out how other people in IBM and in other organizations can have these kinds of wow moments.

It reminded me of the “career best” moments described in The Extraordinary Leader: Turning Good Managers into Great Leaders. “Career best” experiences are the highlights of people’s work—when they contribute something of significance and they feel successful. The concept was researched by Kurt Sandholtz and further developed by Gene Dalton and Paul Thompson. Dalton and Thompson wrote, “If individuals don’t understand their unique strengths or interests, they don’t have any basis for deciding whether a job or an assignment make sense for them.” Knowing what to say no to is as important as knowing what to pursue.

In The Extraordinary Leader, Zenger and Folkman share a model for leadership sweet spots: the intersection between competencies, organizational needs, and passion. If that sounds familiar, it’s because that Venn diagram is very useful in all sorts of life situations. I’ve used it to think about the sweet spots in life, too. It’s the intersection between what you do well, what the world needs, and what you love.

What would it take for more people to find those sweet spots for themselves?

I think self-awareness plays a huge role. I think a lot about what I like and don’t like, in what I excel and in what I’m merely mediocre.

Communication matters, too. My manager, my organization, and my clients know what I care about and what I’m good at. I can show people how what I do meets the organization’s needs and our clients’ needs.

My blog is my primary tool for both self-awareness and communication. Blogging solutions, tips, ideas, and reflections helps me think through things and share them with other people. Reading what I’ve written and what others have shared helps me understand even more.

So this is one of the reasons why I’m passionate about helping people connect and collaborate. The more we can encourage people to reflect and share, the closer they can move to their sweet spots.

There’s still a lot of fear and resistance when it comes to sharing. People are afraid of embarrassing themselves, or they tell themselves that they don’t have time, or they think they don’t have anything to share.

I used to say that maybe the reason why I share so much is that I’m new. I’m learning a lot. I don’t have the established networks or reputations that other people have. I don’t have a choice – I need to share as widely as I can, in order to catch up.

But not many new hires have embraced sharing, and they’re having a hard time finding their sweet spots. So maybe it’s not that. Besides, I’ll keep sharing even as I grow in responsibility and reach.

What is it, then? What can help people find those sweet spots?

How can we help people build those serendipitous relationships with unexpected mentors?

How can we help people reflect, share, and grow?

Or should I focus on finding people who already have that spark – who already know it’s possible, who know a little bit about their sweet spots, and who want to grow even more – and help them do amazing things?

What if more people could be fully engaged? How wonderful could this be?

The Extraordinary Leader: Turning Good Managers into Great Leaders
John Zenger and Joseph R. Folkman, 2009
ISBN: 9780071628082

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Google Books: The Extraordinary Leader: Turning Good Managers into Great Leaders