High achievers will become competent in whatever we are given because that’s just part of how we work. Being unintentionally competent in Act I of our careers is also what leads us to wake up one day in Act II and question what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. So often–in Act I–we become known for an expertise, regardless of whether or not we enjoy that work. It becomes our brand even though it lacks connection to other things that are important like strengths or interest. After realizing she had become unintentionally competent in one of our sessions, a client shared her interest in working on different projects so she could learn other parts of the business and put her strengths to better use. Her manager indicated it wasn’t possible because her expertise was needed on the current project. The manager offered wise advice, albeit late: “be careful what you become good at.”
Similarly, I worked with several women in a global consulting firm who had become the ‘go to’ person for a topic and they inadvertently developed expertise through repeated exposure. One client indicated, “I don’t even enjoy this work. I just did one project well and they kept calling me in for all of the work in this area. I stayed on the path because I was being rewarded for it. Now I lead the practice. It feels like there’s no turning back because I’ve been promoted for my work in this area.”
Does this feel familiar to some aspect of your work? Want to break cycle and take ownership of your brand and your path? Be strategic about your value proposition.
The first of Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter’s five tests of a good strategy is having a distinctive value proposition. In business terms, that means determining what needs you will serve, which customers, at what relative price and staking out a position that’s different from competitors. Personally, it means the same thing: What problem are you solving? Who cares about this problem? What does it mean to them? How are you tackling this problem in a way that’s uniquely you?
Another way to consider building your brand is building on what you want by adding who you want to be while you’re doing it. That becomes your brand or how you want others to know you. Successfully navigating the next phase of your career requires you to choose. Who do you want to be? What do you want to do? Here are a few questions to consider while building your brand:
- How would people describe you? Is that what you want your brand to be?
- How would you want them to describe you? How can you grow into that version of yourself?
- When you are the best version of yourself, how would people describe you?
- If you combine your natural strengths and what you want, what would that point toward?
- What is a word or two that speaks to how you want to show up and be described? An alchemist? A creator? Special Ops? Select a word or two that represent an aspiration you’re moving toward.
This exercise will help you take ownership of how people see and think of you. By intentionally creating that reputation, you’ll be able to achieve what you desire instead of just excelling at what you’ve been handed.