Playing to your strengths – on and off the field

ke 11. syyskuuta 2019 09.28.00

Mike Aaja's blog has been previously published in LinkedIn 9.9.2019.

How specialisation has helped me contribute more and enjoy my contribution even more than before.

It has to be said straight away that I'm no footballer. I never really even kicked a ball in anger until I was in my 30s, but when it was suggested 10 years ago that we form a football team and join the Helsinki hobby league, I was more than happy to give it a go. Needless to say, we weren't very good and finished rock bottom of every competition we entered.

Over the years we all got better though and started to win more and more and I was a regular starter, even if my position changed many times until I settled on my favoured one, striker. It's great being a striker, as you get goals, you get glory and it is a pretty nice way to polish your ego.

At the start of this season though, I found myself on the bench. Younger, fitter and more skillful players were available and I just couldn't keep up – the mind was willing but the body was weak. I've got to admit, it hurt. My ego had gone from polished to bruised with the stroke of the coach's pen.

I got really selfish. The results were quite predictable. 5 games, no goals, no assists.

First, I was angry and sulked on the sidelines and I even didn't sign up for one game. When I got a chance to play off the bench, I tried to outdo the new guys with silky skills – i.e. I got really selfish. The results were quite predictable. 5 games, no goals, no assists. The team though were doing great and I was getting left behind – obsolete as it were.

Then I gave myself a good, honest talking to. Instead of trying to improve on the areas I was weak at, why not get really good at the ones where I was strong? Being older might mean being slower, but it does bring experience. Instead of running after the ball, why not saunter over to where I know the ball is going to be? My shot might not be as hard and accurate as it used to be, so why not try to play a bit closer to the goal?

Others often see your strengths before you do.

The coach even had the same idea. As you know, others often see your strengths before you do. He asked me to play in a certain way, which meant that I would get a lot less touches than before. Again the ego kicked in and I resisted, but then I realised that he was right all along.

Guess what happened? I started scoring again. 5 games, 5 goals and some assists too. OK, the goals were easy, and often scruffy tap ins. Definitely not pretty – but they all count – and more importantly, I was doing something that others weren't doing. Now I had a role and we kept on winning. I specialised and adapted, even though I had to battle my ego to do it. Now, after 10 seasons, we're actually playing for the league title next week and I'll be over the moon if I get the chance to play at all.

What about work?

It's the same with work. We all too often find ourselves in a state of change with the fear that we might lose something to others. We start comparing ourselves to them, usually by looking at what they are good at and what we are not. This is totally the wrong way to look at the situation. Firstly, it sets you up for conflict with the very people you should be working with, as it is a purely negative approach. This is the path to jealousy and resentment.

Think: "What am I good at that others are not?" Or alternatively: "What could I get good at faster than others could?"

Rather, think: "What am I good at that others are not?" Or alternatively: "What could I get good at faster than others could?" Of course, the point of this is not to beat the others, they're your teammates after all. Instead, it's to see how your contribution can be maximised for the good of the team.

There have been many examples of aptitude areas we didn't even realise we had.

To do this, you really need to know yourself and your aptitudes. Here at MPS, we have all been doing this as part of our development and it has been an eye opener. Not only have we had psychological tests, but also we have had to give and receive only positive feedback to our colleagues, as well as ask for it from friends and family members. While some of the results have been predictable, there have been many examples of aptitude areas we didn't even realise we had. That has been the biggest benefit.

Armed with this, we can all now try to tune our work as much as we can, so that what we contribute is the most effective for us together as a team. It's true that I would like to do some of the work that my teammates do – it looks fun! The reality is, though, that they are better at it than me and probably always will be. On the other hand, by specialising in what I am good at, my contribution is more effective and I am much happier for it.

Kirjoittaja: Mike Aaja  Mike Aaja