Why do you do what you do? Did you choose your field for the money and prestige? Or did you find yourself there by following the primrose path of chance and least resistance? Or, did you cave to subtle pressure from others to do or be something in particular? How’s that working for you?

The foundation of success in business, in relationships – in life, really – is insight. Why? Because it allows us to make informed decisions. Self-insight allows us to do two things: (1) choose our environments and activities that play to our strengths and preferences, and (2) develop tactics and strategies to use when we must cope with environments or tasks that present challenges to our weaknesses. The more “hits” and fewer “misses” we make, the greater our chance of professional success and personal satisfaction in our work. Self-insight allows you to be the visionary leader of your own life, instead of being carried along like flotsam and jetsam on the tides of life.

The more thoughtfully we self-select into occupations, the better the fit; the better the fit, the greater the success and engagement you experience. This requires exploring our experiences and mining them for data. How is my energy when I do this versus that? Am I focused on the task or wishing for a distraction to come along? What foundational values or qualities does this draw out of me? If I embrace this path, can I perform at a level that will satisfy me, and what would I need to do to achieve that? Our lives are richest when we find (or create) the intersection between what you enjoy and what you are good at, and can make a living at. They key is knowing on a deep level that this is your choice to make. You are the leader of you.

But of course even the dreamers among us need to do things like pay the bills; even accountants need to be able to think outside the box to solve sticky problems. We all need to find ways to succeed in tasks and roles that don’t play to our strengths. Say you absolutely love your job. It is your dream job, and there is only one thing about it you don’t care for: you have to present to a large audience every quarter, and this happens to be your least favorite activity under the sun. How do you handle it? You could suffer silently, of course, but that means giving away your power. You could find alternate ways of sharing information that doesn’t involve public speaking. Or, you could take a course to build the skill, or delegate the activity to your team and develop their skills. You can only choose the best direction if you have a strong appreciation of what you need most. What direction do you want to lead yourself in? Which choice is more likely to get you there?

If we can’t do this for ourselves, how can we do it for others? Being able to have insight into others, and to help them develop this skill as well, is a management must-have. We talked before about how engagement is a matter of goodness of fit. Good managers work exceptionally hard at understanding their team members’ strengths and weaknesses and preferences so that they can position them to fulfill their greatest potential and be the most engaged. Interpersonal insight linked with self-insight allows people to co-create situations for mutual and shared success. And it all starts with you, leading yourself.

What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” –Mary Oliver, The Summer Day


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