Here is an excerpt from an article written by Whitney Johnson for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, obtain subscription information, and receive HBR email alerts, please click here.
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If you watched the Super Bowl a few months ago, you probably saw the coaches talking to each other over headsets during the game. What you didn’t know is that during the 2016 season, the NFL made major league-wide improvements to its radio frequency technology, both to prevent interference from media using the same frequency and to prevent tampering. This was a development led by John Cave, VP of football technology at the National Football League. It’s been incredibly helpful to the coaches. But it might never have been built, or at least Cave wouldn’t have built it, had it not been for his boss, Michelle McKenna-Doyle, CIO of the NFL.
When McKenna-Doyle was hired, she observed that a number of her people were struggling, but not because they weren’t talented — because they weren’t in roles suited to their strengths. After doing a deep analysis, she started having people switch jobs. For many, this reshuffling was initially unwelcome and downright uncomfortable. Such was the case with Cave.
Cave had the talent to create products and build things. But he didn’t have time to do it, because he had the big job of system development, including enterprise systems. “Why was he weighed down with the payroll system when he could figure out how to evolve the game through technology?” McKenna-Doyle asked. As she later explained to me, she envisioned a better role for his distinctive strengths. The coaches wanted to talk to each other. The technology didn’t exist. She tasked Cave with creating it. “At first, he was concerned, because his overall span was shrinking. ‘Just trust me,’ I said. ‘You’re going to be a great innovator,’ and he is.”
Experts have long encouraged people to “play to their strengths.” And why wouldn’t we want to flex our strongest muscle? But based on my observations, this is easier said than done. Not because it’s hard to identify what we’re good at. But because we often undervalue what we inherently do well.
Often our “superpowers” are things we do effortlessly, almost reflexively, like breathing. When a boss identifies these talents and asks you to do something that uses your superpower, you may think, “But that’s so easy. It’s too easy.” It may feel that your boss doesn’t trust you to take on a more challenging assignment or otherwise doesn’t value you — because you don’t value your innate talents as much as you do the skills that have been hard-won.
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Here is a direct link to the complete article.
Whitney Johnson is an executive coach, speaker, and innovation thinker recently named one of the most influential management thinkers by Thinkers50. She is the author of Build an A-Team from Harvard Business Press and the critically acclaimed Disrupt Yourself. You can download the first chapter of Build an A Team here.