How to ramp up your skills base

‘It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place,’
said the Red Queen to Alice.
‘If you want to get anywhere else,
you must run at least twice as fast as that.’

The need to keep moving forward, improving and adding to your professional knowledge and skills base, is becoming ever-more challenging as business becomes increasingly complex and new areas of knowledge pop up just about every time you blink. Add to that the fact that a good deal of what you now know and base your decisions and actions on is destined to be out-of-date soon, you can easily see the stark reality today’s managers face: you can’t afford to rest on your laurels.

Rather than trying to become better at something you’re not, and never will be, any good at, it’s more efficient and effective to concentrate on improving in areas where you have some natural talent or flair, and in areas where you already know quite a lot (but not everything). That’s the advice of management guru Peter Drucker. It makes perfect sense when you think about it. Are you tone deaf but can feel a rhythm and like to move? Take dancing lessons, not singing lessons, because no matter how much you may enjoy singing, you’ll never sing well; but you could become quite a good dancer.

If you’re like most people, you probably know what you’re not good at. But do you know what you are good at? You should, because you perform best when working from your strengths, in the areas your natural skills and inclinations take you and where you can put what you know and understand to good use.

A good way to spot your strengths is to ask people — you’ll probably hear things that will astonish you! You can also monitor your own performance to look for three pieces of information:

  1. What you enjoy doing most and what seems to come most naturally and easily to you. That tells you where to seek opportunities to contribute and improve.
  2. Areas where you have no strengths, talent, skill or inclination so you know what to stay away from. Continually exposing your weaknesses only erodes your self-confidence and trying to gain more than the bare-minimum competence wastes the time you could more valuably spend on building your strengths.
  3. Areas where you where you need to improve your existing skills or acquire new ones, particularly areas you’re already good at or potentially good at.

It may have become a cliche, but it’s a fast-paced world and to stay in the game, never mind ahead of it, it’s essential to keep learning. The Red Queen knew what she was talking about. Meanwhile, keep dancing and sing when no one is listening.

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