Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Know Your Niche: 5 Leadership Quotes about Finding Your Career Sweet Spot

Have you ever asked yourself What's my career superpower? Okay, maybe not, but before you roll your eyes at the suggestion, heres something I have discovered: seasoned leaders are able to succinctly articulate what they do well, why their skills are uniquely valuable, and how this differentiates them from their peers. It is one reason why they are where they are today.

So before climbing the career ladder, it can be helpful to ask yourself, “Is my ladder propped against the right building?” In other words, what is your niche? Don’t just focus on getting the next job. Sustainable, long-term advancement comes more easily when you set out on the right career trajectory in the first place.

Instead of committing yourself to simply “getting ahead,” do some serious self-reflection and identify a career “sweet spot,” or niche, that fits your passions, values, and strengths—and is sought after by your company or industry.

To help you find your sweet spot, I’ve corralled some of my favorite leadership quotes and gathered them here to help you systematically drill down to find the secret ingredient in your professional awesomesauce.

1. Know your vision, values, and goals

Romea Smith is the Senior Vice President of Customer Support for CA Technologies. Romea suggests that you, Establish your personal vision, values, and goals because if you have those, you know where you want to go. It helps you to see when there are opportunities that fit in with that vision. It keeps you from going on a path that is not consistent with what you believe in.”

Romea continues, “If we have a clear idea of what our personal values are, then we don’t take on things that cause us to sacrifice our self-esteem or integrity. We know exactly what we need to sustain us and to fulfill the goals that we have set out to achieve, and we apologize to no one for that. Knowing our own personal values allows us to understand how the organizational values align with our own.”

2. Identify your passion and where it fits

Sharell Sandvoss is the Vice President and Finance Director Europe for Brown-Forman Beverages, whose portfolio includes such brands as Jack Daniels, Canadian Mist and Southern Comfort. With a passion for fine spirits and bold leadership, Sharell is a perfect fit for the organizational vision of her company.

But what about you? What is your niche and how can it help you and your company grow together? To find out, Sharell suggests, “Know your passion and evaluate how it fits with your role, your company, and the strategy of the company. Make sure you’re comfortable doing what it is that you want to do. It’s the best for you, your company, and your career in general.”

3. Develop your own style

As the Territory Services Leader for IBM, Debra Aerne knows both the value of leadership and of crafting one’s own style while moving up the corporate ladder. Indeed, that’s her advice for emerging leaders: “Develop your own style,” she recommends. “Figure out what works for you and mold the process to match your strengths. Building on that style, be thoughtful and define what success means to you. Don’t look at how other people do it and try to emulate that because if it’s not genuine, it won’t be true, and it won’t reflect well on you.”

4. Know what you’re not good at

Jill Jones is Executive Vice President and President, North America and Latin America for the Brown-Forman Corporation. Jill believes strongly that you should, “Know what you are good at and what you are not good at. Before you take a job,” she warns, “sit down and ask yourself, ‘What am I really, really good at and what do I need to develop?’ Then ask, ‘What does the job call for, and am I a good match for that? Can I be successful?’ If it is not a good match, will you be able to develop that skill set? That is the first hurdle.”

5. Know yourself and be authentic

Dara Bazzano Jones, VP of Finance, Controller, GAP Inc., has the final word when it comes to identifying your career sweet spot, and it’s a fitting message for any stage of your career.

“Know yourself and be authentic,” she says. “People know when you’re a fake, and they’re not going to trust or respect you if that’s the case. So, be who it is that you are. You’ll be amazed at how much further you’ll get within an organization when you embrace being yourself.”

This starts with being real about the job, the opportunity it presents, and whether or not it’s the right fit. Finally, Dara suggests, “If your skill sets match up to the job, then ask yourself, ‘Is this someone I want to work for?’ Even if you have everything worked out, even if it’s a promotion, if you don’t want to work for this person, in the end, it either breaks your spirit, or you don’t succeed.”

The Takeaway: Whats Your Sweet Spot?

Now put it all together to identify your ideal career niche. Ask yourself: What could you be doing more of in your career that aligns your passions and strengths? Is there something youre great at, that you could do in your own authentic style? Would it be possible to maneuver into a role or career path where you get to do all of that, while delivering a service to your company or industry that will have you be sought after and highly valued?

Once you find it, Kieth Cockrell, Divestiture Executive with Bank of America would encourage you to stick with it, and make a difference. “Do your best to stay in your leadership sweet spot,” he urges, “because its not work; its not hard for you; it just comes very naturally and you have the opportunity to be impactful.” 

So before you take your next step up the corporate ladder, make sure it’s in the direction of your sweet spot!

Jo Miller is CEO of Women’s Leadership Coaching, Inc. and a leading authority on women’s leadership.

Are you a rising women of influence? To have leadership articles and advice delivered to your inbox, sign up for Jo’s newsletter. Or follow Jo on Twitter at @womensleadershp.


Kia B said...

This was a great read! As an aspiring physician now entering medical school, one of my biggest concerns is how I will standout as a leader in a (still) male-dominated field. I've also recently read Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In, and it reiterates some of the same points discussed in this post. "Developing your own style" specifically stood out to me as Sandberg also discusses setting your own pace and pioneering your own style of leadership in the workplace. Will definitely try to employ some of these tips. Thank you!

Jo Miller said...

Thanks for the note, Kia. All the best in school and finding your own "sweet spot" in your future medical career! - Jo.