Once upon a time at the firm of Bubbly & Associates, Pepsi’s client was always so happy that he struggled to get her attention to gather data or focus on the seriousness of the issues at hand. His partner, affectionately called Big Red, advised him to see Coke A. Cola. She always had difficult clients. She’d set him straight. Off he went to get the answer. Coke’s office caught Pepsi off guard: bright lights, colorful art, dance music playing in the background. This sharply contrasted with his well-appointed, but subdued workspace one floor up. Collecting himself, he shared his situation.
Minutes later Pepsi had Coke’s secret recipe and headed off to his client. Two hours later, the client called threatening to fire Pepsi. The reason: she couldn’t trust someone’s confidence in the law if he couldn’t trust his own self-confidence. Turns out she liked Pepsi’s original approach. It calmed her, gave her things to think about despite her outwardly manic appearance. He was getting through. But he was impatient, unselfaware, and too insecure. He’d tried out Coke’s act to remedy these flaws, only to have it backfire.
In the real world, could you imagine Pepsi running an ad with a polar bear or teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony? It would feel odd to have Michael Jackson moonwalking with a Coke generation. Pepsi can’t imitate Coke and Coke can’t imitate Pepsi, but both are perfectly capable of satisfying a sweet tooth and quenching a thirst – the desired outcomes of drinking a soda.
The same is true in the land of law. The job needs to get done. Clients need to be served. The lesson from above is simple: to thine own self be true. While a “you do you” philosophy seems obvious, conventional “people development” tells us that the “best people in a role model have the same behaviors.”
Said another way: all NBA Power Forwards should behave exactly like Tim Duncan did and they will achieve success. Or all chefs should cook and present like Bobby Flay, all executives should lead like Steve Jobs, all attorneys should…. You get the picture. Foolish, right? We are not cookie cutter-people or robots.
Yet when we develop people, how often have we told Bob to be “more like Joan when you’re presenting – she’s so engaging and you’re so by-the-book,” or encouraged Miranda to “have more attention to detail like James – you’re a little too pie-in-the-sky.” Focusing on our strengths, however – those thoughts, feelings and behaviors that are natural, comfortable, familiar – is where our personal sweet spots lie. Aiming those superpowers at targets feels most comfortable, but it also seems most authentic to those around us and produces optimal results.
For example, assume the goal is to develop business. One attorney is known for her engaging stories, her tendency to know “no strangers,” and her ability to work a room. She uses her communication gifts to attract people, share the value of her firm and their services, and confidently close a deal. Another lawyer is known for building strong, long-standing relationships with clients. He exercises these people talents to deepen his clients’ trust, open doors for an array of conversations, and build an active referral stream. Both lawyers are top producers in their firm; both have accomplished the goal in significantly different ways.
The key ingredient is finding our own professional superpowers – those things we do uniquely well that lead to positive outcomes. Unfortunately, we can’t steal someone else’s cape and call it our own. Finding your gifts doesn’t require lightning or Infinity Stones:
- Take an assessment to see how you’re wired. CliftonStrengths, Birkman Method, and DiSC are a few popular tools. They’ll put language around “the what.”
- Think about when work or a task seems to fly by, and you lose track of time. This is “flow” or “the zone.” This is an indication you’re in your sweet spot.
- Ask for feedback from a boss or a peer. They see you differently than you see yourself. They’ll tell you when you’re at your best.
- My personal favorite: hire a coach. Work with a professional to help you identify and leverage your superpowers so you can up your game. DEBBIE ROOS