Giant segments of U.S. workers remain unsatisfied with their careers. Millennials and Generation Z’ers, which comprise a large majority of the workforce, often report feeling unfulfilled by their pay, career, and overall sense of purpose on-the-job. Many say they feel devalued and struggle with how to make their mark in business.
I’m often asked for advice from young professionals on the best way to excel and advance on-the-job. Hard work is important. But in today’s business environment, it’s not enough. That’s understandably frustrating since it runs counter to the belief that we’ve grown up with that “hard work pays off.”
I offer this wisdom as it’s helped to advance my own career. Empower the young talent in your organization to articulate — for themselves and others — the indispensable skill at which they always succeed. Some call it a ‘differentiator’. I call it a ‘superpower’.
Everyone has a workplace skill they do exceptionally well and better than most. Some are proficient with emerging technologies, some excel at public speaking, and still others at nurturing new business opportunities. My superpower, for example, is building and leading highly effective teams.
Why the Superpower Approach Works
Here are the benefits of the superpower approach to career advancement……
- It Builds an Employee’s Personal Brand. Once a team member’s unique differentiator is identified, they can then develop that skill, hone it, scale it, and make it a selling point as they take on new projects on-the-job while continually always succeeding.
Eventually, that superpower becomes part of the employee’s personal brand, the thing they are known for, and, ultimately, the thing they are sought out for. If the employee is in a room, they’re there because they bring a recognized value. Young talent should not just sit and listen to the more senior people contribute. They should be encouraged to lean in since their expertise is needed!
Knowing one’s differentiator also enables young talent to effectively identify and pursue roles that play to their strengths. It should inform conversations with current and prospective employers to know whether a particular role is a good fit for both them and the company.
- It Builds Strong, Diverse Teams. In my own work, we’ve created a concept called “Invincible Teams”. Each team is, in a sense, a collection of superpowers that can be mixed and matched to achieve a desired effect or output. When all players are aware of everyone else’s superpowers, it elicits powerful feelings of mutual appreciation for the superpowers all bring to the table. In short, it builds a culture that celebrates everyone’s diverse strengths.
I find my team has great cohesion and sense of purpose because we all know who excels at what. Talents are optimized and gaps can be filled when new missions are embarked upon.
How to Identify a Superpower
My experience is that a superpower lies at the intersection of skill development and personal fulfillment. For a skill to be a superpower, one needs to be exceptional. That requires an investment of study, practice, and, importantly, a dedication to continuous improvement. Encourage young talent to keep reading and learning, seeking out mentors as well as constructive criticism to learn where they can expand the application of their superpower to new use cases and scenarios.
It’s also critical that the team member enjoys applying that skill to problem solving and delivering on-the-job results. That joy will become a source of energy and passion that drives them to continually improve. It may help to think of one’s superpower the way a professional athlete thinks about his or her sport. An athlete is always training, refining, and working with coaches to achieve peak performance. But enjoyment of the game often lies at the foundation of their success!
A superpower should also match up with medium and long-term career goals. Once your employee’s superpower is identified, they’ll be using it a lot — so it’s important that skill aligns with their broader professional ambitions.
Superpowers Shift Over Time
Industries evolve. People evolve. Careers evolve. Take stock periodically of your people’s contributions and overall sense of fulfillment at work. If they’re not where you want to be, consider evolving their superpower.
For example, early in my career I honed my skill as a computer programmer into a superpower. But eventually I hit an inflection point. My superpower empowered me to achieve success as an individual contributor. But my career goals were evolving. My desire to achieve team success and change people’s lives for the better was transcending my technical prowess. Thus, I needed to shift gears and that’s when team building and leading became my focus.
Aligning one’s professional life around a uniquely identifying superpower worked for me and I think it can work for your organization. Frame your focus in a way that showcases your people’s indispensable skills to help blaze their trail up the career ladder of success — and enjoy the ride along the way!