The Self-Discovery Triad for Attaining Excellence

Sam is a bright management graduate from one of the top Ivy League institutes. Just before his placement, he reached out to a locally renowned consultant to help him decide on a career path that would best compliment his personality. Sam found the interaction extremely useful and was able to quickly narrow down to his ideal first employer.

Five years later, Sam switched jobs for the third time and even had the opportunity to relocate to a new country. While he found the change refreshing, he could never shake the feeling that he was not completely energized by his career. In fact, he often felt that it was for the same reason he had switched organizations in the first place. This realization was disturbing and he felt like he was back to square one.

This is not just the story of Sam. Millions of professionals around the globe, struggle through this disorientation at work every day. So, how can we manage this effectively?

Through extensive one on one interviews with more than two thousand people at work, I have observed that most of the exceptional role models have developed greater levels of self - awareness. Though self-awareness encompasses a multitude of factors, it can be distilled in to three specific markers and here’s how one can work towards attaining a state of excellence in their profession.

i. Discover your Talent

At work, have you ever found certain tasks more energizing than others? What makes you perform these tasks with such ease as compared to the remaining ones? What makes you feel constantly invigorated when your coworkers often express anxiety or boredom with those same tasks?

It is your “talent” that plays a vital role in triggering these emotions, thoughts and the subsequent behaviors. One of the definitions that best describes talent is given by Dr. Tomas Premuzic, an organizational psychologist, he calls it “an effortless performance rule”. In simple words, talent is the ability of an individual to perform a task or to learn a skill easily without putting in more efforts.

Every job that exists in a professional setting, consists of a series of tasks. What differentiates exceptional performers from the average ones is the intensity and consistency of performance shown across many of them, due to the presence of multiple abilities or talents. For instance, MS Dhoni succeeded as an exemplary Cricket captain, not due to his ability to play Cricket alone. He is gifted with other talents such as the ability to command and lead the team, ability to coach and develop young Cricketers, capacity to stay calm and remain positive even during tough times. The existence of many such talents made him the most admired Captain of all time. Take one more example of Mukesh Ambani, chairman of the Reliance Industries Limited. Some of the unique talents that differentiate Mukesh Ambani from others include, his talent to strategically spot Business opportunities much earlier than others, his ability to effectively persuade the key stakeholders and his inherent drive to consistently achieve milestones and set new benchmarks. When he joined Reliance Industries in 1981, he was considered the mastermind behind the backward integration of Reliance’s textiles division with Polyester fibers and Petrochemicals and the subsequent launch of the World’s largest Petroleum refineries at Jamnagar, Gujarat.

So how does one discover one’s talent?

The key is to look at your own spontaneous reactions. For instance, do you frequently emerge as a leader to take charge of the situations? Do you feel energized during intellectual debates? Do you enjoy brainstorming? Or does data and pattern sorting excite you?

By paying closer attention to these fine points, you can discover your own natural talent and opt for a rewarding career.

ii. Discover Your Core Values

Have you ever felt like quitting your job due to interpersonal conflict at your workspace? Have you ever wondered what the source of conflict was? It is possible that the conflict occurred due to a mismatch of values between you and the others on your team. For instance, the resignation of Vishal Sikka, the former CEO of Infosys, highlights the extreme consequence of values based conflict. Despite his exceptional turnaround story at Infosys, few of the founders were concerned about his departure due to issues over corporate governance. The Economic Times had reported controversies such as, the change in Sikka’s salary structure, in the form of dividends paid from the restricted stocks of the company which gave him an undue advantage over other Senior Executives; very high severance package offered to the ex-CFO and the appointment of an independent director without adhering to the company’s guidelines and several other alleged improprieties in the acquisition of Panaya.

It is therefore clear that talent alone may not help in achieving excellence. Values play a vital role in sustaining the performance for longer duration.

So what are values?

Values are the fundamental beliefs that guides one’s decision making, moral conduct and one’s actions. It enables people to decide between right and wrong. Values are subjective. They get developed over a period of time, based on one’s experience, environment, education and exposure. Examples of universally accepted values include integrity, self – respect, continuous learning, responsibility and so on. Becoming aware of your values and behaving consistently will help you appear authentic in the eyes of your own people. Needless to say, being authentic is an important aspect to build deeper relationships and win the cooperation of others at work.

So how does one discover ones core values?

Self - introspection of a series of past conflicts can help you discover the triggers for disagreement between you and different peers. What were the key principles that led you to disagree with the other person? Can you identify those two or three such values which are non-negotiable to you?

Knowing your own core values will help you enhance your decision making, interactions and strengthen your relationships.

iii. Discover your Ideal Environment

Think for a moment;

If Jack Welch were not part of GE, would he have become a celebrity in the field of management?

If Margaret Thatcher were not part of the Conservative party of UK, would she have become the Prime Minister of UK and earned the title "The Iron Lady"?

While talent and values matter in differentiating exceptional people from the average ones, the environment matters equally. It’s the environment that sets the context. For instance, becoming vigilant of the existing political climate of the organization and knowing the informal power holders at a personal level may help you get your job done at ease.

So how does one discover one's ideal professional environment?

Some of the questions that may help you reflect include; what are some of the opportunities you can extract from the existing office environment? Who are going to be your allies? Who are those who are likely to harm your reputation? What kind of physical and IT infrastructure available to you at work? What kind of environment will enable you to bring your dream and vision, a reality? Should it be a highly predictable, structured or a dynamic one? Asking such questions will help you assess the conduciveness of the environment to deliver your best.

Like A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, who famously said “Excellence is a continuous process and not an accident”, we all need to acknowledge that the self-discovery triad - Talent, values and the concept of ideal environment evolve over a period of time. This requires each one of us to remain inquisitive and to constantly perform the above said process of self – discovery, to attain the state of professional excellence. 


*The views and thoughts expressed in the article belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author's employer, organization, committee or other group.




Excellent read on excelling at work.
The triad of self discovery, core values and environment is well articulated in great depth.By quoting role model leaders for each of the triad, one gets a clear pathway to appreciate as to why these people were a success. Look forward to reading more such insightful articles from Mr. Sudhakar.

I enjoyed reading this.

Loved the article, especially how you broke down self awareness into 3 parts: Discover your Talent, Discover Your Core Values and Discover your Ideal Environment. I could also personally relate to some instances in my life where I could have been, or in future I can be mindful of this. Now that you have told us about the what part, I need to understand the how part of it. How do we achieve this self awareness? It would be even more helpful if you could do a follow-up article with the How aspect.

I enjoyed reading this article. A very clear and concise strategy that identifies core competencies as well as a method to deploy them in an organizational setting.

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