Discover and use all of your skills – many that may not even be on your resume.
A software architect for Centric’s technology practice, my current client brought me in to design a data-integration strategy for the software they’re developing.
Here’s how a recent week went:
Client: “It would really help if we could get all the divisions together and figure out what data is important and where it overlaps, but I’m not sure I know what questions to ask.”
Me: “A colleague and I ran a session like that once before; it was really helpful. Let me put together an agenda and some slides to explain some of the key concepts and a proposed schedule.”
Client: “My VP keeps asking for estimates and release dates, and I don’t know how to give her what she wants with all this uncertainty.”
Me: “That is tricky. My old team found some good ways of communicating realistic expectations to executives. Let’s sit together tomorrow and work with what you’ve got so far.”
Client: “OK, so none of us has ever really been trained in Agile. The team is struggling with who’s supposed to do what, and a lot of things just aren’t getting done. Since you’ve done this before, could you lead a workshop on this? We’ll block out a whole day and bring in lunch.”
Me: “Sure, I can do that.”
Client: “Let’s see, the whole team looks available … tomorrow.”
It was Friday before I realized how many times I’d said “I can do that” in one week. What startled me was that none of it was technical – this stuff isn’t even on my resume.
I’m supposed to be valuable to my clients because of my technical knowledge and experience, but on closer inspection it turns out my tool belt has all kinds of weird doodads in it.
Where did those skills come from? Why didn’t I realize they were there?
The Four Stages of Competence
The answer might be pretty simple actually. My wife, an educator, recently told me about The Four Stages of Competence:
- Unconsciously unskilled – I don’t know what I don’t know
- Consciously unskilled – I know I don’t know how to do something
- Consciously skilled – I now know the steps to do it
- Unconsciously skilled – I just do it
What does all of this mean? Often we pick up soft skills while focusing on other things, skipping the “consciously” stages entirely – leaving us unlikely to communicate our skills and unprepared to teach them.
Your Tool Belt is More Than Your Job Title
Everyone I meet at Centric has a tool belt packed with an impressive array of skills (I’m pretty sure one colleague in Indianapolis has a full-on utility belt, Batarang included).
- One of my technical colleagues is a great teacher. Another is a great researcher and writer – an expert at synthesizing a bewildering array of information into an accessible summary.
- One of my management colleagues is the most compelling storyteller I’ve ever seen. Another has keen insight into personalities, mentoring unsure coworkers and handling the toughest customers with equal subtlety.
How aware are you of everything you really bring to the table each day?
Here’s how you can gain insight into your broader skill set:
- Take a self-inventory: What do you offer that isn’t defined in your job title?
- At the end of every project, make a list of what you did and what you learned. Ask yourself: Did you pick up any “unconscious” skills? Can you drag those skills back to “conscious” and apply them?
- Define your role – or roles – on a project when you were asked to do one thing but ended up doing much more.
If you’re building a team:
- Look at the broader skills of potential members to create a well-balanced team with varying strengths and weaknesses. (A personal note: One of the most effective teams I’ve ever been on drove me a little nuts. Balance does not mean homogeneous).
- Ask your team what else they bring – they may have hidden tools. They’ll be happy you asked.
Define and Grow Your Skill Set
As we expand our idea of skills, we can expand our idea of value. Every project becomes a valuable experience when it provides the opportunity to learn and grow your skill set.
You probably bring professionalism, hard work and an honest desire to help your clients. Maybe you even bring PMP certifications, Six Sigma belts of varying colors or years of programming experience.
But your skills don’t stop there.
Sometimes you get to learn new technology while on a project. Or you learn vendor management. You might even learn how to handle challenging personalities or demanding executives. Or how to make clearer documents and compelling presentations.
Yesterday, I aimed to keep a meeting focused and protect my team’s ideas without making anybody angry or dismissing opposing ideas with a strong personality.
I wouldn’t say it was a complete success, but I learned a thing or two. These new skills will make a great addition to my tool belt.