Lesson #1 – Play to Your Strengths by Fernando Pernica on Linkedin Pulse

Fernando Pernica


It’s simply amazing how much things can change in such a short amount of time. New perspectives, new plans, and new ambitions, sometimes springing out of nowhere, catching you unawares. This might be a terrifying prospect for some, however, it is only through change that one can see exactly where one’s strengths and weaknesses lie.

After starting a Master in Management at IE Business School, I learned some precious lessons that go far beyond what goes on in the classroom. These are some of the key takeaways that have had a strong impact on me and ones which I would like to share with you in a series of #BestAdvice posts.

From First-Rate To Excellence

Doing the reading for one of our Organisational Behaviour classes, I learned that “one should waste as little effort as possible on improving areas of low competence. It takes far more energy and work to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than its takes to improve from first-rate to excellence.”[1]

From my very first days at IE, I took this lesson to heart. This was a very difficult thing to take in, as I had come to IE with a completely different idea of what skills and strengths I would need to be successful in business.

Although I spent three years working at different start-ups, I still held the view that business was mostly about mastering financial models, memorising accounting principles, nailing Excel, and making regressions. Of course, these skills are very much needed in the business world, and everyone should have a grasp over them.

However, my experience here taught me that these are only part of a much longer list of attributes that successful business leaders must have. Through various opportunities – group projects, presentations, and extra-curricular activities – I was able to identify which were my own areas of strength; and which were not. I must confess that I feel as if a weight was taken off my shoulders.

First, I could see how different parts of a team must come together to produce great results. Being part of such a diverse class like mine, means that everyone has a particular thing they’re really good at, and which they are really passionate about. Simply put, at IE, one single person cannot meet all deadlines alone.

Second, I realised I could not be the best at everything, so I had to focus on the first-rate skills that would lead me to excellence. This is the point which required most reflection, and to an extent, bravery. It is not an easy task to admit one’s own weaknesses, however, it is indeed something that truly pays off with time.

And third, I embraced my strengths with passion – after all, they got me this far.

What About The Weaknesses?

I truly believe that success lies in knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses. After all, employers will pay for excellence, and not mediocrity, and the way to achieve excellence is by giving priority to the things that one is good at. Here, a quote from Drucker comes to mind: “The journey to discover what they are and where they will best be put to use is a personal one, but one which is extremely rewarding.” However, I doubt that Drucker intended us to completely ignore our weaknesses.

Personally, I believe that everything can be improved, even if marginally. The key is to find the balance between honing the natural skills which can give you a greater chance of success, and honing those that must be mastered for a certain career.

OK, Sounds Great! How?

My advice for new students, or anyone seeking to go the strength’s way, is this: expose yourself to as many different activities and different people as possible. Experiment! Not only at school or at work, but also in life. As with taste, the more experiences you have, the more you will know what you’re good at and what you’re not. Another advice is to ask for feedback from colleagues and friends. Be specific, and be open for criticism.

Last, but not least, use tools! There are many ways to find out your preferences, interests, and skills. One of which was introduced at IE is the Myers Briggs Type Indicator – a very popular tool used in many companies – and which can be found for free on the internet. But, of course, the most important part is to make sense of these experiences, feedback, and tools, in reflection.

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