The Best Career Advice I Ever Received

Author: Mitali Pattnaik   |    Published on March 26, 2018 on LinkedIn

We just completed our annual performance review cycle at LinkedIn. I imagine many of you went through the same process at your companies this quarter. As an early-career Product Manager I remember dreading these annual feedback conversations with my manager. My manager would walk through some things I was doing well, maybe even very well, but my attention was always focused on receiving “constructive feedback” about my “weaknesses.” In my mind, this is what I needed to fix to get ahead.

Very early on — starting with report cards in elementary school — we are taught to focus on our weaknesses and keep working at them in order to better ourselves. As a hyper-competitive Type A student and employee, of course I took this advice to heart, and kept a running list of weaknesses that I should be working on.

It was not until my 2nd year at London Business School that I heard advice completely counter to this. It came from the amazing Shelly Lazarus, former CEO and current Chairman Emeritus of the advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather. At some point in her speech about her pioneering career in advertising, Ms Lazarus said something like this (not an exact quote!):

“You know how people are always telling you to work on your weaknesses, to fill those gaps? Well I think that is a waste of time. I think you should instead focus on your strengths. No matter how much you work on your weaknesses, you are not likely to become the best in the world at them. But you have a shot at being the best in the world at what you’re already good at — so work on that. Your strengths are what will get you ahead in your career. And once you’re ahead you can hire your weaknesses.”

Not much from my business school education has stuck with me as this one piece of advice has.

It has allowed me to completely reframe how I think about where I spend time and energy at work and in life. It has made me more confident in my own ability as a leader, allowing me to overcome my imposter syndrome. It has made me a better manager as I try to notice and cultivate unique strengths that each of my direct reports have and encourage them to work on developing their strengths. It has let me build stronger teams as I try to hire and work with people who complement me — whose strengths are my weaknesses.

This has been the absolute best piece of career advice I have ever received – it has had a direct and significant impact on my career trajectory. What’s the best career advice you ever got? Let me know in comments.



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