Thursday, April 11, 2013

Who are you?

I'm writing this from the lobby of a Hilton hotel in Toronto where I have been staying while I conducted meetings with a prominent Canadian bank.  Last night after a 13 hour day, I met a most amazing individual in the hotel bar.  The CEO of a successful consulting firm, his area of specialty is in the psychology of human behavior especially within the confines of a corporate setting.

After a night's worth of very interesting, intellectual, and "i"ntertaining discussion with him and the others who were sitting at the bar with us I had the opportunity to speak with him one on one about my personal career ambitions.  During this he asked me a seemingly simple question:  "who are you?"

I was taken aback.  "Who am I?" I thought.  "I'm Larry." "I'm a technologist whose name is on the cover of two programming books." "I'm a musician."  I finally answered that I am a "business strategist" but that answer was hollow because I finally realized that what he was asking was "what is your core value that no one else can do as well as you?"

Several years ago, the CEO of BMC Software, Bob Beauchamp, told me something similar.  During a unique opportunity to have a 20 minute intimate conversation with him, I asked him how he became CEO.  His response was twofold:

Be the authority. People finally got tired of hearing secondhand what he was saying and instead started inviting him to the important meetings to hear it directly from him.  That gave him the visibility into the senior ranks of management.

Be the best. He understood where he excelled in business and nurtured that to the point that he was the only person that provided the value that he did.  "Pick an area that interests you and be the best that anyone can be in that area" was the way he described it.  This is why people were seeking to hear his thoughts on matters of business, first in a secondhand fashion and then as the primary deliverer.

While I took Mr. Beauchamp's advice as a call to action, I failed to see the larger significance of what he was saying.  This led me to respond in a tactical sense, striving to check the boxes of both parts of his response.  But the greater guidance for me as a professional was overlooked until last night when that simple, three word question was asked.

"Who are you?"

I now realize that my greatest value is as an information broker and analyst.  The true value is revealed when this core competency is coupled with a business context.  Do you need to develop a 3-5 business strategy?  I'm fully aware of business trends especially as they are impacted by technology that will allow you to determine the future direction of your company.  Do you need to re-engineer a failing process?  I can dissect its current state, develop metrics to measure improvement, identify broken linkages and deadlocks, and finally devise ways around them.  Do you need to evaluate corporate projects at the PMO level? I can quantify the impact of each project by defining measurable success criteria, allowing you to shepherd the process from design through implementation.

This has been an eye opener for me, and I challenge the reader to truly understand the answer to that simple question.  What is your strength?  What application does it have in your professional and personal life?  How can you emphasize your ability to impact both by playing to those strengths (and, of course, recognizing your weaknesses and mitigating their impact)?