Cutting To The Core
If you want to achieve your full potential there is something about yourself that you need to understand intimately and fine tune relentlessly, and it's something that's been inside of you all along.
It starts with one of my favorite questions for budding young entrepreneurs, "What is your core competency -- that one things that separates you from 99.999 percent of all humanity." Don't get too excited, that doesn't make you unique because the .001% still leaves about 70,000 people you'd share that core competency with.
Its amazing how difficult that question is to answer. Try it. And don't let yourself off with broad ambiguous answers like, I'm empathetic or I'm a great leader. I want you to go deep and think of examples of how your core has manifested itself in ways that others have recognized.
For example, I'll be fully transparent, my core competency is verbal communication. Even as an overly shy child I had an ability to "turn it on" and verbally articulate my ideas and opinions in a way that always seemed to leave an impression. It was something that I didn't understand until much later in life. And even today, although I deliver 30 keynotes a year to audiences of up to 5000 people It's not entirely clear how that core competency was developed or nurtured, it just is. So, I accept it and work on it and try to leverage it into something meaningful. And that's where the superpower comes into play.
You see, it's not enough to identify your core competency. The real questions we each need to answer is what unique ability of yours is that core competency built on and how will you use that ability to create value and meaning in your life and the lives of those you interact with; that's your superpower.
What's So Peculiar?
So, why do I call it a superpower? Well, when we think of superpowers we most often think of superheroes like Superman or Spiderman. They poses incredible multipurpose powers that can be used to do any number of amazing things we mortals are incapable of. But the superpower I'm talking about is exceptionally narrow and specific. It's more like the superpowers of the kids in the novel and movie, Ms Peregrines Home for Peculiar Children. Each one has a very specific ability, one is lighter than air, another is able to cause plants to grow instantly. Simple and unique abilities that may not quite qualify for Marvel Comics, but which can be used in exceptional ways.
But here's the things about your superpower. it's highly unlikely that you will ever figure it out on your own because you take it for granted. It's always been there. The only way to really understand it is to ask others what it is. I know what you're thinking, "Hold on, if I ask someone to tell me what my superpower is they may just think it a bit odd!" So, let's change the question. Ask, "What is it about me that makes me unique in how i impact your life?" Fair warning that you need to ask this of people who will give you an honest, unfiltered, and direct answer. And, by the way, be prepared to do the same for them. You're asking for some really personal information and a quid-pro-quo is in order. And whatever you do not get defensive about the response.
That's NOT Me!
I used to do this at my company as part of 360 evaluation each employee would do each year with the entire company. It was an anonymous evaluation of their strengths and weaknesses. I was startled at how defensive people would become when resting the feedback from their peers. The classic response was, "But that's NOT me!" Well, it may not be who you want to be but guess what? It's how you are perceived.
Having gone through this process with others and on my own innumerable times I can tell with with complete certainty that if you want to best understand yourself and what truly makes you unique you need to be able to internalize all of the feedback you get.
It's All You
Here's what really interesting. All of the positive and negative feedback you get is tied to the same underlying uniqueness you bring to every relationship. In other words, if people tell you that you are charming but disingenuous then it's likely because you use the same skills to win people over and to manipulate them. If they tell you you're strong-willed but lack empathy then it's probably because you are able to convince yourself of a course of action despite what anyone around you thinks. If they tell you you're articulate but totally unable to make up your mind then you're probably able to take virtually any position with equal conviction. None of these is inherently good or bad. It comes down to how well you understand the power you have and then how you focus it on positive results. The same superpower can be used to as a force for good or evil.
In my own case I realized early in my adult life that I had an intuitive ability to connect with people on their own terms. I could quickly tune into someone's emotional frequency and develop a deep connection. It cut both ways. It could be as endearing as it was unnerving to people I met. And all too often it created bonds of empathy with people who didn't have my best interests at heart. It took me a long time to fully appreciate the power of that ability and to use it to help guide my own actions and the way I interacted with others.
But here's the good news--no, actually the great news--when you finally start to get a sense for how you impact others you will develop the ability to amplify and direct that superpower in positive ways that will have a deep and lasting impact on every relationship in your work and in your life.
Will it land you a role in the next sequel of the Fantastic Four or give you the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound? Ok, really? No. But it will allow you to realize something much more powerful, the potential that's been inside of you all along.