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The Roc Search Blog

Jack of all trades

23 July 2018

Daley Thompson was one of Britain’s finest athletes, winning back-to-back gold medals in the decathlon at the Moscow and Los Angeles Olympic games in 1980 and 1984 respectively.

What is unique about the event is that you need to master 10 very different disciplines, accumulate as many points as you can in your strong events and limit the damage in your weaker ones. As Daley himself put it, “Sometimes you have to resist working on your strengths in favour of your weaknesses.”

That’s the conventional wisdom. However, the interesting part of the story is that in the build up to the LA games, worried about the challenge of the West German, Jürgen Hingsen, his approach changed. Daley knew that his strongest events came on day one and his strengths lay in sprinting and jumping (he clocked 10.44s in the hundred metres and leapt 8.01m in the long jump).

The plan was to build up enough of a lead that by the final event – the 1500m, his Achilles heal – all he’d have to do was finish to claim his second gold. And that’s exactly what happened, in the process setting a world record points tally. Daley had focused on doing even better at the events in which he excelled.  

Develop your strengths

The moral of the story is that it is better to build strengths rather than focus on weaknesses. While it’s important to gain exposure of different disciplines, typically in the early stages of your career, ultimately whether you’re in marketing, finance, HR or even medicine, the time will come when you’ll need to specialise.  

Jim Harter, Gallup Chief Scientist, Workplace Management and Well-Being, summed this up nicely in the foreword to ‘First, Break All the Rules – what the world’s greatest managers do differently’. He said, “Engaged workers view the world differently than disengaged workers do because they have managers who develop their strengths rather than fixate on their weaknesses.”

At least one would hope that’s the case. It’s important to work out where your strengths lie and importantly the areas where you can add greatest value to your department and organisation rather than get bogged down doing things you don’t have much aptitude for, which will take up your time for very little payback.

Next time you sit down with your manager, while you might not want to go back to the annals of the Olympic Games, you might want to think about your disciplines, the ones you know that with some work and training will take you to an elite level and pay big dividends and the ones where the gains are very negligible and you’ll only ever be average at best.

What’s your 1500m equivalent?
c/o Luca Rosi @ TalentWrite  

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