What Skills Do I Want To Master?

On a new job, deliberate practice, and focusing on a few skills.

It’s been four months since I graduated college, moved to New York, and started working full-time at The Ready. And this ride has been nothing short of amazing.

I lead a month-long project at a leading American global bank on jumpstarting trust between and within their teams. At a Fortune 100 conglomerate, I’ve helped coach, facilitate, and launch two dynamic teams. I’ve helped deliver and facilitate two workshops to help leaders of large multinational corporations kick off major change projects. I’ve also been able to contribute to building The Ready’s brand: I’ve published pieces on our publication, written sections of a book proposal, and been sending out a weekly newsletter (which you should probably check out if you haven’t).

When friends and family ask me how life is, I mostly talk about how awesome my job is. I’m sure they want to know more about how my life is outside of work, but hey, I can’t help it (life outside of work is going well too, in case you’re wondering!).

I’m fortunate to have a job that is directly tied to making work better — the opportunity I’ve wanted to dedicate my career to. I can’t express this enough.

That said, I’m far from an expert at my job. My presentation and public speaking skills need work. I could carry myself more confidently around my colleagues and clients. I’m still learning how to coach others. I even remember the hardcore imposter syndrome I felt after I participated in my first company strategy meeting.

First Things First

At the start of every quarter in college, I set short-term priorities and reflected on them weekly. This helped me stay focused on important aspects of my work and life. Knowing that this is a chance at the job I’ve always wanted (let alone my first consulting job and my first full-time job), I set priorities for myself when I first started at The Ready and reflected on them weekly.

For those not familiar with the “even over” method of phrasing priorities: X even over Y means that you are willing to prioritize X even at the expense of prioritizing Y. Here were my five priorities for my first 90 days:

  1. Focus on the now even over plan for the future. I tried to direct my focus and energy on the short-term and not overthink the future because to a large extent, the future is uncertain. This doesn’t mean I didn’t plan, I planned for the short-term and let go of carefully planning out my long-term career trajectory.
  2. Learn and improve even over flawless execution. I wanted to focus more on learning and improving and not worry about getting things right the first time. I tend to want to do things flawlessly the first time, but of course, getting anything right the first time is almost an impossible task!
  3. Over-communicate even over communicate efficiently. I used to think twice before communicating with colleagues because I hate giving others a reason for them to feel busier. This mentality was silly, so I made over-communicating a priority.
  4. Experiment even over best practice. I aimed to try new ways of doing things even at the expense of trying things that have worked well in the past. I wanted to get better at taking smart risks.
  5. Health and well-being even over getting shit done. I found it easy to feel like I should work long hours and “pay my dues as a new employee.” But eating healthy and exercising regularly are oftentimes the most productive thing you can do — especially at times when I feel like it’s the least.

So now that my first 90 days are over, what am I focusing on during the next 90?

A Radical Focus on Developing Skills

Wanting to be great at organization design tempts me to believe that I must immediately get good at every skill. But if there’s anything I’ve learned from my colleagues and experience so far, it’s that mastering any skill takes time. I shouldn’t expect myself to quickly become a master of this craft — I should commit to being a student of it. I can do this by picking 1–3 skills I want to master, deliberately practicing those skills, and solely focusing on those skills.

So after reflecting on a recent round of 360 feedback with the team, other bits of feedback I’ve asked for in mid-August, and a personal retrospective of my first 90 days, here are a few skills I think I’m going to deliberately practice:

1) Facilitation

I want to be able to help groups effectively move toward their ideal state. I’m starting to feel more comfortable facilitating calls and meetings with clients. I want to take my skills to the level of client workshops and half-day off-sites. I know the right approach to getting better at facilitation is just to do it over and over. I’m also lucky to have colleagues like Aaron, Sam, Oday, Kathryn, Alison, Bob, and Rodney who are exceptional at facilitating.

2) Coaching

I feel like this goes hand-in-hand with facilitating — I want to help individuals and teams grow and champion new ways of working. I think coaching and helping others lead change is especially rewarding. I’ve done a few 1-on-1 coaching sessions, but never actually “practiced” coaching. Maybe I could tag team with a few colleagues more often when they have coaching sessions with clients.

A note about Facilitation and Coaching: At first, I wanted to focus on Transformation as a skill (or Manifestation — as the Undercurrent Skills Matrix puts it) instead of Coaching and Facilitation. I chose Facilitation and Coaching instead of Transformation/Manifestation because in my mind it’s easier to practice coaching or practice facilitation than to “practice” transformation. Transformation comes through coaching, facilitation, and many other skills.

3) Research? Content Expertise? Thought Leadership?

Another way I could be more valuable is to become knowledgeable at something within org design. Maybe I could be an expert in the psychology/people/behavioral side of organizational change? Or I could be knowledgeable about the quantitative impact of organization design?

I’m throwing this in here because relative to other skills in consulting, I have solid research skills. I’m just hesitant to include this as a skill I’ll be focusing on because right now I think I want to challenge myself to just focus on facilitation and coaching. But on the other hand, I know I could be super valuable by leveraging and growing my research skills. I’ll have to think about it.

Looking Ahead

There are methods to mastery, and these methods might seem paradoxical: consider yourself a lifelong student of the craft, radically focus on a few (not many) skills, and deliberately practice those skills. My mind immediately goes to the wisdom of Bruce Lee:

“I fear not the man [or woman] who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man [or woman] who had practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

After thinking through what I should focus on these next few months, I feel great moving forward with a sense of clarity. Let’s see how I do when I reflect on the past three months during the beginning of 2017. For now, here’s to moving forward with the awesome job I’m lucky to have, with the awesome team I’m fortunate to be working with.