The tragedy of Willie Loman is that he was incredibly talented at one thing, but spent his life doing something else that he was mediocre at.
He thought success meant that he had to make a quick buck in sales, rather than working with his hands. His neighbor, Charley, observed that Willie should be doing what he was great at (carpentry), and quit trying to be someone else in a world he wasn’t suited for (traveling salesman).
I often run across Willie Lomans. They have incredible talent, but are in the wrong job. They THINK they have one set of skills – skills that conform to a picture they have of themselves – but in fact they have a different set of skills.
Willie Lomans are frustrating for leaders. It’s one thing to counsel the 21 year old intern about how his true gifts might be inconsistent with his career path, but another to deliver the same message to someone who is 48 years old and has a kid in college and a mortgage. One of the reasons why Willie Lomans are so frustrating is that they truly are talented, yet much of their talent lies untapped.
More than ever, we have choices for how we spend our time and our careers. Never before in history has a person had so many different ways to earn a living. But to really find our place we need to be introspective and honest about what our gifts are.
In the past I have written about Strengths Finder – one of just many tools available to help us isolate our strengths. Asking people you respect to comment upon what they believe to be your greatest strengths can also be insightful.
There are Willie Loman companies too. They tell the world their strengths are what they wish they were, rather than what they are. How many technology companies tell the world that they are “innovative”? How many truly are? How many companies say that they build great products, but what they’re really good at is building low-cost supply chains?
The tragedy of Willie Loman was that he lived a life of denial.
When companies do this they typically blame their underperformance on external factors. When people do this they miss an opportunity to make an impact, to feel fully alive.
Evaluate your strengths. Push others to be honest about their gifts. Don’t live someone else’s vision of what success is.