Are You Leveraging Your ‘Secret Sauce?’

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As you’ve probably seen, or experienced yourself, as leaders move forward and upwards in their careers, their focus and actions typically become increasingly broader in scope. If you’re like most people, you launched your career in a specific, fairly well-defined role, and then acquired additional competence and experience to handle bigger roles that entailed a wider array of tasks and responsibilities.

secret sauceFor many of us, our initial roles involved activities that made good use of our aptitudes, training and preferences. Even those of us who took some time to ‘discover’ which aspects of our jobs were most satisfying eventually recognized the core elements that really fit well with who we are and what we really liked to do.

For some, it’s solving challenging problems related to technical issues (e.g., engineering, information technology, science, law). For others, it’s helping people develop and grow in their capacity or capability (e.g., teaching, counselling). For others, it’s creating new insights through various media (e.g., writing, music, dance, art). For those in the world of business, it’s creating new entities, growing existing organizations or generating new products and services (e.g., entrepreneurship, marketing, sales).

Regardless of the attribute, we all have a unique ability or abilities that tap into who we are and what we’re particularly good at. I call these our ‘secret sauces’ – those inherent and developed attributes that offer real value to others. And they’re unique to each of us in the way we express them through our personality and accumulated experience.

I’ve found many leaders, through necessity and demands of their role, abandon their secret sauce to the detriment of themselves, team members and their organization. While they accumulate lots of new knowledge, skills and competencies during their career journey, they often fail to pay sufficient attention to continued application of their unique competence. I too, succumbed to this malady during my tenure in leadership roles at various organizations.

skillsetWhy should you continue to utilize your secret sauce – even in the face of so many other competing demands for your time and attention? Indeed, you may have individuals, teams or even large work groups in your company that offer expertise in the very attribute that you consider to be your own ‘secret sauce.’

Beyond the deep professional satisfaction that you most likely get from leveraging your ‘talents’, you also realize the sense of personal mastery that it reinforces. It’s definitely motivational for your team members to see a master craftsperson in action, which can benefit your team, organization and perhaps even your industry and the broader community.

So, as a leader, how do you apply your secret sauce – even if you’re in senior roles that demand a strategic and broad focus? Here are some suggestions to get more of your core attribute working its magic once again.

1.) Confirm Your Secret Sauce

The passage of time will have undoubtedly changed you and maybe your key attribute(s). How do you feel now about using that former ‘gold medal’ skill – does it interest you? Excite you? You’ve got to be motivated to apply your secret sauce in today’s context. Maybe it’s something new that you’ve discovered in your leadership journey over the years. Check with key confidants regarding their thoughts on where your magic’ currently shows up.

2.) Ensure You’re Up To Date

While the temptation might be to leap into application of your secret sauce, make sure that it’s relevant and appropriate for today’s context. You may need to gain some additional knowledge or skill development related to your core attribute that updates it or hones it for your current work environment.

3.) Look for Meaningful Opportunities

Application of your innate skills and passions will often come naturally to you, when the circumstances are right. However, even if this happens every so often, it’s worthwhile to seek out situations in which you can leverage your core attribute to help an individual, group, team or even your whole organization move forward in a very meaningful way.

sharpen skills

4.) Continue to Sharpen the Edge

Try not to abandon your cherished attribute as you progress in your leadership career. You don’t have to maintain all your technical qualifications and skill sets for increasingly senior roles but do try to keep your secret sauce fresh and relevant. This may involve additional readings, coursework and coaching from other master practitioners. Remember, as your leadership experience grows, you may indeed find some new core attribute or skill at which you’re very adept which may replace a previous professional or technical competency.

5.) Encourage, Coach and Mentor Others

Look for opportunities to help others in your organization to identify, develop and apply their true talents and interests. It may be some specific professional or technical skill or something that’s more closely related to their leadership or executive role and the competencies required to be successful. Encourage them to apply their core attribute in appropriate situations and acknowledge their success when it makes a meaningful difference.

I believe my ‘secret sauce’ is the ability to discern, articulate and align common patterns and themes, expressed by groups of people, among what appears to be very disparate perspectives and viewpoints. Whether in my strategic facilitation work with groups or the provision of individual executive feedback, leveraging this attribute keeps me energized and brings real value to my clients.

Some questions for you to consider as you think about your core attributes:

  • What’s your long-standing, or even recently acquired, secret sauce?
  • Do you continue to apply it regularly as part of your leadership repertoire?
  • Are you developing and fine-tuning this competence on an ongoing basis?
  • Do you encourage and support others in leveraging their magic?

If you want to get information and feedback regarding how well you’re leveraging your own secret sauce, reach out to me at [email protected] or 250-882-8830.

About The Author

Scott Borland, Founder & President of CYGNUS Management Consultants Inc, , is a recognized expert in helping executives host strategic conversations and obtain high impact feedback. He brings insightful perspective and proven strategies to strengthen the alignment between strategy and leadership behaviour. Scott has presented frequently at regional/national conferences and is a regular contributor to online journals/blogs. Follow Scott on Twitter or add him as a connection on LinkedIn.

User Comments

There is 1 comment on this post.

  1. Thanks for the reminder, Scott!

    Too often, I think we just ‘land’ in whatever role we land at the beginning of our careers, and it can be difficult to extricate ourselves. It could be that the money is good, the job is comfortable, or it just feels like an expectation due to family pressure or learned helplessness to move in a different direction.

    When we don’t tap into our unique abilities; in some respects, we become drones to our work. Our career becomes routine and, ultimately, meaningless. This dissatisfaction can also spill over into our personal lives, including relationships.

    Our unique abilities are easily identified through our passions. For example, if the work feels like an adrenaline rush (i.e., creates excitement), then that’s our “secret sauce.” That’s what we’re good at and that’s where we should be focusing our time and energy.

    We also need to be open to identifying our passion when the opportunity arises. When work feels like anything but work, then that’s where we find our skill. That’s the area that we need to investigate and build mastery. By mastering our passion, we will be able to enjoy our work long into the future.

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