Kathryn Crawford Saxer Career Transition

“I want to assess my strengths and identify the best career for me,” a potential client told me on the phone.

Career development doesn’t really work that way, I told her.

“We definitely want to play to your strengths in your work,” I said. “You’ve been around for 30-some years – I bet you already know what your strengths are if you think about it.”

Take the time a beloved client once told me a long, complicated, technical story about something that had happened at his work.

Buried within that story was a more interesting story: this unassuming, soft-spoken engineer was unafraid of conflict.

“You run towards conflict,” I said.

“I don’t have time for conflict,” he answered. “I need to understand what the problem is and resolve it quickly.”

“You don’t even see it as conflict,” I said, wonderingly.

“I’m interested in other people’s perspectives,” he said. “They can add to my understanding. I’m trying to come up with the best solution.”

“You don’t take conflict personally,” I said with amazement.

“Of course not,” he said, a little impatiently.

“You know this is a superpower, right?” I asked. “You know that managing conflict, both upwards and between peers, isn’t this easy for most people? You don’t value this strength because it’s so easy for you.”

I like using the word “superpower” when I’m coaching; I enjoy the dissonance with my generally pragmatic approach. I feel like I’ve struck gold when a client identifies a superpower in themselves: an extraordinary strength that is so easy for them that they don’t even notice it.

“If you don’t recognize and value this strength in yourself, how will you value it in your direct reports as you develop your career?” I asked him.

That got his attention.

I told my potential client on the phone that I don’t have a handbook where we fill in the blanks and find the perfect career for her. (Wouldn’t that be great!)

But we will talk about her superpowers, which may be more useful than a handbook for her career development.

First published in The Seattle Times. Read my archive of Seattle Times Explore columns.