Kryptonite and the International Development Superhero

by Shana Montesol Johnson

You may have heard that it’s a smart career move to minimize the time and energy you spend on your weaknesses, and focus on your strengths instead.  After all, you’ll get better results going from “good” to “great” than from trying to get yourself from “mediocre” to “acceptable.”  Treating your weaknesses like Kryptonite and getting as far away from them as possible can be a clear path to career success.

Your job may require you to do something that leaves you feeling drained or weak after you’ve completed it (this is how author Marcus Buckingham defines a weakness).  If so, you’re better off delegating this task to someone else.  But what if you don’t supervise anyone and have no one to whom you can delegate stuff?  Or what if the people who do report to you lack the skills, or time, or inclination to take on these tasks?

This is where the “Three B’s,” developed by coach and author Martha Beck, can come in handy:

1.    Bag It.

What would happen if you simply stopped doing the task that makes you weak?  Would anyone notice?  Would anyone care?  Sometimes organizational requirements take on a life of their own, and persist long after they are needed or valuable.  Maybe there some project reports that are not required by the funding agency – you know, the ones that you send to HQ but you suspect no one ever reads them.

You could experiment and stop doing the dreaded task for one day, or one week.  See what happens.  Maybe nothing.

2.    Barter It.

An activity that is like Kryptonite to you may be someone else’s life calling.  In an ideal world, there is someone in your workplace who would jump at the chance to do whatever it is that you detest.  And voilà, you have a triple win: you are overjoyed to be rid of this task, your colleague is delighted to spend time on one of their “strengths,” and your organization or project wins because the quality of the work your colleague will do is probably much higher than what you would have produced.  (No slight to you, just being honest here!)

But you don’t have to find a colleague who would consider your least-favorite activity a “strength.”  Someone who is merely neutral about it will suffice.  Ask them if they’d be willing to do your task, in exchange for you taking on a task of theirs.  And once you’ve struck a deal, don’t forget to give your manager a heads-up or get his or her okay as needed.

Gina (not her real name) works on a water and sanitation project; part of her job is to track project financials.  Never one to relish details or numbers, Gina dreads this work, dislikes doing it, and feels drained and defeated when it’s done.  Her colleague Dylan, while not a financial wiz by any means, finds project financials “okay.”  He’d rather do that than develop the team training that his manager asked him to pull together.  If they swap tasks, both will end up happier and more effective on the job.

3.    Better It.

If the task in question is critical to the success of your job, you may not be able to get away with bagging it.  And if you aren’t successful in striking up a barter with someone else, you may be stuck doing it.  Here is how you can “better” a bad situation:

  • Reduce the amount of time you spend on it.  When we dislike a task, we tend to dawdle while doing it, allow ourselves to get distracted, and take a long time completing it.  Treat this as a surgical strike, and use a timer to motivate yourself to get in and out of the Kryptonite zone quickly.
  • Make it more pleasant.  If you have to do the task, try to make it more enjoyable.  Turn on some energizing music, take your work out into the park if you can, treat yourself to a lunch out when the task is done.
  • Leverage a strength to get this task done more easily.  For example, if you hate writing case studies, but you love photography, turn a traditional case study into a photo essay.

To the Three B’s of Bag It, Barter It, and Better It, I will add a fourth: talk to your Boss.  Your manager may be sympathetic or at least open to discuss ways to keep this task from making you miserable.  After all, it’s your manager’s job to help you do your best work.  And it certainly wouldn’t help him or her if you burned out and quit.

Your boss may have resources, ideas, or perspectives – of which you may not be aware – for helping you in this situation.  He or she probably knows a lot more about the big picture of your organization, and who might be able to take on this dreaded task of yours.  Just remember Rule #1 when approaching your manager about a problem: always bring some proposed solutions.

The more you steer clear of Kryptonite (i.e., your weaknesses), the more you can exercise your super-powers.  And that’s what the world needs.


When have you “bagged it,” “bartered it,” or “bettered it”?  I’d love to hear from you in the Comments section below or on the Development Crossroads Facebook page.

Photo by Xurble

Did you like this? Share it:

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: