I have always enjoyed the game of basketball. Not blessed with great height, I fell in love with the position of point guard. The position allowed me to relay plays being sent in by my coaches, and manage the flow of the game. It was the perfect position for a smaller player who liked to lead and control things.
Being left-handed gave me an initial advantage over my opponents. Since most defenders assumed I was right-handed and I would most likely be moving to my right, I had the element of surprise. It’s not unusual for coaches and players to study their opponents during warm-ups. Knowing this, I developed my own, sneaky way of warming up. Although I was uncomfortable dribbling or moving to my right, I’d warm-up almost exclusively using my right hand. Then, once the game began, I would dribble the ball up court with my right hand, and as soon as I got near the top of the key, cross over to my left. This always left my defender flatfooted. From there, I would drive to the basket for an easy lay-up. This little trick never failed to work… the first time. With my defender thinking it was an anomaly, it would often work the second time too.
But by the third time, my defender would be waiting for me. The element of surprise had been replaced by predictability. Going to my left was easy and natural to me, but I knew what I had to do in order to become a much better player. I had to put in the time and effort to learn how to use my other hand, or what basketball players call the “off-hand.”
In baseball, this off-hand is the difference between learning to hit a fastball, and learning to hit a curveball. In tennis, it’s the difference between learning to hit a flat serve and a kick serve. In golf, it’s the difference between learning to hit a golf ball, and learning to spin a golf ball.
Sound familiar? In business, we often operate in one of two areas. One area is that place where everything feels natural and effortless. These are the areas that makes us feel confident, and where we are often celebrated by others for our expertise and accomplishments. These are the areas that make us good at what we do.
The other area is the area that represents our off-hand. It’s the part of our job that does not feel natural or effortless. We don’t feel confident and we try hard to avoid using these off-hand skills. When we avoid what doesn’t come naturally, we find that the off-hand becomes weaker and weaker. What’s more, to avoid using our off-hand we begin to make it obvious to others just what our strengths and weaknesses are. You would think that seeing someone excel at a particular skill would put him or her in a position of strength, but I feel it does the complete opposite. The truth is that it makes us one dimensional and vulnerable. Vulnerable to what you might ask? Change.
When actors are celebrated for incredible, focused portrayals of a certain type of character, they are assigned a word that makes them shutter. The word is “typecast.” If there’s a role to be played that matches directly with their celebrated strength, they’re hired. But track the life of so many of your favorite actors who were typecast in specific roles. Things changed, and the very strength that brought them to the pinnacle of success eventually became their downfall. The smart ones took roles early to play against their stereotypes, and they survived. The others never developed their “off-hand” characters and they faded into obscurity.
If you want to be good at anything, by all means continue to shine in the light your natural and celebrated skills. But Voltaire once said, “Good is the enemy of great.” If you want to be great, identify that off-hand and work twice as hard to develop it. If writing is a weakness, enroll in an adult education program. If you find you avoid public speaking at all costs, join Toastmasters. If selling is something you hate to do, read one of my books and give me a call :-)! While you’re improving that “off hand,” be prepared to be frustrated, and you will have to fight off the voices in your head that will tempt you to return to your more natural ways. Continue to work hard and a whole new level off success awaits.