Effortlessness: Working And Living In Your Zone Of Genius

As appeared in Financial Advisor Magazine.

Highly successful people, when interviewed, often say the same thing about their jobs: They don’t see them as “work.” When the most gifted athletes in the world reflect on a game in which they had a particularly masterful performance, they may say that they felt they were “in the zone,” performing effortlessly.

You may believe that it’s impossible to see your own work that way, but what if you could?

We believe to do that, you have to start by identifying your greatest gifts. This concept is explored by Jim Dethmer, Diana Chapman and Kaley Warner Klemp in their book The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership. One of the 15 “commitments,” No. 8, challenges readers to commit to “excelling in their zone of genius.”

Consider the “zone of genius” to be one of four zones the authors describe in the table below.

Some of us may struggle to pinpoint our own zone of genius, though others may see our zone as being obvious. It’s easier to know when we’re in our zone of incompetence—when we feel uncomfortable presenting a topic to a large audience, for instance. Or when we’re at home trying to fix something ourselves and eventually have to call a professional after hours of frustration.

So if we still struggle, how can we find our genius? The book describes one simple exercise that takes little time and effort. Readers are asked to review their last two weeks of meetings and activities and put an “up arrow” next to those items when their energy went up during the experience, a “horizontal arrow” next to those times when their energy was flat and a “down arrow” when their energy was depleted by an activity. If you’ve noted a pattern in your up arrows, you have likely started to identify your genius. To go a step further, look at the percentage of time you spent on activities that left you up, flat and down and consider what you can do differently to spend more time on activities that increase your energy.

Source: The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership. 

What does this look like for a professional? In the wealth management industry, take as an example the co-founder of an independent RIA firm who has built a successful practice. She may have varied skills such as the ability to serve clients, mentor younger advisors and generally grow the company. However, she still is not maximizing her time and energy because she is regularly tapped to drive strategy, deploy technology, report on projects and on and on.

In a small to midsize RIA firm, it is quite common to find that nearly all of the key partners and employees have hybrid duties yet rarely find themselves working in their zones of genius. The result? They suffer burnout and fatigue and yearn for what the firm “could be” with more resources.

Oftentimes, the co-founders and other leaders at smaller firms find themselves intrigued by the idea of merging with an enterprise that has competent management teams with clearer roles. But after a merger, they are afraid of stepping back from the work outside their zones, because they used to feel partially responsible for every decision made at their predecessor companies. Time and again, we find that those who are able to push their fears aside and find and cultivate their “zone of genius” enjoy much more success and satisfaction.

A firm’s co-founders should thus be able to step away from managing every decision at the office and instead focus on envisioning and growing their advisory practices. An executive who has spent most of her career in a marketing role in her firm, for instance, can transition to lead her company’s strategy. Another example is when a founder of successful RIA is able to pursue his passion of developing the firm’s culture by dedicating his time to helping others tap into their genius.

The most difficult part is taking that first step. It is often easier to keep doing tomorrow what you are doing today. It is scary to rely on others to do things you previously handled yourself. But those who have the courage to move forward find that living in their genius more often is an amazing experience that benefits them, their clients and their teams. Who wouldn’t want to live and work effortlessly.