Why I Like Conflicted Employees

If you’re conflicted about your career, it often means you’re interested in more than one thing. You’re not one dimensional. And if you’re good, then you excel at many of the things you’re interested in.

If your boss is good, they will recognize this as a strength and let you play it out. It doesn’t mean you get to do whatever you want, but it means you have room to hold down your core responsibilities while experimenting with growing another area.

If your boss is bad and/or your company doesn’t get it, this can make for incredibly unhappy phases of your career because you’ll be closed off from experimenting, which leads to the distraction of looking for other jobs.

I’ve experienced this conflict one way or another my entire career because I like to sell, write, and manage. I started in marketing, moved into sales, then management. I still feel the conflict of being pulled into too many directions, but my management purview is now larger than it would normally be because my interests have led me to understand more, and my team members run day to day on different elements of our purview.

Of course I look for specialists in different areas. For example, in marketing, you need people who truly understand social and digital on an extremely granular level, and in sales you need not just people who can originate and close customers, but to scale you need sales operations functions to keep a sales organization running because too many sales folks aren’t strong on the details, so sales ops is the tail that wags the dog.

I’ve found key people in these areas by identifying those who are conflicted about exactly what they want to specialize in. Like if you have someone in marketing who’s better/more passionate at dealing with salespeople than they are in creating, deploying, and analyzing content, then they’re probably better in sales or sales operations than they are in marketing. So you let them do both with an emphasis on their end game goal, and in the case of teams I run, giving people this freedom has worked out really well, especially in the past two years.

So if you’re conflicted about what you want to do, you should have an open discussion with your boss about it. Many bosses are only concerned about what needs to get done, and don’t always react well to a multi-dimensional team member, so don’t present your ideas as conflict or exceeding ambition, but instead present them as way to help the team in an additional way with extra work you’re willing to do.

This way you get the additional responsibility and work that’s more interesting to you, and then it’s up to you to prove that you can carve out new space for yourself.

If you’re interested in more than one thing, don’t stifle your conflict, embrace it.

And finally, make sure you recognize the difference between interests and passions. Everything is real work that takes real time, so if you are able to get new responsibilities in an extra area you’re interested in, you’re going to find out real fast if you have the stamina for it. And if you’re not passionate about it, the stamina wanes quickly.

There is no hard and fast rule on this last one. You just have to pursue your interests, get the work, then see if it sticks in your mind and evolves from an interest to a passion.

Eventually one of two things will happen: you’ll keep expanding your purview, or you’ll work for a scale organization that lets you specialize in your core passion at the highest level.