The Sistine Chapel in Rome, Italy is a priceless treasure located within the Vatican. The ceiling, painted between 1508-1512 by Michelangelo, is regarded as “one of the major artistic accomplishments of human civilization.”
But you know what?
Michelangelo was a sculptor, not a painter. In fact, he was suspicious that such a large-scale project was being offered to him by enemies as a set-up for an inevitable fall. Michelangelo actually declined the pope’s offer when it was to originally paint the 12 apostles. He only accepted the commission when it was negotiated to 9 biblical scenes of his choice.
Michelangelo saw his opportunity and decided to pivot his artistic skill from sculpting to painting.
Pivoting your skills can be an exhilarating experience, causing you to stretch and grow in ways you never imagined. It can also be terrifying, which I touched on in my post Opportunity: Making the Most Of It.
A pivot is the central point, pin, or shaft on which a mechanism turns or oscillates. In our context here, the pivot was Michelangelo’s artistic skill. He was able to change the direction of his career by pivoting on what he already knew and adding complimentary or new skills. In my career, I’ve had two major pivots; one around my research skills and the other around my leadership skills
Pivoting and My Experience
Most of you know that I am an engineer by degree. I worked on various projects over my 18 year career, and then I received my first promotion into management. That was quite a shift, let me tell you! I mean, I led projects, even multi-million dollar projects, but leading people was radically different! It required the acquisition of a whole new set of skills.
So I made the first pivot of my career.
I used the research skills from my engineering experience, and applied that to learning about leadership and the people who now worked for me. Wow! Now that was fascinating! I had all the knowledge of being an engineer so I pivoted on that and added the new skills of leadership to the mix.
Fast forward six years and a couple of promotions and it was time to pivot again.
This time, I pivoted the people skills I’d gained from tech leadership and added new skills centered around developing leadership skills in others. And in the process found my calling.
The Framework for Pivoting
An article from the Stanford School of Business lists five crucial steps in order to pivot successfully.
- Know what you want – things change over the course of your life and your pivots should reflect that
- Build your knowledge base – what do I know now and how can I build on that? What do I need to know for the next step?
- Leverage your strengths – analyze your current skills and figure out how to leverage them in different ways or transfer them to different industries
- Market your skills – from Linked In to live networking to letting your friends and family know, you have got to get the word out
- Avoid Common Mistakes – In order to do this, you have to be realistic, patient, and willing to work incredibly hard.
The leadership lesson here from the Sistine Chapel is simple: Don’t be afraid to pivot your skills to keep moving forward. After all, The David is utterly magnificent, but the Sistine Chapel ceiling is “one of the major artistic accomplishments of human civilization.”
Leaving you with this from the lighter side: Pivoting your career is hard. In the words of the infamous Mike Rowe “Just because you’re passionate about something, doesn’t mean you won’t suck at it.”