top of page

Finding your Zone Of Genius

Happy 2024, from Tessa!

It is likely that many of us are still reflecting on last year and setting goals both personally and professionally for the new year.  

Resolving to dedicate more time to self-care, better work-life balance and improving financials are all common conversation in this season. 

How we approach reaching these goals varies but it is likely to begin with thoughts of what we are wanting to improve. 

For me personally, this last year has been one of incredible expansion. My touchstone word for 2023 was rebirth and I have most certainly felt it. 

As I've reflected and set goals and intentions for 2024 I am unpacking my toolkit to prepare for the journey ahead. 

Before I jump into that allow me to give you some background information and how I landed in the position of partnering with Irene. 

As a newer small business owner, Redding Chamber Ambassador, Rotarian, wife, mom, friend and big sister I want to support EVERYONE. I am not above doing any job myself and I genuinely enjoy being of service to my community BUT I wasn’t focusing on any one thing in particular and found myself stretched thin, wondering how to better define my role and find more of those magical moments I so enjoy.  

One of the tools I was taught, have continued to refine and wanted to share now is Finding your Zone of Genius. 

STORY: How to delegate your way into the Zone of Genius In this opinion column, Salter coaches a local journalist who wants to delegate responsibilities to a junior reporter.

READ MORE: Additional Resources. Books, articles, and videos on Zone of Genius.

BOOK STUFF: Book Club and Book Update. Join me at 4PM PST Thursday, January 25, 2024 for our first call of the New Year!

GOING FURTHER: Free Gift- Recording of Intention Setting Workshop My gift to you.


STORY: How to Delegate your way into the Zone of Genius

Inside Public Service: A Step Up

Between now and January 13, I’m practicing what I preach by making space to be with the people I love most in the world. Instead of a new blog post, I’ve pulled this article from my column on Shasta Scout to share with you.

This story was originally published as part of my monthly Inside Public Service column on Shasta Scout. Would you like to receive free, nonprofit, independent and non-partisan news about Shasta County and beyond? Sign up here.

Here's wishing you spaciousness in your life, however you can find it!

Ed Note: This opinion piece is part of our Inside Public Service series which focuses on providing a window into the workings of government and public service, at a human level. Learn more about the series here.

One lovely fall afternoon, Carissa Adams (not her real name), joined me on Zoom from her backyard. She’s a journalist in the North State who recently started mentoring a new reporter in her organization. Although the sun played gently in the trees behind her, there was worry in her green eyes. “There’s this tendency that I have to think that I should be taking everything on. So anything that’s not fun, not easy, not good, or hard, I think I should be doing instead of asking my staff to do . . . It’s the flip side of being a very compassionate, empathetic leader.” 

Her shoulders slumped as she asked me, “I value that part of myself but how do I make space for myself without losing it? Right now there’s a tendency to believe that my main value to the organization is that I can work really hard, suffer a lot, and put myself last.”

I empathize completely as I also put myself last for nearly 40 years. Servant leadership is an extremely common leadership style in public service. Serve first. Lead second. Self last. The cost is burnout and overwhelm.

I asked Carissa what she might need to change about how she works to change her experience. She says, “I think it would be delegating the parts of my work that I know someone else can do at least as well as I can. Because right now, I’m doing at least three or four people’s worth of jobs.”

Her idea brings to mind Gay Hendricks’s framework for categorizing the types of work we do. In his book, The Big Leap, he describes four zones of functioning: 

  • Zone of incompetence – These are the things we don’t have the skills to do well or simply don’t understand. For instance, I’m a terrible athlete. Please don’t put me anywhere near a task that requires strength, stamina, or a ball unless you want someone to get injured through my incompetence.

  • Zone of competence – These are things we do okay, about as well as anyone else. I can probably troubleshoot a tech issue if you give me a YouTube video, but it’s certainly not something I’m great at.

  • Zone of excellence – These are the things we do really well, way better than most people. We receive rewards and praise, but if that’s all we do, it’s draining. For me, that’s administration. I can manage a team, write a report, and complete a project on budget and on time, but it wears me down. It’s not exciting or fun.

  • Zone of genius – This is the sweet spot where our uniqueness shines. We enter a flow state. We use our signature strengths. It feels natural, joyful, and creative. For me, that’s coaching, facilitating groups, and writing. I could do it all day. And even if I’m tired afterward, that tiredness is accompanied by a feeling of deep satisfaction and purpose.

I asked Carissa to get out a sheet of paper and list the things that fall into her zone of genius. What are the things she’s not only exceptional at, but that feels effortless, energizing, and easy?

She generated an extensive list and then noticed, “I tend to spend a fair amount of time on these, it’s just that I’m very stressed about all the things I’m not spending time on. The other things are still on my plate. So I’m either doing them late, procrastinating, doing them poorly, or doing them infrequently.”

We spent several minutes sorting all those stressful things into the other three zones. Then, I asked Carissa a crucial question, “If you went through this exercise with the reporter you’re mentoring, what would happen? What do you think would be in each of her different zones?”

Interestingly, several items that were in Carissa’s zone of genius and excellence were in the opposite categories for her mentee and several things her mentee excelled at were stressful to Carissa. “Definitely the areas of incompetence for me are areas of more excellence for her,” Carissa explained. 

“If I said, ‘Hey, let’s find a solution for how we’re going to stream videos. Are we going to buy a new phone? How much is the data plan going to be?’ Carissa continued. “She could do that in an hour and be done with it. Whereas I would probably take six weeks to mull the idea over before I even started.”

She realized that when considering what to delegate, she had been sticking closely to her mentee’s original job description, and holding onto any tasks that weren’t explicitly listed or that she herself hated most, without considering whether those were her mentee’s zone of genius. 

That’s when Carissa had her moment of insight: “I guess it’s important to remember how different we are. I can maintain generosity and compassion towards others without treating them the same way I would want to be treated because they’re not like me. After all, that’s what partnership and being on a team is all about.”

“I think there’s this toxic leadership idea in my head,” Carissa continued, “that I have to take on all the ‘worst things’ when the full joy of working with other people is that what we see as ‘hard‘ or ‘worst’ is different because we’re different!”

“What we’re good at is different,” she expanded, “and what we dread is also different. So by leaning into and admiring the differences, by seeing them, by creating space to talk about them and list them, we can then align our shared tasks to meet those differences so that nobody is doing too many things that drain their energy.”

Aha! With those ideas in mind, Carissa found a clear path forward. She imagined how she might have that conversation with her mentee. She envisioned how together they could structure their week so that both of them maximized time in their different zones of genius, while also reserving time to grow new strengths and get the grunt work done.

That left Carissa with one final question. “What about all the ideas I have that won’t end up on the list of things either of us actually have time for? Part of self-care for me is holding onto my dreams even if it’s not yet their time.”

I share the idea of creating a “someday maybe” parking lot, full of ideas that she may not have the space for right now, but are ready for a test drive once she can create the space for them. 

She responds, “What I really latch onto about what you’re saying there is that by making this virtual ‘parking lot’ I’m creating more space. I think of ‘someday maybe’ as ‘it’s never actually going to happen.’ And that’s partly because my life has involved a lot of putting other people’s dreams first. But as I think about this differently, limiting what I focus on today is actually a way to allow new space to open up in three months, six months, or two years to do the things I want on that ‘someday maybe’ list. That feels a lot more empowering.”

As a way to encourage Carissa, I share a math problem about draft horses to further emphasize the benefits of sharing a workload. If one horse can pull a dead weight of 5,000 pounds, how much weight can two horses can pull together? 10,000 pounds right? Yet a pair of draft horses can actually pull upwards of 15,000 pounds because there’s a mechanical advantage when they share the load. That maximum pull weight can increase even further when the pair trains together and develops a bond. 

Simply said, we can do more together than we can alone. That resonated with Carissa.

“A big part of that,” she added  “is, as a leader, learning that it’s not actually wise to try to pull all the weight yourself. After all, it’s when we pull in a team that the multiplication happens.”

“That means my job as a leader,” she continued, “is actually about strategically learning to let go.”


READ MORE: Additional Resources

Check out more Books by Gay Hendricks, Psychologist, Author

Alternatively check out this Franklin Covey ONLeadership Youtube Video where Scott Miller and Gay Hendricks speak on Enter the Genius Zone: Gay Hendricks

And if you want a TED talk that explains the Genius Zone check out how Business Matchmaker, Laura Garnett explains it here


BOOK STUFF: Book Club - New Books for the New Year

We picked two books for January and February.

We are hoping that some people will choose to read one, and others with choose to read the other, and maybe a select few will read both. 

Whichever book you choose to pick up is sure to be thought provoking. It’s absolutely okay to join us not having read the book.

Join us Thursday Jan 25th from 4-5PM PST. Please send your email address to if you are not already registered to join.



GOING FURTHER: Recording of Intention Setting Workshop

My gift to you...I'm sharing the recording of my best friend, Tutti Taygerly and I giving the intention setting workshop last month, so you can (re)experience them on your own. If you've ever set (and lost track of) your New Year's resolutions, instead consider taking 50 minutes and experiment with something different...allow us to guide you through a process to create your 2024 touchstone.

111 views0 comments


bottom of page