Updated: Jul 10, 2020
When was the last time you asked yourself that question? Do you know what your strengths are and do you play to them? This is another topic that’s come up in the last couple of weeks in my coaching work and something I’ve come to understand more about over the years. Which is that we typically don’t dedicate the time we should to leveraging and developing our strengths. We’ve been ‘trained’ to apply energy to development needs also.
My personal opinion is that this starts off in our school system. Here in the UK, we typically take 9-10 subjects throughout our time in school, which you then have to take exams against. This of course brings an expectation that you’re going to get good results across all those subjects, knowing that you’ll be narrowing it down to your 3-4 best subjects when you progress to sixth form/college. Only at that point do you have an opportunity to focus on your strengths and interests. Truth be told, even though I also took the 9-10 subjects as required, I only got good results in a smaller number of them, because they were the ones I was good at and enjoyed.
Then as I entered the workplace, your annual performance review would typically focus on both strengths and development needs (formerly known as weaknesses). Your manager would focus on those weaknesses when it came to putting together your personal development plan. I even fell into that trap when I was a manager. So again, not necessarily applying energy to strengths, but rather on things to improve. Maybe that’s just our human nature; looking more towards the negative first.
Then I was introduced to a book title Now, discover your strengths, which included access to Strengthsfinder, an online tool to help you understand your strengths. What for me that was powerful about reading this book, was that it encouraged you to put all your energy into understanding and building on your strengths. If you think about it, if you could increase the performance of an existing strength by 10% versus an existing weakness by 10%, which would provide the greatest return on your effort? I am assuming here that the weakness isn't fundamental to performing in your role. Such as being an accountant who isn't good with numbers,
"I can't change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination." – Jimmy Dean
To be clear, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have awareness of our weaker areas to enable us to find ways to manage them. It could be leveraging on one of your strengths to compensate for it or partnering up with other people who have that strength. You hear it talked about when it comes to hiring or building teams, you should be looking to develop complimentary skills within a team, rather than hiring in your own image. If you do decide to develop a weaker area, then make sure it’s for the right reasons and will give you the best return. An example for me recently was around hiring an accountant to run the financials for my business. I’m a very financially aware person and debated whether I should do it myself (why pay someone), but realised that there are many areas of running the financial in your own business that I don’t have a deep enough understanding off. So rather than putting effort into learning them, which would distract from my coaching, I found someone who could help.
Whenever I talk about this topic with people, I use this as an example. If someone asked me to join them in swimming the English channel, I know I’m not a great swimmer, but feel I’m good at supporting and motivating others. So rather than getting up at 5am every morning to go and do laps in a pool and train, I would focus my energy on how best to support that other person in achieving their goal to swim the channel, using my strengths.
Take a moment and think about your own strengths and whether you’re giving them the growth and attention they deserve. The returns are worth it.