If you struggle with identifying your strengths and playing to them, you are not alone. Throughout the course of your life, it is highly likely that you might have received lots of negative or corrective feedback that focused on pointing out and fixing your weaknesses rather than highlighting your strengths. The problem with this approach is that focusing on fixing weaknesses does not help you to flourish and succeed and is more likely to drive feelings of frustration and dissatisfaction with self. And while nothing is wrong with trying to understand and address your weaknesses, the focus on weaknesses can distract you from investing time and attention on your strengths and the things that you do really well.
So, do you know what your strengths are?
Importance of Knowing Your Strengths
According to Marcus Buckingham, “a strength is not what you are good at, and a weakness is not what you are bad at. A strength is an activity that strengthens you. It draws you in, it makes time fly by while you’re doing it, and it makes you feel strong.” Therefore, Buckingham makes the point that “when individuals understand what strengthens them and actively use their strengths daily, they can lead much more rewarding and fulfilling lives. Knowing your strengths also offers you a better understanding of how to deal with your weaknesses and helps you gain the confidence you need to address them.” In fact, research tells us that employees that receive feedback on their strengths and have opportunities to use their strengths at work are more engaged, productive, and more likely to stay in their jobs and with their organizations.
But before you can you play to your strengths and use them; you must be able to identify them or know what they are. So, what are your strengths?
Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and these differ from individual to individual. To identify your strengths, pay attention to those areas that you consistently perform excellently in and frequently get compliments about. Your different types of strengths might be related to your character, your talents (natural abilities you are born with) or skills you developed through training. At work, your strengths can include the ability to plan and organize, solve problems, work effectively with others or IT skills. In your everyday life, your strengths can include kindness, optimism, listening skills and your ability to communicate clearly and effectively.
Playing to Your Strengths
If you got a list with your strengths and your weaknesses, which one would you focus on first? While popular wisdom would suggest that you focus on what you do best and what helps you flourish, many people focus on their weaknesses because messages about what they do bad are stronger than messages that highlight what they do well. This is partially because negative information and emotions have a deeper effect on individuals than positive information and emotions. For example, think about that time when you brought home a report card to your parents with mostly great grades and one or two bad grades? How did they respond? Which grades did they focus on more? And if you are a parent, when your child/dren brings home a report card, what do you focus on? In either scenario, chances are the poor grade(s) got more attention as it was deemed more urgent or important to fix. This approach carries over to work and everyday life and results is far greater attention being placed on areas of poor /low performance than areas where individuals and teams perform excellently. And this unbalanced approach causes people to focus more on weaknesses to fix what is wrong, rather than emphasizing or expanding that which is good and great.
So, does this mean you should ignore your weakness? Not necessarily. It is important to identify your deficits and address those areas where you need to grow, change and improve. However, having an awareness of your faults does not improve your performance or happiness. Gallup reports that people who use their strengths every day are three times more likely to report having an excellent quality of life, six times more likely to be engaged at work, 8% more productive and 15% less likely to quit their jobs. Therefore, to become the best version of yourself at work and have a full and meaningful personal life, you need to be engaged in activities that allow you to shine and do the things you love and are naturally good at.
How to Play to Your Strengths
Having established the importance of playing to your strengths at work and in your everyday life, how do you find opportunities to do the things that invigorate you or move you in the direction of positive change? If you are struggling to pinpoint what your strengths are, use the following steps from HBR to identify your strengths and play to them:
- Identify respondents and ask them for feedback: Collecting information on your strengths from a variety of sources (friends, family and coworkers) will provide insights about your special skills and talents and examples of when they have observed in action. Start with 3 persons and ask them for feedback.
- Recognize patterns: When you receive the feedback, look for common themes or patterns in the feedback. As you do this, observe yourself and notice your patterns and behaviors and then organize all the information into a table where you can review it.
- Compose Your Self-Portrait: The next step is to write a description of yourself that summarizes the information you have collected. The description should weave themes from the feedback together with your self-observations and create a portrait of who you are at your best.
- Redesign Your Job and Life: Having identified your strengths, be intentional about seeking opportunities at work that will enable you to utilize your strengths or incorporate them in the way you do your job. Additionally, you can use volunteering as a way of sharing your talents and skills, serving your community, and making a difference.
In conclusion, while it might seem strange or uncomfortable to just focus on your strengths, remember that focusing on strengths does not mean you are to ignore your weakness and blind spots. You should always be seeking to improve your self awareness through a knowledge of your strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for growth. But by choosing a mindset that focuses on investing in, nurturing and developing your strengths, rather than weaknesses, you are more likely to get better. And you will become more able to recognize strengths in others and lead a happier and more successful life.
Until next time, Remember, ItsALearningLife!