The Corporate Leadership Council2 found that when people were encouraged to focus on their strengths, their performance improved by 36%, and yet when they concentrated on their weaknesses, performance dropped by 27%. Just imagine the uplift we could gain personally and across our businesses, if we could regularly harness our own strengths and those of our teams more.
So how can you discover your strengths?
The chances are when you find yourself at your best; you’re using your strengths. Those things that you’re naturally good at, you enjoy, and that also energise you. That energised piece is key. You’ll have learned to be good at a great many things over the course of your life, but not all of them will you enjoy or will energise you.
Sometimes, it can be difficult for us to identify our strengths. Often, we may not attach value to them or acknowledge them, assuming that the things that come so easily to us also come easily to others. Or we may have even lost connection to our strengths because we’re in a role that doesn’t play to them.
Ways to start identifying your strengths
There are many ways to start to identify your strengths. Take a few minutes to capture your thoughts on the following questions and notice what patterns and insights are there.
- What activities give you energy, and where do you feel at your best?
- What are the things that you love doing, that come easily or where you naturally excel?
- In what situations are you completely absorbed, and the time flies?
- What are regular compliments people give you?
- What topics occupy your mind when you have nothing else to think about?
It can also be beneficial to build out from this and:
- Ask for feedback from colleagues and friends, as others often see us differently from how we see ourselves
- Use a strength assessment tool like CliftonStrengths or the VIA Character Strengths Survey
Does this mean that weaknesses don’t matter?
In a word, no. Taking a strength-based approach doesn’t mean ignoring developmental areas. In a professional environment, everyone needs to operate at the level of competence required for their role. But we should evaluate how important our developmental areas are given the context of our work.
Often, thanks to our negativity bias, we place far greater attention on our weaknesses rather than on how we can optimise our strengths. Yet, we know when people focus their attention on their weaknesses, they’re far more likely to feel demotivated, dissatisfied, and consequently be less productive.
Keeping an eye out for over-played strengths
Like everything in life, playing to our strengths is about finding balance. Overused strengths quickly become weaknesses, and that can be problematic.
I know this from my own experience. One of my strengths is strategic thinking (it’s a happy place), yet too much time here runs the risk of inaction. So I’m constantly checking in on when, how, and how much I’m using my strengths, and what needs adjusting so I’m operating at an optimal level.
So looking at your strengths, when do they become overplayed and problematic for you? What’s the impact, and how can you spot and mitigate these?
Asking for feedback from our teams here is essential, as it can be difficult for us to see how our strengths may be impacting others.
Putting your strengths into action
Once you have a clear picture of your strengths, take a moment to reflect on:
- Each strength and how frequently you use each one. It can be helpful to scale them – 0 being never, to 10 being all the time. What do you notice here?
- What opportunities are there for you to harness these more through your work?
- And, what difference would that make to you, your team, and your organisation?
- Knowing all of this, what could you do next to bring your strengths more into play?
Creating a strengths-based culture
Understanding your strengths is just one piece of the picture if you’re a leader. The more we understand each person’s strengths in our team and as a collective, the better placed we are to create happier and higher performing teams and businesses3.
Harnessing your strengths as a superpower
Leadership can be tough at the best of times. Often it can be a lonely place, where confidence and resilience are regularly challenged. Understanding and harnessing our true strengths (those things that we enjoy and energise us) can help anchor us in who we are and what we bring as a leader, giving us greater confidence and enabling us to perform better. Let alone feel happier in our work.
Too often, we can discount our strengths or think we need to be the perfect leader and fix all our developmental areas, even if they’re not critical to doing our job well. If we can better understand our strengths and those of our teams, there is vast potential to tap into this hidden superpower.
Do you wish you felt more confident in your leadership ability? Then let’s have a chat about how coaching can help.
Govindji, R & Lindley, A (2007) Strengths use, self-concordance and wellbeing: Implications for strengths coaching and coaching psychologists. International Coaching Psychology Review, 2, 143-53
Langley Group (2015), Corporate Leadership Council, Performance Management Survey
Asplund, J & Blacksmith, N (2011) Productivity Through Strengths, The Oxford Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship