Why is it that we almost always focus on our weaknesses first and often ignore our strengths? Why is that we are quite aware of our weaknesses and but are not clear on our strengths? We have been brought up in that way. Very early in school our teachers and parents made us focus on our least favourable grades. Our managers are drilling down on our challenges in our performance reviews as an area of growth.
When it comes to education and work performance, focussing on weaknesses has been ingrained in our habits. We put so much work into growing intellectually and professionally, yet we focus on the one thing that holds us back from being successful and reaching our potential: our weaknesses. It doesn’t make sense. The competitive sports world has figured this out for a long time. When a professional swimmer’s strongest discipline is freestyle and weakest is breaststroke, the swim coach is not going to focus on breaststroke to improve the discipline a little tiny bit but still not being competitive. They are focussing on freestyle to win the next heat!
Focussing on our weaknesses only enables us to achieve incremental improvement. Focussing on our strengths and playing to our strengths will bring us exponential growth.
Let’s bust some myths and get clarity on why we need to focus on our strengths. Some of these examples are based on Marcus Buckingham’s research (https://www.marcusbuckingham.com)
Myth: I will be most successful when focussing on my weaknesses. How can a focus on something we see as bad help us succeed? When we are bad at something and we work really hard to get better at it, the outcome will be that we are just less bad at it. But never great! For some reason we think that we should focus on our weaknesses, invert them and expect success…it just doesn’t work like that. Our weaknesses tell us nothing about our strengths our success. Truth: My greatest opportunity of growth comes out of my strengths, not my weaknesses.’
Myth: strengths are what I am good at and weaknesses are what I am bad at. Truth: strength is an activity that makes us feel strong, weakness is an activity that makes us feel weak. You can be good at something but if it doesn’t light you up and you hate doing it, it is, in fact, a weakness. That’s when people say: ‘I am really good at my job, but I hate it’ and that’s not sustainable. Or you can be bad at something, but you really love it. We call that a hobby. Nothing wrong with that but it will be hard to get paid for it.
Myth: My personality changes as I grow older. Truth: As I am growing older, I become more of who I already am. Another reason to become aware of our strengths (and weaknesses) as our personality is only going to become stronger with time and we can play to our strengths even more. It’s about channelling these strengths to be more productive.
Myth: some strengths are ‘good’ and some are ‘bad’. Truth: strengths are value neutral. For example, ‘being a direct communicator’ can help a leader to achieve fast and precise outcomes. But it can also mean that the leader comes across as brash and abrupt. Truth: strengths are value neutral and a matter of perspective.
Myth: a good team member does what it takes to help the team. I see many team leaders putting their own or the strengths of a team member aside for a team. What applies to an individual also applies to teams. Find out your team members’ strengths and let them play to it. That’s when your team is more than the sum of its parts. Truth: a good team member deliberately volunteers their strengths to the team most of the time.
I have developed these 5 practical steps to leverage your strengths for exponential growth:
Find out what your strengths and weaknesses are. We often think that others are the best judges of our strengths. After all, our teachers, our parents and our managers have been telling what these are. I think it’s always good get an outside perspective but the work on awareness has to come from us. Here is what I suggest:
- Based on the fact that a strength is an activity that makes us feel strong, consider your activities (at work) and look to how you feel before, during and after the activity. Divide them into ‘I feel strong when…’ and ‘I feel weakened when…’ categories
- Use a strengths list to help you with ‘strengths words’
- Ask people around you (from work and personal life) to give you feedback why they like working with you
- Strengths assessments like: http://www.viacharacter.org/www/ are helpful assessment tools too
You can do a combination of strengths finding but make sure that the strengths line up with activities that make you feel strong.
Make an intentional choice of what you want to focus on, your strengths or your weaknesses. Remember, you have a choice. If you are made to do activities all day that make you feel weak, you might want to consider if these activities, or the job, is right for you.
Get laser-focussed on the strength and activity you want to make front and centre in your life. It is going to be difficult to implement and work on all your strengths. Focus on one activity per week.
Develop a strategy to leverage your strengths. Write it down.
Some tips for planning activities around strengths and weaknesses:
- Leverage – continue to do these activities, do more of them, do them more intentionally, leverage off those strengths and make sure others in your team and organisation know you have these strengths
- Learn – learn a new skill around this strength, read or take a course
- Expand – build your career or job around strengths, plan for the future, the sky’s your limit
- Stop doing an activity, don’t waste your tim
- Team up with others who are strengthened by the activity
- Offer up a strength to steer your job towards it.
Intentionally do one activity that frees up a strength or stop one activity that holds it back. Also perceive your weakness from a different perspective. Sometimes we have to do something we don’t like but we see the greater good and get on with it. Such is life.
If you want to work with me contact me firstname.lastname@example.org