Believe it or not, your natural talents will unlock your success. Whatever you do best is what uniquely positions you for peak performance, regardless of your career or how competitive it may be.
This simple thought, which is the driving force behind Tom Rath’s book, StrengthsFinder 2.0, is the key to taking your performance to the next level. Just keep asking yourself this one question:
Are you doing what you do best every day?
Chances are this question doesn’t come up very often (or perhaps ever). Like most of us, you have been trained to think in terms of weakness, not strength. It is a message that has been reinforced with every advertisement (think about the face cream you didn’t know you needed), your child’s report card and performance review. In other words, you are trained to look for what needs to be fixed.
According to Rath, the best anyone can become by focusing on their weaknesses is mediocre. Why? Strengths act as a multiplier for hard work and practice. The leader who is naturally creative will see her leadership improve much faster when she employs creativity every day, versus the leader who focuses on creativity but whose strengths lie elsewhere.
When leaders focus on strengths, and dare to look beyond weaknesses, they can push beyond their expectations, transform their communication and relationships, and tackle the most difficult challenges.
For instance, John* is a lawyer juggling business development with his everyday practice. He does not enjoy cocktail parties or networking events. However, he is articulate, detail-oriented, and comfortable speaking in front of groups of people. Once he identified these strengths, he mapped out a business plan for his law practice that relies on publishing, speaking engagements and connecting with clients through education and professional development. The turning point for John, like so many others, occurred the moment he stopped worrying about business development activities that don’t play to his strengths. Putting down the golf clubs actually works to his advantage.
The irony is that focusing on weakness stifles confidence – a defining and essential ingredient for professional success. When you are confident in what you do well, you can stop making small gains with great effort.
The key, then, is to identify your strengths and then find the strengths of those around you (don’t forget your most junior employee and your assistant). Ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you a big thinker (but get lost in the details)? Delegate your administrative tasks, book a meeting with yourself each day to work on your ideas, and partner with someone who is strong at implementing to take charge of your ideas.
- Are you highly competitive? Set daily/weekly goals you find exciting, measurable and inspiring. Set a timer when you work and compete against yourself.
- Are you a strong self-starter? Take on new projects, propose new ideas, and request to lead or implement whenever possible, regardless of your role.
- Are you a great networker? Use this skill with everyone. Keep a virtual rolodex with personal details of your contacts, and keep in touch. Connect with those who are more introverted, find out their strengths, and appeal to them.
- Now ask yourself the same set of questions about your employees. Does this shift how you think about management?
Karen*, a leader of a team of thirty people, felt the weight of responsibility almost instantly lift when she stopped trying to be good at everything, and started delegating jobs according her staff’s individual strengths. Being promoted to leadership doesn’t require perfection. In fact, Rath and Barry Conchie, in Strengths Based Leadership argue that the best leaders are not well rounded but the best teams are.
And, if that is not convincing enough, Rath found that people who are able to focus on their strengths every day are six times as likely to be engaged in their work and more than three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life.
For your sake and your employees, don’t get stuck on weaknesses – determine what’s working and harness it. After all, who wants to get out of bed each morning for mediocrity?