Play to your strengths. Do what you love, love what you do. Build your strengths and weaknesses will take care of themselves. The world is awash with helpful advice isn’t it? It’s also full of feedback, self-doubt, real or perceived judgement, discrimination and struggle. So many people (and companies) operate with a deficit model – telling you what you’re bad at and articulating so clearly what will hold you back from being successful. Sounds pretty doom and gloom doesn’t it? What if we could balance the two? Finding a way where our strengths and weaknesses live in a bit of harmony – is it a viable reality or a far off utopia?
I’m team reality – I’m not an eternal optimist, I don’t have a permanent pair of rose tinted specs on and I don’t see the good in everybody. I do look around though (self confessed people watcher) and think surely there are more productive ways for us to live? I look and listen to Polly, who at the ripe old age of three and three quarters is just starting to be aware of the things she isn’t (and I quote) ‘not so good at’. I watch my much younger sisters who are growing up in a different world of social media, relentless technology and unhealthy comparison, and I think – surely, this isn’t going to end well? We’re feeding our own deficit model. We’re comparing ourselves to people we don’t know that we follow on social media – not just making ourselves feel bad that we don’t have their lifestyle, but in turn berating those ‘influencers’ for showing their lives in all their glory. That’s a post for another day that I’ll get round to soon, but for now I want to talk to you about strengths.
So, whaddaya know about strengths based development? I’ve learnt from the best what using this approach means – a fella called Paul. Dr Paul Brewerton is the head honcho/Managing Director over at The Strengths Partnership, and about seven years ago I went through an accreditation, lead by him, in his strengths methodology. I’ll pause for a second while we ask if it’s possible for me to use the word ‘strength(s)’ anymore times in a paragraph. I learnt more than I could put in a blog post and it’s fundamentally changed the way I look at development, coaching, bringing up kids and understanding other people, so bear with me.
I use this approach when I’m coaching so I thought I’d elaborate a little more so you can get an insight into me and the way I work. I’m going to tackle three things about this coaching method that should answer the major questions….
- Focusing on your strengths doesn’t mean you live in denial about your weaknesses. In corporate life I had to work hard with the pessimists to explain this – some got it, some still don’t but I pick my battles. Focusing on your strengths and what energises you doesn’t equal me saying that you don’t have weaknesses. You do. Sorry. However, how we address those weakness is what’s different. Dr P.B. has this great boat analogy to explain weaknesses, because some are limiting and some are allowable (i.e. some will sink your ship, some won’t). If I ever have the pleasure of coaching you, you in turn will have the pleasure of seeing me recreate his artistry to explain it – but for now words will suffice. I’d sum it by saying; some weaknesses need to be dealt with and some don’t. Those that hold you back are the ones we need to rectify and the way we do that is to use your strengths.
- You can figure out what energises you and when you’re at your best. When you use your strengths, the things that set you on fire and make you feel like you could take on the world – that’s when you’re at your best. This was a wake up call for me – I sat and looked at my strengths profile and attributes that I would have described as strengths were way down the list. As I learnt more about what this piece of paper meant, I learnt so much about myself – they were things I was skilfully good at but they weren’t things that energised me. In fact they were the polar opposite – they left me drained. Now clearly I couldn’t suddenly stop doing them because I’d have been failing at my job if I did, however what it did mean was that I could start to plan my days better. I sandwiched the things I loved doing with the things I knew would leave me feeling ready to burn out. I knew I was at my most productive first thing in the morning so I tackled the rubbish then rather than go up against it when I was feeling sluggish to avoid the inevitable procrastination. It spills over into home life too which is always a bonus.
- Strengths can be overplayed. Too much of a good thing is the phrase I’ll use here. We look at strengths in overdrive – when they just get too much and what was a blessing becomes a curse. I looked at any remotely negative feedback I’d been given over the years along with the cause of arguments with my other half…most of them revolved around when my strengths had gone way too far. Like I said before, we’re not saying that weaknesses don’t exist but we explain and therefore tackle them in a different way. Whether it’s a strength in overdrive that you need to learn to harness or it’s a straight-up gap that needs filling, using your strengths makes it a much nicer experience to fix.
Using this approach isn’t a silver bullet. It takes time, practice and understanding but once you’ve had a few goes at focuses on what energises you, you really do feel the difference. Where, when and how you spend your time at home and at work becomes a little more scientific to begin with but habits will form pretty quickly. You remind yourself what it’s like when you feel good and when you’re at your best just how brilliant life can be.
As well as basing my own business around the using your strengths I’m also an associate with The Strengths Partnership. This blog post isn’t an ad, sponsored or being used as an affiliate link, I just really love it.