The Art of Doing the Right Things
(click below to view the video or read on if you’d prefer!)
Hello and welcome to Career Tips! If you are a regular subscriber, then you may recall that last month’s article was entitled “The Art of Getting the Right Things Done” and focused on personal effectiveness tips. I offered it in the context of helping you make progress with respect to your 2014 work objectives (though a bit of personal effectiveness at home wouldn’t hurt either!). This month’s article is in the same vein insofar as it focuses on your strengths. Indeed, we all know that we ought to play to our strengths but how do we pragmatically do that? And what are our strengths anyway? Here are five tips so you really play to your strengths.
1. Knowing your strengths
Try this exercise. Recall an experience during which you struggled. Now describe it: as you do so, record it – most smart phones will easily allow you to tape yourself. No need to spend more than 5 minutes. When you are done, take a deep breath and now remember an experience during which you felt at your best. And describe it again while you tape yourself. Start feeling the difference.
Now play back the two recordings. They should sound significantly different. And I am not just talking about the substance of the stories: in fact, what I really mean is that you will sound different when you tell a story of struggle from when you sound when you tell a story of you at your best. The sound of your voice is likely to seem dejected, hesitant, heavy on the first recording whereas it is likely to seem clear, focused and maybe even a bit passionate in the second recording. Do you hear the difference?
It is also likely that your choice of vocabulary will be richer in the second recording with more elaborate language being used. You should also come across as relaxed. In short, the difference between the two recordings is one of energy. When we recall an experience of being at our best, we implicitly mention one or more strengths. And when people talk about their strengths – whether the strength(s) is/are labelled or not – they come across as energised and vibrant, they speak a bit louder, they talk on for longer and their body language is confident.
So to know your strengths, the trick is not to write down a list of the strengths you think you have but rather to recall peak moments, stories of you at your best, when you were, as they say, in the zone, moments during which you lost track of time. Reconnect to the energy you felt at that moment. A strength helps you perform without effort; in fact, it propels you.
2. Dialling up some of your strengths
The peak moment technique to find your strengths will yield results such as “I was really paying attention” which is the strength of listening. But also “I identified a new way forward” which is about creativity. The labels are secondary so long as you are able to better connect to your strengths. Most of us have in fact only a vague understanding of what our strengths are so avoid the intellectual route and simply think of your stories of being good at something AND feeling energised. Indeed, we can perform and feel drained. More on what that is later. When you know your strengths, you can start thinking about how to play to them better than you do now.
Think of your strengths thanks to your stories of success and consider using your strengths in new situations. For instance, you are indeed a good listener but you have noticed that you struggle to speak up in meetings, how might your listening strength help you? Well, you could feed back what you heard while you were listening. Many people don’t listen so showcase your strength of listening and impress! It will also be easier for you to open your mouth to share what you heard than to offer an idea.
When you know your strengths, you can choose which to dial up and use more often.
3. Avoiding strength over-use
There are two things which exhaust us: trying to use a weakness to do something but also over-using a strength. While I recommend you make better use of your strengths than you do currently, be wary of strength over-use.
Continuing with the example of the good listener, if that person constantly emphasizes listening, to the near exclusion of other strengths, they will eventually find listening hard. Their natural talent will deplete itself. So while using our strengths nourishes us, energises us, strength overuse will drain us.
So make sure you identify several strengths and then astutely choose which ones to dial up depending on the circumstances you face. Vary your strengths and therefore preserve them.
4. Substituting learned behaviours
I mentioned earlier that it is possible to perform without that feeling of energy which comes from using one or more strengths. That’s because our learned behaviours will also allow us to do well but they, unlike, our strengths, sap our energy. Can you think of something you are good at but which leaves you feeling really tired?
Learned behaviours are ways of being which allow us to achieve and which we have therefore integrated into our behaviour patterns. But while learned behaviours often lead to rewards, they also tire us out – in the extreme, they lead to burn out. So how about using a strength instead?
Let’s return to the challenge of speaking up in meetings. I had that challenge and I would force myself to speak up. There is a dictionary of strengths where you can find that of spotlight which denotes the person’s natural ability to take centre-stage. Well, for me, spotlight was a learned behaviour and it would leave me both exhausted and frustrated. When I connected to my strength of counterpoint, I was able to turn my life around: counterpoint is the strength of bringing another, fresher, perspective to any situation. I am able to naturally identify more options, more alternatives, more possibilities. And when I do that, I feel good about myself, I feel authentic and speaking up is no longer an issue.
Playing to your strengths is also about retiring some rewarding but tiring behaviours.
5.Making your weaknesses irrelevant
Let’s take stock. Playing to your strengths first means identifying them, then making use of some of them in new situations, all the while using a variety of strengths to avoid the risk of over-use, as well as deploying your strengths in situations where you currently use one or more learned behaviour(s). In this last tip, let’s take this approach to the next and final stage: if we can use strengths instead of learned behaviours, how about using strengths instead of weaknesses? This does not get rid of the weakness, but it bypasses it.
There are two ways of doing that. The first is similar to what I described in tip #4: find a strength which can be substituted. If I had not had a learned behaviour which allowed me to speak up in meeting, then spotlight would have been the weakness to overcome and counterpoint the remedy. But sometimes strength substitution is not possible. Then look for strengths in others: colleagues can be a boon. Many folks who lack the strength of detail – that capacity to easily spot inaccuracies – risk underperforming in a work context. To those people, I say “look around you and find your detail-strong colleague: then ask them to review your work and spot your mistakes”. Chances are you will have a strength your colleague lacks and the two of you can strength-share! That’s what diverse team do.
So there you have it, five tips to help you spot your strengths, dial them up, and substitute them for learned behaviours and weaknesses. Also avoid strength-overuse and don’t hesitate to leverage others’ strengths (another term is delegation…) Any comments or reactions to some of these tips? Do you already know your strengths well? If so, how do you go about leveraging them? Feel free to comment below. Conversely, if you have a question or comment, you can of course email me by clicking here.
If this article resonated with you, don’t hesitate to contact me for a chat where we would explore what is going on for you and what you would like to have happen. To contact me, click here.
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