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Leveraging your Strengths

Updated: May 14, 2021

Satisfaction. Productivity. Sense of purpose. Growth. Balance. Got your interest?

Want to enhance these in your life? Have a look at your strengths. Current research shows that only 12% of people in the workplace play to their strengths. What is everyone else doing? Focusing on what they are not doing well, could do better, or don’t like. This creates a negative mindset which impacts performance, efficiency and passion for work and life.

Our key strengths are the things that are inherently strong in us, that we enjoy doing well, and that make us excited about our day. These strengths are within us, not learned. They relate to the core of who we are. For instance, you may have a strength in details. If you understand that strength and use it, you will reap incredible benefits – from an individual, team and organizational perspective. That’s what makes using key strengths so powerful: Everyone wins.

Using your strengths from an individual perspective:

If you’re detailed-oriented, and you use that at work, you’re getting to do all the things you love doing. If you manager knows you enjoy working with details, he or she should be giving you a lot of detail-focused work. When you feel really good about what you’re doing, your satisfaction will increase – and so will your productivity.

Using your strengths from a team perspective:

You may know that someone on your team is good with numbers. Someone else may have a strength in teambuilding. Then, in project or team work you’d know which person has a strength in the required area and can solicit their participation. We all like to do things that leverage our strengths – and build a sense of teamwork. As a team member, if numbers are not your strength, it’s clear what person you should talk to.

Using your strengths from an organizational perspective:

When employees concentrate on their strengths, everyone performs at a higher level, increasing productivity. This has a positive effect on the ever-so-important bottom line. Employees who are happier have reduced absenteeism and longer on-the-job tenure. The organization in turn has decreased turnover and costs.

Playing to Strengths vs. Focusing on Weaknesses

During your performance appraisal, what feels better – when your manager says, You need to do this better; take a course, or read a book to improve. Or, you’re amazing at this and I want you to do more of it. When we play to strengths we’re better off and happier.

If you have a job objective that’s not a strength, find someone who has that strength and leverage it. If you’re not good with budgets, find someone who is strong in budgeting and work with them on it. Then take on something that leverages your strengths.

Take a look at this case study: Jane is a senior support person with a multi-million dollar company. She has worked herself into this position, moving up the ladder in her organization. Organizing and detail are her key strengths. But she’s now been thrust into more of a leadership role overseeing several projects. As Jane oversees these projects she has been directed to create a sense of teamwork, identify high-level overall objectives, and monitor the progress of the key steps in each project.

Jane feels frustrated. She feels limited to seeing only the big picture and feels the need to understand more details and get involved in the day-to-day progression. In essence she needs to get out of the high-level picture and get into the day-to-day details. Once she identified her strengths – organization and detail – she realized they were being underutilized in these projects. Realizing this, she harnessed the strengths of others on her team to make these projects a greater success. This allowed her to focus much more on the details and organization by taking on smaller chunks in greater detail rather than on the high-level process and objectives.

Not only did Jane’s satisfaction increase, her teams’ productivity increased and the timeline of the projects decreased, because each team member was working to his or her strengths. An unanticipated result: People began to approach Jane and ask to be part of these projects.

When teams work with their strengths, they become more comfortable and people around them ask: What’s different? They see energy, enthusiasm, less conflict, more harmony, and people talking one-on-one.

Think of a time when you were in a role you didn’t connect with, say, finance. You were likely unhappy and unproductive, both at work and at home. If your manager told you, I want you to use your strength, you’d feel better. Multiply that by a team of 10; the energy vibration of the team increases when everyone is in sync.

There’s an understanding that this person is great at this. Teams stay together longer, which is terrific from an organizational perspective. It’s no secret that it costs more to hire a new employee than to keep a current one.

This all means that we need to be better at identifying our special strengths. Here are some important tips to get you started:

Survey people who know you best and ask about your key strengths and how you demonstrate them.

Choose people who know you best: parents, siblings, childhood friends, co-workers and your manager. Ask what they see as your top 3 strengths and how they see each demonstrated.

Ask three clients what they see as your top 3 strengths.

Ask yourself: What are my top 10 strengths?

Take those lists, look for commonalities and validate them.

Observe your own strengths. For one week, every time you feel as if you’re in total alignment, being used in a positive way, write that down. In some way one of your strengths is likely being used. At the end of that week look for commonalties in the strengths you noted.

Summarize your strengths and create a master list. Ask yourself:

What am I already doing that’s aligned with my strengths?

What do I want to continue doing?

What resources do I need to implement my strengths?

What do I need to do less of or stop doing?

Where are you not using that you could be using?

If you say, I’m not using my key strength when I work with teams, that statement can facilitate a great conversation with your manager. Tell your manager: I want to do more of this in my job – in order to perform even better, have a greater contribution to the team and help you and our department look even better!

Write down your strengths and post them wherever you will see them most: on your bulletin board, in your planner or on your bathroom mirror. Take them wherever you go. When you’re in a meeting, working with others on a project, ask yourself: Is this the best use of my strengths? If you’re afraid to take on a project, but it does use your strengths, then step up to it. You will likely have a moment of euphoria, “Oh, now I’m aligned.” It’s a great feeling.

Every day, ask yourself: how can I use my strengths today?

You will end up making fundamental choices. It may open up possibilities for other roles in your organization. You might even discover your current job is not where you want to be!

What if your manager sees things in you that you know are not your strengths?

You might be presenting a very competent self in that area, but the truth may be that it is neither fulfilling nor a good use of your strength. Your manager wants his/her team members to be happier and more productive in their jobs. So seize the opportunity to let him know what you want more or less of. It works in everybody’s favour.

Identifying your core strengths can be life changing. You can move into the role that best utilizes your strength and have impact not just at work – but on every part of your life. So grab the reigns, take charge and live your life playing to your strengths!

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