December 10, 2014

How to play to your strengths this year

By Paul Laughlin

This book is more of a resource toolkit than a narrative read, but it is one that I’ve found useful for my own development & when coaching clients.

It’s a book for which you’ll want your own copy, not just because you want to make notes & complete the cover with your top 5 strengths, but also because each book has a unique code for you to use to complete an online ‘strengths finder’  test.

That test is grounded in the Positive Psychology movement and in fact, this pocket-sized book is dedicated to the ‘father of strengths psychology’, Dr Donald Clifton. The first 30 pages of the book explain the benefits of focussing on your strengths rather than your weaknesses. I have seen this to be true with many of my coaching clients. Too many leaders in business are encouraged to flagellate themselves about perceived weaknesses or have to focus on developing areas where they don’t have natural strengths.

Why playing to your strengths makes sense

This can be self-defeating for two reasons: first, it often fails – you are asking the person to ‘swim upstream’ against their natural personality which is rarely sustainable; second, that it means people assume they have to be like others in the organisation & so often neglect to play to their natural strengths where they could really excel.

Fortunately, more progressive employers are beginning to see the value of diversity in workforces & realising that high performing leaders will be ‘spiky’, not meaning difficult to deal with but rather they excel in certain areas & are weaker in others. It also feels easier & more fun to embrace your natural strengths & play to those in how you achieve your goals – so it’s much easier to maintain motivation.

34 possible strengths to identify

The majority of this book is then a reference guide for each of the 34 strengths which anyone may find identified by taking the Strength Finders online questionnaire. That test helps you identify your top 5 strengths (based on your ‘gut reaction’ quick honest answers) and usefully when you remove the dust cover, the front cover of this little hardback has space for you to write your top 5 strengths. For me, those are:

  • Input
  • Ideation
  • Futuristic
  • Learner
  • Communication

It’s important for the achievers/perfectionists amongst us to realise that there are no right or wrong answers here, no ideal list of strengths that are better to have than others. The point of this approach is to find the combination of 5 which fit you. All 34 strengths have benefits and if you can restrain any natural inclination to think in terms of implied weaknesses (because we are all so used to criticising ourselves) then you can embrace the opportunities these natural strengths give you.

Learning about each of your strengths

For each of the 34 there is a short chapter in this book, easily found due to bars printed like labels on the sides of pages (and listed in alphabetical order). Those chapters include common information for each strength:

  • A description of the strength, expanding on the name & describing your internal experience.
  • What that strength “sounds like”, 2 or 3 verbatim descriptions from people with that strength, of how they experience it.
  • Ideas for action – around 10 practical suggestions for things you can do to play to that strength (in work & wider life).
  • Working with others who have …”, some suggestions for colleagues who work with someone who has this strength as to how to get the best out of them.

Time & time again I’ve seen this approach and the resources in this book be practically helpful. It can suggest habits to establish, ways to approach your work or even new careers to seek, that will help you leverage those strengths. My own experience and the majority of my clients is also that the 5 strengths (or at least 4 of them) ‘ring true’, they feel like you. In fact I have known clients describe the descriptions as ‘uncanny’ or ‘spookily true’.

A recommended resource for coaches & clients

I heartily recommend this resource, both for individuals and for those coaching others. It can provide a rich vein of material to reflect upon. More importantly, it can help you know yourself better and embrace the person you find. As some famous coaches would say, it helps you find your ‘flow’ and go with that.