Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Are you using your strengths?

I recently had an opportunity to work with a colleague to help explore her strengths and weaknesses and as a template, we used Marcus Buckingham’s Go Put Your Strengths to Work. It was an enlightening experience for me as it also provided me with an opportunity to examine my own strengths and weaknesses from an objective standpoint. In doing so, I had a few AHA moments that I knew existed but they really stood out this time as I helped my associate establish her own attributes.

How many of us REALLY know what our strengths are? Do we even know how to define strengths in general, as in what constitutes a strength? Do we perceive our actual strengths or do we have some filters on that cause us to identify things that are NOT our strengths but we think they are. Conversely, do we know what weakens us and how well do we avoid that which weakens us?

Many people feel that strengths are what you do well. However, Buckingham conjectures that strengths are not as much what you do well but that which you approach with energy and passion such that when you have completed a task that aligns with your strengths, you feel more energized than before you started. Sometimes what others perceive as strength in you may not actually be one.

I will share a personal example. Many people perceive me as a great mediator when two parties fall apart, since I am able to look at things from a different perspective, establish common ground between the parties and then use that common ground as a foundation to knit the parties back together.

However, truth be told that while I can do this very well, I get little satisfaction out of it outside of the good feeling that I met my social obligation as a human being helping another. I find the process somewhat frustrating since I see the silliness that brought people to that point in the first place and I find it draining to convince people to see what I believe to be OBVIOUS (and fight with them the whole way to help improve THEIR lives, although they see it as interfering while demanding my help at the same time). :-)

Now, if you ask me to get involved with people to help them learn the skills that they need to avoid being in that situation in the first place, that’s where you see my passion come alive. Sharing and learning proactive, collaborative living skills is a passion for me. I can go all day working with people on this subject and NEVER get tired.

In our day to day lives, we have opportunities to utilize our strengths, making every day powerfully fulfilling or we can cater to the whims and needs of others, doing things that either do not make use of our strengths and passion (or worse, appeal directly to our weaknesses – leaving us tired, bored and frustrated).

Crafting a role that aligns to your strengths takes courage. Many people could care less if what you do appeals to what makes you feel empowered. As long as they satisfy their own needs or they satisfy the needs of someone higher than them using what you provide, it is irrelevant to them whether or not you are using the skills, talent and knowledge that fuel your passion. However, it should be very important to YOU! If you don’t pay attention to this, it leads to mediocrity, poor results, lack of fulfillment and a whole slew of other issues.

What if you had a tool that showed you how to capture, clarify and articulate your strengths and weaknesses and to create a plan to execute more towards your strengths and less towards your weaknesses? Imagine if you were able to communicate to your peers and people above / below you what your strengths were and that by utilizing your strengths, the result of your work would be superior to what you are producing now and you would be a more valuable contributor to the needs of others.

Think how empowering that would be for you and for others that you work with and influence. Others would want to know your secret and as you share this process with them, they would also become more in alignment with their strengths; talents, knowledge, skills and passion for excellence and execution. More effective results would be produced and people would be far happier in the meantime.

Instead of relying on someone to do something for you even if producing it means they are at their wits end, you would find someone who actually derives self empowerment from doing it, freeing up the person you previously relied on to drive their passion in areas that make a more significant, profound impact on the team. Instead of blindly doing things for others because it is “what they want”, you can help them understand that you can provide better support if they request things in alignment with your strengths. It may be difficult to swallow at first, but it reaps huge rewards once people understand how to make each person a better contributor (based on their strengths).

You wouldn’t ask me to perform brain surgery on you. Would you ask a brain surgeon to operate on you if you know that while you are lying on the table, 95% of the doctor’s mind was on something else that REALLY fueled his or her passion? Either scenario would produce the same result.

How does one package this all together, to identify your strengths and weaknesses objectively, to create plans that use this information effectively to bring passion back to your personal and professional life and to communicate your new intentions to those around you? Start with Marcus Buckingham’s book Go Put Your Strengths to Work.

It is a powerful personal discovery process that will leave you excited (“I really like doing this and intend to do more of it”), angry (“Why have I wasted so many years doing this when I can’t stand it”), aware (“Aha, that’s why I never liked doing this before”) and self empowered (“The best way for me to contribute to those around me is by doing this”).

It’s a fabulous journey that I invite you to explore. If the process doesn’t produce deep conviction and emotion, you didn’t do it right. J If your work and your life are not producing passion to execute, to make a difference and to contribute to those around you, then it’s time to realign your Path!

Take care and be well.