I used to think that a measure of a person’s success was their ability to succeed at whatever they did. A measure that I held myself to highly, until recently. We need to be so multi-talented in our roles that we sometimes stretch ourselves to the limit. Personally, I have never met anyone who is good at everything. In fact over recent years strengths based leadership and learning has become prominent, as there is a shift in thinking towards the idea that we all have certain strengths that we bring to the table. But how do we know what we are really good at versus what we think we are good at?
It all began for me with Marcus Buckingham’s book, Now Discover Your Strengths from 2001. He introduced a great quiz style survey to identify your strengths. A more recent iteration of the book is Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath, which uses the same survey, but somewhat updated after years of feedback and research. Whichever book you read or even if you just do the test – it is a great way to figure out your strengths.
The concepts of focusing on your strengths and strengths based learning goes against what we are taught. From school-age we aim for straight As…or a distinction average at university etc…we’ve had performance management discussions on our “areas of improvement”. However very rarely do we focus on what we are good at, or even recognise the fact that we can’t be good at everything. There is a lot of research in the ‘strengths’ area particularly Zenger Folkman that show that by focusing on our strengths and building on them we increase or ability and performance overall as they are directly linked to confidence and outcome.
It all starts with self-awareness…understanding ourselves. Really thinking about what am I capable of? And here comes the activity…
Write down all the things that you think are your strengths. Then ask 10 people around you to (via email or conversation) what do they think your strengths are. Be careful who you ask. What I mean is, if you ask friends and family then they will respond on a more personal level. However if you are seeking to understand your professional strengths then you will need to ask people in those circles. Then compare the lists. Do the strengths that you have listed match up with how others see you?
Then is the time for reflection.
In the end I have accepted that being a straight A student does not make me any more successful than the next person…but knowing who I am and what my strengths are is much more powerful.