Strengths, Schmengths! (or, "I Don't Get to Use My Strengths Regularly at Work. Now What?")

woman factory worker circa 1939.jpg

Previously, I discussed how to put your strength to work. I also mentioned briefly that there might be some of you who, upon assessing your current situation, find that you have a deficit in your ability to use and grow your strengths in your current context.

You need to shift something. There are a few ways to do this that I mentioned briefly in my previous post. I'll now expand on each of them:

  1. Change Your Approach
  2. Change Your Perspective
  3. Change Your Role
  4. Change Your Environment

1. Change Your Approach

First things first, look in the mirror: Are you SURE you can't use your strengths in your current situation? What could you be doing to contribute to this reality? Are there assumptions you are making that are not based on actual observable facts and/or which you have not actually tested? 

Many times, we jump to conclusions about what is or isn't possible without actually fully examining the possibilities or even fully assessing the root cause of a (real or perceived) problem. So before throwing your hands up in despair or looking for a change in your situation, try to find as many different ways to examine, observe, and understand your current situation. You might find that the obstacles in your way were a figment of your imagination...

2. Change Your Perspective

If you are pretty certain that you are, in fact, blocked in some way from using your strengths in your current work situation, you might be able to use a technique called 'reframing' to help yourself change the situation in your favor. Reframing is looking at something using a different perspective, or lens, to change how you experience it.

Marcus Buckingham*, one of the leaders of the Strengths Movement, said this well in his book, Go Put Your Strengths to Work.  When you are faced with activities that are not supporting your strengths, Buckingham suggests you "[l]ook at the activity through the lens of one of your strengths, and you might well be able to transform its effect on you." Try to think of ways that this activity you loathe may work in service of one (or more) of your strengths rather than just seeing it in isolation. Says Marcus, "[i]f you loathe confronting people but love the feeling of follow-through, shift your perspective so that you see the confrontation as merely one step in following the project ... through to completion. If you loathe doing budgets but love being viewed as a vital member of the team, shift your perspective to see how doing the budget will ultimately help the team."

*Check out this picture of yours-truly with Marcus Buckingham when I produced his presentation here in DC for the Metro DC ASTD chapter back in 2007. It's a terribly blurry shot but I was so pleased to meet him. 

3. Change Your Role

Bottom line: if your current role doesn't allow you to use your strengths regularly, perhaps you need to shift your role to one that does! I know it's not that easy. Nothing worth doing is ever easy. But it's worth doing because of the endless returns you will receive by shifting from being in a place of working from weaknesses to a place of working from strengths. Look around the organization and start spying other roles that could let you shine. Think creatively about your current role and department, and think outside the box about other ways you could be doing work in service of the same mission but using other skills. Talk to your boss: you may be surprised that he or she will be willing to entertain shifting your role to have you add more value to the organization. It is a win-win proposition, after all. It's worth a shot.

And, if all else fails, there is always option #4...

4. Change Your Environment

If you've done all you can to change yourself, your perspective, your role within the organization, and it's still not working, you can always change your environment and take a different job. This is obviously not a decision to be made lightly as it has significant ramifications on many aspects of your life, but sometimes I'm saddened by people who resign themselves to a miserable job where they feel depleted and weakened every day because they don't want to consider this as an option. You are not an indentured slave. You are free to choose. You are free to make your life the best life it can be. And life is way too precious and short to be lived miserably or in the shadows of fear. You don't have to just jump into the dark, unknown abyss; you can craft a thoughtful exit strategy. But start now to plan your better future where you can live in your strengths, because you're worth it. And, since the world will benefit from your gifts more fully that way, the world also deserves it.

It's only too late if you don't start thinking about a plan NOW to find a way to use your strengths, daily, and to live a fuller, more enjoyable, more productive life.

What do you think? Please comment below with your thoughts, questions, and challenges. I would love to hear from you.

I'll leave you with this short video clip from Marcus Buckingham.

Photo credit: The Library of Congress via Flickr Creative Commons - it was taken circa 1939. I really like it!