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!


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Putting Your Strengths to Work

working on shoes.jpg

Here are some tips to help you become more fulfilled and happier in your (work)life:

1.  Identify and learn more about your top strengths

In a previous post here, I discussed how important it is to understand your own top strengths. Don't just assume - take the time to truly assess and understand what your motivations are and what makes you fulfilled. Without these lessons, you will be like a ship without a captain.

2.  Assess your environment and your key activities 

Do your workaday environment and work role give you the chance to be you - to fully, regularly express, develop, and maximize your top strengths? Write down ways in which you already use your top strengths at work. Then try to think of new ways you hadn't yet considered, and add them to your list.

3.  Talk about it

While how, when, and how much you will be able to talk about strengths will vary from job to job and depend highly on the context and the situation, each of us can find opportunities to share our strengths with those we spend a lot of time with at work. Talk about your strengths with your manager, your staff, and your peers. Be curious about their strengths and encourage open communication about what makes each of us unique and powerful. Talk about what supports you would like to have or new opportunities you would like to explore that you've identified as ways to further leverage and develop your strengths. Be open to other ideas and explore suggestions from your colleagues. The more external support and understanding you can gain, the more successful you will be at infusing your work with opportunities to use your strengths.

4.  Make a development plan and follow it

To change behavior, you must create an action plan and specific goals or else nothing will really happen. Know exactly what you want to change, why, and how to do it. Then mindfully and consistently implement your plan.

- What do you need to do more in order to really leverage and develop your strengths at work? 

- What do you need to do less of in order to allow your strengths to grow?

- What needs to change? Who needs to support you? What resources will help you in your quest?

- How will you track your progress? What are deadlines and milestones to focus on?

- How will you celebrate small and large accomplishments of these goals and milestones?

5.  Assess your progress regularly

Schedule a regularly occurring appointment with yourself to check on your progress - once a month, or once a quarter, depending on your preferences and situation. This may simply mean setting aside a block of time to focus and journal about your experiences, or it may be a time to discuss them with a trusted mentor, coach, or colleague. Be sure to consider some of these questions:

- What were your goals? What progress have you made?

- What worked and what didn't?

- What obstacles inevitably arose and how did you handle them?

- What are some potential future obstacles and what can you do to plan around them or overcome them?

- What are new goals, tasks, and deadlines that you will work on to keep your plan active and alive?

- When will you schedule your next self-assessment?

What if My Current Job Doesn't Allow Me to Maximize My Strengths?

If your assessment of your current situation shows that you have a deficit in your ability to use and grow your strengths, you need to shift something. There are a few ways to do this:

  • Change Your Approach
  • Change Your Perspective
  • Change Your Role
  • Change Your Environment

In my next post, I will discuss these ideas in greater depth. I would also love to get some input from you about ways you have shifted your situation to allow for your strengths to shine - write your thoughts in the comments!

Photo ByXavier Fargasvia Flickr Creative Commons

Update

on 2011-01-26 17:05 by TalentGrow

A great question came in via email from a reader, so I thought I'd share it and my answer.

Q:  "I know it is all good advice. Do you know anyone who has ever actually done any of it?

I know I have advised many people in the past to use a written method for planning and progress monitoring (regardless of what the motive has been or should have been) and I have yet to see someone actually doing it.

So to me – the biggest question is how do you get someone to follow through on this kind of an advice?"

A:  "Good question. Unfortunately, most of the time I get to teach people about techniques and then leave them to implement on their own, so I don’t get to see the implementation. I do know two things:

  • People who are strongly self-motivated to change will do it on their own. People who are not, or not good at self-motivation, will not.
  • If there is someone around them who can support their effort – help them stay accountable, ask them about it, cheer them on, provide some ‘positive external pressure’ – they are much more likely to succeed. So – if others are making the change and they can form a support group of sorts – all the better. If they have a good manager or mentor who helps them, they can succeed. This is actually where the professional coach can make ALL the difference – it’s the missing link between learning and applying. People who have a coach are very likely to do this.

Thanks for reading, thinking, and interacting with me about it!

Halelly"

Do you have a question, too? Shoot! :)


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You Might Also Like These Posts:

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Do You Get to Use Your Strengths in Your Work?

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One of the things I'm most grateful for is that I get to use my strengths regularly in my work. Do you?

What is a Strength?

According to Marcus Buckingham, an expert on strengths, the anatomy of a strength is

Talent + Knowledge + Skills = Strength

Wherein

Talents: innate patterns of thought, feeling or behavior (cannot be learned)

Knowledge: facts and lessons learned

Skills: the steps of an activity. HOW you do something.

According to Tom Rath of Gallup the formula is similar but stated a little differently:

Talent x Investment = Strength

Wherein

Talents: innate patterns of thought, feeling or behavior (cannot be learned)

Investment: time spent practicing/developing skills and building knowledge 

Why You Should Strive to Work to Your Strengths 

You can be happier and fulfill your greatest potential in your one life to live, that's why. And, you'll do a better job for your employer, to boot. Western society tends to harp on finding and correcting weaknesses and blind-spots. The Strengths Movement seeks to shift that habit: instead of focusing on energy and time on CORRECTING your weaknesses, merely work to NEUTRALIZE them. Spend your precious energy and limited time on cultivating your strengths instead, because that is where flourishing will happen. No one ever flourishes by focusing all their efforts on things they don't do well and don't enjoy.

Hugh MacLeod (aka @gapingvoid) draws quirky cartoons for a living. It's what he loves doing and does very well. He has recently illustrated this idea quite well in this graphic.

How to Identify Your Strengths

There are a few instruments on the market that can help you identify your top strength. They use slightly different terminology and number of total strengths in their inventories. Ultimately, however, the themes that emerge should be similar. Here are two of my favorites:

The VIA Character Strengths Survey is free of charge and was developed by Chris Peterson, PhD, one of the pioneers of the Positive Psychology field.

My top 5 VIA signature strengths:

  1. Curiosity and interest in the world
  2. Judgment, critical thinking, and open-mindedness
  3. Love of learning
  4. Creativity, ingenuity, and originality
  5. Capacity to love and be loved

StrengthsFinder2.0 was developed by the Gallup Organization and requires a purchase of the StrengthsFinder2.0 book, which helps explain all of the strengths.

My top 5 StrengthsFinder2.0 strengths:

  1. Learner
  2. Input
  3. Ideation
  4. Intellection
  5. Individualization

See the pattern?

Find Your Strengths and Use Them Daily!

Go find out what your strengths are, and answer this question:

"Do you get to use your strengths in your work every day?"

Watch this blog for an upcoming post with more suggestions on HOW to put your strengths to work.

Challenge: If you're so inclined, I'd love for you to list your top 5 strengths in the comments below, along with any thoughts or questions you have about this subject.

Photo credit: evanlane.com via Flickr.


Sign up to my free weekly newsletter and get more actionable tips and ideas for making yourself a better leader and a more effective communicator! It’s very short and relevant with quick tips, links, and news about leadership, communication, and self-development. Sign up now

Also, subscribe to my podcast, The TalentGrow Show, on iTunes to always be the first in the know about new episodes of The TalentGrow Show! http://apple.co/1NiWyZo 

You Might Also Like These Posts:

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

Ep 09: Leverage Your Character Strengths with Shannon Polly

Putting Your Strengths to Work