For many years, career development in the US was based on working on correcting weaknesses. This is best captured in the popular phrase: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
We have seen a big shift in recent years towards a much more productive approach to career development, which focuses on using and improving strengths. This does not occur at the expense of working on areas that need to be developed. Rather, it is a focus on using strengths to “cross-train” areas of challenge/weakness.
So what is a strength?
A good working definition of a strength is:
An innate talent or ability to consistently achieve excellent results in an activity or process.
An example of a strength could be Tiger Woods’ strength at long, accurate drives. His ability at “sand saves” is not a strength. Warren Buffet’s strengths lie in his ability to invest in solid companies with long-term growth and to not get sidetracked by short-term fluctuations.
Other examples of strengths are: strategic thinking, having an orientation toward achievement, empathy, being able to influence others, consistency, curiosity, strong communication skills, seeing the big picture and a focus on details.
What about my strengths?
For many of us, we are just not aware of our specific strengths. We tend to just do what we do, often not recognizing those strengths that we use in areas in which we consistently perform at a high level.
How do I find out about my strengths?
Ask others: this involves asking colleagues and friends to share with you what they see as your strengths. While this may seem intrusive or cause you to feel awkward, this process is helpful all around. People like to help others, and identifying strengths is a helpful process that contributes to being able to use them more effectively.
Surveys: there are some excellent surveys available to help you identify your strengths.
Strengths Finder 2.0 – this is the updated version of the classic survey “Now, Discover Your Strengths” and costs about $15. It is available as a book and in an online version. The results rank your top five strengths out of a total list of 34, which arose out of some highly regarded and extensive research in this area.
Realise2 – this is an online tool from the UK that assesses 60 traits over the 3 measures that make up the definition of a strength – Performance, Energy & Use. The cost is $35-50, depending on the form that you choose.
What do I do with the information?
Increase your awareness of your strengths, and how they work for you. This can lead you to improving your strengths and using your strengths to cross-train other areas of weakness. We call this leveraging your strengths, when you use them to cross-train other areas.
And these actions can lead you to greater achievement of your work performance and career goals.
Strengths and New Year’s Resolutions
As we head into 2015, there will be a lot of information about resolutions and how they are difficult to achieve.
It’s common and normal to want to use this time of transition to change some things in our lives- to do some things better and to not do other things. And it’s common and normal to get a few months into the new year only to find that things are much the same.
Becoming aware of your strengths and using them in service of your goals, as well as cross-training areas of weakness can greatly increase your chances of achieving your resolutions. And it’s important to be aware that we, as human beings, are predisposed to observe what is “wrong,” or a weakness. So keep an eye out for this tendency which can present an added challenge when working to identify your strengths.
You can find the Strengths Use at Work Scale that I first sent out in 2013 on my website. This tool can be helpful if you already have a good idea of your strengths.