What I’ve seen in my many years working with ‘successful’ people from different walks of life is that we often don’t notice what we’re good at. That sounds odd right? But when we’re good at something it just feels like something we do and because it comes easily we forget that it’s not something that everyone can do. As a result, we don’t make the most of these strengths or leverage our full capability.
Aside from the arrogant or narcissistic few who flaunt and overblow their capabilities, most people underplay or fob off their strengths. When they get a report output from a profile (which details various areas of personality, strengths and areas for development), they dive straight into what they are not doing well and dismiss the things that they are good at. While looking at how they can grow is helpful, like most things in life balance works best and only focusing on areas for development doesn’t allow us to reach our full potential.
One lady I coached, a senior executive in a FTSE 100, completely overlooked her capability to skilfully read her environment and navigate politics. Her core strength was her ability to resolve issues between members of the board, to get people talking to one another about problems, to find her way around blockers in order to deliver her own agenda and enable others to fulfil theirs. Her response to this observation was “That’s just what I do, I’ve always done that, there’s nothing special about it”. But having seen hundreds of leaders up close and personal, I know that a large number desperately strive to achieve what she was ‘just doing’. Take for example the exceptionally bright high potential guy who has an IQ that’s through the roof but struggles with anything that involves EQ. Or the older executive who has always delivered through telling others and following the rules who now struggles to adapt to the ever-changing demands of todays’ fast paced environment.
The point is, we all have strengths that we take for granted that we are unaware of because they come so naturally. While the humility that accompanies this is appealing, without awareness of our strengths we can’t fully leverage them so we are doing ourselves and others a disservice. For example, I always loved psychology and studied it at University. I also had an interest in business so I did a business masters. The mistake I then made was to do what I thought was the ‘best thing to do’ – joining a business consultancy as a graduate. But this didn’t make use of my natural strengths and interests. As I gradually become more miserable and found myself chasing any elements of projects which lent themselves to the business psychologists view of the world I went back to University so that I could become a Chartered Psychologist. I love what I do and although I have self-doubts like anyone, if I hadn’t pursued this career I wouldn’t have been able to help all the people that I have (I know this as I’ve been lucky enough to have had feedback), I wouldn’t have written a book that I hope to help even more people with and I wouldn’t have been able to inadvertently influenced many people who work for the leaders I work with. I would have just been a reasonable management consultant, not an exceptional one, and not fully making use of being able to read and empathise with others. I don’t hold myself up as a gleaming example, I’m still trying to find exactly what it is I’m good at. For example, although public speaking about topics that I’m passionate about gives a far better output than when I try and fit purely with a clients needs, I still tend to focus on the latter.
Although I advocate finding strengths and using them, I don’t believe we fulfil our potential by ignoring our weaknesses. It’s important to know what we’re not so good at, not so that we then throw ourselves into a role that forces us to get better, but so we can remain aware of the things that may trip us up or have a negative impact on others and do our best to mitigate them. So, we can find people to help fill in the gaps on areas we’re not so good at. Also, so we can seek to refine those areas that are most relevant to what we’re doing.
- What are your strengths – the things that you’ve always just be able to do naturally? If you’re not sure ask people who know you really well.
- What knowledge do you have that other people don’t and how can you use that to help achieve your own goals and help others to achieve theirs?
- How can you apply your strengths to the goals that you want to achieve?
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