In the sense of being true to yourself, the most honorable thing to do is face up to the strength potential inherent in your talents and then find ways to realize it. – Donald O. Clifton
- Improving our strengths, building on our talents, and increasing our already strong performance is a key to differentiating ourselves from others
- Since we live in a “fixing” society where our parents, teachers, and managers spend the most time making us a “well-rounded” adult, student, or employee, we don’t really know what we’re great at
- To identify our strengths, we can contemplate activities we love doing but others don’t as much as we do
- Once we identified some of our strengths, first, we need to find activities where we can shine by harnessing them
- Second, we need to reach out to mentors and emulate our role models
- Third, use the knowledge of experts: Not only books but many other great sources of expert knowledge, such as blog articles, YouTube videos, or podcasts – that can boost our learning curve
In my job, I regularly receive (formal) feedback. It’s a fundamental part of our organization’s culture and success. Thereby, our feedback process is based on 2 essential aspects: (1) Strength-based feedback (2) that goes both ways.
Strength-based feedback is to identify a person’s strengths in terms of performance, knowledge, skills, and talents. Feedback is provided on what people do to succeed based on these strengths. “Development potentials” (weaknesses) are addressed only if they are below a certain “standard”.
I love learning and feedback greatly helps me to do so. Strength-based feedback, though, is even better than just getting advice on what to do better. School – and most parts of society – provides us with typical “weakness-based feedback”. For instance, exams are designed to test our deficits. You don’t get points for the things you do well but receive grades based on the things you don’t lack. Nobody cares if you’re great in ancient history and the main topic of the history exam is World War 2. As a consequence, many people don’t really know what they are good at and know only what they are not really good at.
In today’s blog article, I will elaborate on why we should focus not on our weaknesses but on our strengths and how we can find and enhance our strengths.
Focus on strengths not weaknesses
I thought a lot about the notion that we should work rather on our strengths than on our weaknesses. In high school, I wanted to eliminate all my flaws. For me, a good grade wasn’t an option – I desired the best grades possible in all school subjects. Also, I regularly thought about things I didn’t like about myself and devised plans to improve those.
Today, that’s quite different. I know that I’ve got certain weaknesses and that’s totally fine. I still strive for improvement, but instead of spending my time on my weaknesses, I develop my strengths. For instance, I’m not good at things requiring a steady hand and patience. I don’t have a good eye for detail. Decoration and design are my enemies. Instead, I’m great at getting things started and done in time, I know what’s needed to make the most out of the time and resources. If you’ve got a great idea and tell me about it, be aware that I’ll make you get started and go the first steps.
Another example: I love structure and problems. So, I want to break down and structure every problem I face. If you tell me a problem, my head is already analyzing how to break it down and what the first next steps are. In my job, though, there’s not always enough time to structure out every sub-set of a problem. Hence, sometimes, we need to work “at short range”; a situation I’m not really comfortable with. Yet, I rather try to improve my already strong analytical problem-solving skills instead of improving my weakness to feel comfortable working at short range. As a consequence, I work on projects with rather massive challenges but enough time to solve them than “easier challenges” but hardly time to solve them.
Focusing on our strengths is better because of 3 reasons:
First, there are already various people with a mediocre skill set similar to ours if we didn’t focus on our strengths. Improving our strengths, building on our talents, and increasing our already strong performance is a key to differentiating ourselves from others. We should aim to be known for something, allowing us to be more valuable and create the most impact for our world.
Second, it’s much more motivating to work on our strengths than on our weaknesses. For example, I hated my German course in high school. My teacher was very kind, patient, and motivated. Yet, I had such a hard time getting from a decent student to a very good student in this subject. On the other hand, I loved Maths. When you gave me additional math problems, I was pleased and solved them enthusiastically. Achieving perfect scores was easy. Today, I love interacting with clients and presenting my analysis and end products. Hence, I work to improve these skills even further.
Third, we become increasingly self-confident the more we stop “fixing” our weaknesses and start working at being better at what we’re already good at. Nobody is perfect. And if we look more closely at the “stars” out there – athletes, singers, entrepreneurs, politicians, … – all of them are known for one or few aspects. In many aspects, the average person is “better” than them. Becoming extremely good at something, makes us feel proud of ourselves, speak up, and stop hiding our weaknesses.
How to find your strengths
Since we live in a “fixing” society where our parents, teachers, and managers spend the most time making us a “well-rounded” adult, student, or employee, we don’t really know what we’re great at. When we bring our school grades report home, the bad grades receive the most attention. Our parents and teacher want us to have rather only “good grades” (Bs/2s) than a mixture of very good grades (As/1s) and poor grades (Ds/4s). Latter, though, would be much better for our personal development and career (assuming the same grade point average).
To identify our strengths, we can contemplate activities we love doing but others don’t (as much as we do). For instance, do you love doing presentations? Do you love writing? Do you love Maths? Coding? Gaming? Playing with kids? Spending time with elders? Learning languages?
For instance, I love Maths, thinking through problems, structuring and planning everything, motivating others to do better, making this world a better place, …
In addition to this inner reflection process, we can ask our friends, family, and colleagues for regular feedback and their view: What do they think we’re great at? What do they like most about us? Where do they see us thriving?
For example, I ask my project leads for formal feedback every 2nd week. I’m not sure what my girlfriend thinks about me doing something, I ask for her honest and genuine opinion.
How to focus on your strengths
Once we identified some of our strengths, first, we need to find activities where we can shine by harnessing them. In almost any role of our life – sibling, child, employee, manager, partner, friend, etc. – there are different activities involved that are key to that role. Even in the “sub-roles”, such as at work, there’re different activities involved: Not every consultant, lawyer, nurse, … has to be good at the very same things because there are so many nuances in every job.
That implies that no matter what’s our current job or aspired career, we can find tasks and activities in our role where we can shine. Ideally, we find a job/major/hobby that “is made for us”, but even in our current situation, we can increase the focus on our strengths. We need to avoid projects and tasks where our weakness is an issue and our strengths cannot be applied well and put in the effort to work on those where we can shine.
Second, we need to reach out to mentors and emulate our role models. What’re the people doing we look up to? How can those a few years ahead of us help us to do better? We shall never hesitate to ask a question and thoroughly observe their actions.
Third, use the knowledge of experts. I love reading. Books are a highly underrated source of knowledge and experience. Good books are a compilation of well-selected experiences of people far more experienced than us. If we read a book on how to enhance one of our strengths, we can greatly benefit from their experience and “leapfrog” the majority of mistakes they made on their journey to mastery. But it’s not only books but many other great sources of expert knowledge, such as blog articles, YouTube videos, or podcasts – that can boost our learning curve.