If human beings are perceived as potentials rather than problems, as possessing strengths instead of weaknesses, as unlimited rather than dull and unresponsive, then they thrive and grow to their capabilities. Barbara Bush

In the world of business and careers, we’re often asked to differentiate ourselves from others. Surprisingly, people are often reluctant to look at their strengths and how they can effectively use them to stand out in the crowd. Instead, the focus is often on their weakness and what they need to do to improve them.

This is partly due to how our brain is wired, stemming from thousands of years of our very survival being dependent on us continually assessing which threats (wild animals, storms, drought etc.,) would threaten our existence.  When we were nomadic, shelter and resources (food, tools etc.) were in short supply. Our evolving brains focused on the risks and our weaknesses to ensure our survival. It’s only relatively recently (in the context of our evolution) that our basic needs for food and shelter are taken care of, particularly in western society.  However, our brains have not evolved fast enough to keep pace with the fact, the majority of our everyday problems are not life-threatening.

We also compare ourselves to others with different strengths and back stories, trying to be all things to all people. Keeping up with Kardashians (or Jones) so to speak. We forget that we are each unique, and so is our contribution in this world.

Furthermore, some of our organisational frameworks continue to instil the belief by insisting we identify and address our weaknesses.  Think of the SWOT analysis, or the learning and development frameworks. These all say that leaders in an organisation must be experts in all disciplines rather than recognising that the person with strengths in strategy may not be the best performer in leading operations.  

Shifting to a Strengths-Based Mindset

My clients are always amazed at the results when they use their strengths more at work. They often comment they feel more energised, have improved well being and resilience, and find it easier to achieve things. Research has even shown the direct correlation between using your strengths and how you perform at work. Interestingly enough by recognising and using your strengths you also become more attuned to yourself. This allows you to connect with what you love doing, becoming more aware and congruent with your life’s purpose.

As we realise that our strengths, not our weaknesses drive our successes, our thinking can begin to change. If we can grasp the concept that rather than everyone being the same, we each have unique gifts and strengths, which, if used, could be extremely useful to the success of an organisation.

Imagine, if we understood and recognised the different strengths required for specific leadership roles. That we hired individuals using that criteria, in addition to the skills. What would it mean to the growth of the organisation?

YMCA CEO Melinda Crole gained great clarity around this last year. Recently, she described to the CEO Magazine how her work with me helped her to focus on using her strengths to deliver organisational transformation and personal career success.

Should you ignore your weaknesses?

Only if they are not crucial to your goals. As a society, we love giving feedback and trying to make others like us.  If you are a risk expert and you lead the risk function in your organisation, leadership as a weakness cannot be ignored.  It’s a weakness that needs to be addressed so you can successfully lead a team. Although, this does not mean you need to be an expert in leadership.

If you are head of sales and marketing and you lack back of house, operations experience, you need to ask yourself how relevant this experience will be to your career aspirations.  Do you need to focus on fixing this at the expense of other development areas?

In a world of information overload, we need to fight for our focus.  Our focus is limited, so make conscious choices on where to invest your energy.

Discovering your strengths

  1. Ask trusted others.
  2. Complete the VIA  survey.
  3. Reflect on when you have been at your best and list down the qualities you used.
  4. What are you know for you in your professional life?

How well do you know your strengths? Are you using them?