- September 13, 2018
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And no one has asked you to ignore X or Y or Z. Of course if you’re terrible at general conversation and you’re a sales person, it might help you to hone some skills in that area. However what makes you an amazing sales person might be that a strength of yours is empathy and you have the ability to listen, which means that you are more likely to understand your clients’ needs better than someone who just talks.
Roger Federer is known as one of those rare all-round tennis players. To me, one of his greatest strengths is that he moves incredibly fluidly and with agility around the court, thereby allowing him to have more control of the ball and reducing the probability of injury versus his competitors. His backhand, whilst excellent is probably one of his weaker areas. Naturally he has worked on it and has brought it up to a level that is genuinely threatening. However, the man works extra hard on his actual strengths such as hiring Stefan Edberg to help with his serve-volley game, to ensure that he doesn’t just play average and defensive games, but purposefully plays to his strengths to outplay and to win. He is the Greatest of All Time in men’s tennis for a reason.
So Why Strengths? Isn’t it all a little happy clappy?
Strengths are what sets you apart from others. Strengths are your unique contribution. They are natural and intrinsic to you and used effectively, strategically and appropriately, they are the most powerful force to reckon with. They automatically motivate and energise you. For the most part, they will come to you with ease. So why wouldn’t you want to work with something that you have in abundance?
Whether or not my clients think that I am a good coach, I have found myself a career using my top 5 strengths (@gallupstrengths) pretty much all the time. I find coaching clients an energizing, motivating and rewarding exercise – I’m learning all the time and I try my best to coach my clients out of where they are into a better place. My strengths are relator (great for one-to-one conversations), adaptability (as a coach, not wedded to an idea or opinion but going with the flow to how the conversation is going and helping the client get to where they need to be), positivity (who needs a downer of a coach?), ideation (fascinated by ideas which allows less judgment and closed minded thinking in session), and maximiser (taking something from good to excellent – taking talented individuals and helping them get to best versions of themselves).
Sure, other coaches have different strengths and they will use them in their own unique ways. It’s the combination of strengths used together that makes your offering unique and oh so powerful.
Interestingly enough, I conducted this exercise to review when I was an equities dealer in the City and whilst my team all had the same role as me, we all used our strengths to suit that job, and it brought out the best in all of us. The beauty being that your strengths are wholly adaptable and multi-purpose, and you get to use them in all manner of scenarios and situations.
‘With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility’
So said Voltaire, or if you’re a philistine like me, Uncle Ben in Spiderman. When using your strengths, they have to be used effectively and strategically. There is no point having these innate gifts if you’re going to scatter them around indiscriminately with no clear purpose. It’s like a driving a beautiful Aston Martin on a muddy field to collect hay bales. What’s the point??? By overusing it, you’ll probably burst a few pipes over some rocks on the field too. Not cool, not smart but definitely a little funny….
Joking aside, when using your strengths, be aware that it is also possible to overuse them. Between my relating and adaptability strengths, I could be seen as an easy to confide in person who will adapt to whatever scenario especially if someone shares information with me. In overdrive, I have been told I can appear as someone without conviction and possibly two-faced. That’s not just a little bit offensive and hurtful but likely true…. Who said feedback was fun????
Case Study 1
A board of an investment firm asked me to help them review their board dynamics. They noted that they were doing well but seemed to keep coming across the same problems time and again and could not get over that repetitive hump. Having done some initial interviewing and analysis, I noticed that they kept talking about using their strengths. Promising, I thought to myself. But oh no – in this case, it was used ‘conveniently’ to excuse not taking proper responsibility for where they wanted the business to go and for not actually wanting to do the actual work which was required to continue. What does this mean?
They had one person who was a phenomenally talented sales & marketing creative but who had no interest in the actual business and did not want to understand much beyond finding new ways to make their offering more interesting to the clientele. Another board member was a stalwart in this industry with decades of experience but he was more interested in the academic running of investment as opposed to wanting to run the business. The other board members were perfectly capable and qualified but were not encouraged to speak and contribute. Neither of the two board members recognized that neither had a true vision or plan for the business, and neither had any idea how to strategise or execute their half-baked vision. Yet, once we focused on their individual strengths and put them to use in a more effective and deliberate way – both realized that they were unhappy playing at joint CEOs and that they needed to very quickly hire a CEO to sort their business out.
Amazing what a dose of self-awareness and a focus on strengths can do…!
Case Study 2
Two major divisions within a large corporation were merging as a result of cost-cutting measures. Clearly this was going to be a tough, painful and contentious slog. Many had to reinterview for their roles. Their workloads amidst and post this transition was only going to go up. The mood was somber, full of people who were weary, suspicious of others and resentful. Lots of assumptions were made about others who were, only a few weeks ago their friends, and now due to the reduced but merged team, with a new leader, the individuals were distrustful of each other, focusing on the negative and what was. The first thing I did was to get the newly merged team to sit together and to talk about what their objectives as a team were – their vision, aspirations and their mission. This gave them a sense of unity and combined purpose. Thereafter, we went through their strengths, as individuals – self-described and what others thought of them. The outcomes, especially when described by others, brought about much positive embarrassment and surprise. The new team members looked at their new deliverables, and together reconfigured their roles and responsibilities to how they wanted to work and according to their strengths. This was as opposed to legacy ways of doing things, based on someone telling them how things needed to be done, instead of exploring new ways. The result brought about a newly energized group of people who were able to view themselves, their roles and their work with a brand new lens, and with much motivation and energy. The change in attitude and demeanour was astounding and their output, even with a smaller number of people, has never been better.
It was incredible to see the power that focusing on strengths could bring to such a broken and disparate group of people.
Some would argue that strengths are really easy to see and weaknesses are harder to identify. Others would argue the reverse. Either way, I would suggest a large dose of self-awareness would help, as well as asking others what they think your strengths are. You may be pleasantly surprised. However, knowing your strengths isn’t enough. The question is, how do you use them to help you be the very best version of yourself? Do you recognize when you overuse them? How do you stop yourself when that happens? And yes, it’s worth doing this exercise with your weaknesses too. But if you’re even a little lazy like me, why wouldn’t you want to do what comes easier, is more energizing and way more fun for you?
Karen Kwong is a highly experienced executive & business coach who has worked with start-ups and social enterprises through to large established corporates (including FTSE100 companies) across a number of industries including financial services, engineering, retail and media & communications. She also advises boards on their dynamics. Added to this, she spent almost twenty years working at a senior level in fund management. She also has a Masters in Organisational Psychology. For more please see here or contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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