Why You Should Play to Your Strengths at Work

Monday, July 16, 2018
Fatou Darboe
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Image credit: A.V. Club

Every person has an innate ability that is unique to them. That ability is like a fingerprint -- lots of people can carry the same ability but the way they use it is what makes them unique.

Those talents, strengths or gifts are our diamonds. We need to dig them up because nobody else can do it for us. And once we find them, we should dust them and keep polishing them. Indeed, the more we take care of them, the more we can recognize the other diamonds in our lives.

But many of us don’t get to that point because we don’t use our strengths. It is common sense to use our strengths or talents, right? However, a lot of us set them aside, for one reason or another.

Here’s why you shouldn’t do that.

Why You Should Use Your Talents and Play to Your Strengths

Others Can Benefit from Your Strengths

Our gifts and talents are created for us, but also for those around us. Indeed, we benefit from other people's talents, i.e. Steve Jobs’ Apple creations, Ford’s automotive ideas and even your mom or dad’s cooking. Almost everyone around us contributes to our welfare in one way or another.

It is just part of our existence as human beings. People need to (and deserve to) benefit from your gifts or talents.

You Can Impact Lives

For example, Sherry Jason, a former ballerina turned lawyer, created City Hearts in 1984 with her attorney husband, Bob Jason. They started it with the deep belief in the potential and gifts of children that are caught in the cycle of delinquency, poverty and violence.

The Jasons found that using their talents was the first step to providing the best path to transform and benefit children. And encouraging the children to do the same: to use their talents and gifts to uplift themselves and impact other lives.

They currently reach 500 of the greatest at-risk youth every week.

You Will Have a More Satisfying Life

Gallup conducted a study on people who use their strengths every day and found that it affects their work performance and overall quality of life.

They found that using talents and strengths can lead to improved health and wellness; less worry, stress, anger, sadness and physical pain; more positive emotions; and increased energy.

The study further saw that people who use their strengths and talents everyday are six times more likely to be engaged at work.

Those are some pretty compelling reasons why you should use your strengths and talents daily. Perhaps, what’s holding you back, is that your boss or manager is not putting you in a role that plays to your strengths.

Rectifying Shortcomings vs. Strength Building


Image credit: Harvard Business Review

A lot of managers move employees into roles they do not want because they think they are ineffective in their current roles. That mentality or perspective highlights the common tendency of managers to rectify shortcomings instead of letting people play to their strengths.

Sure, it’s good to stretch people, but it should only be in areas where they can truly develop as people and professionals. In most instances, in trying to force an employee out of their comfort zone, managers only help to destroy their confidence.

For example, there are many cases where managers try to force successful yet introverted professionals to behave like extroverts. That tactic demoralizes them to the point where they feel stressed and anxious.

Let’s say you are an introvert and find it hard to think on your feet: you prefer having time to think and reflect on what you say to others.

You may not like talking to big groups of people or being in the limelight. That is the complete opposite of what will be required of you in a communications role. So making the switch to a communications role would be bad for you.

What can you do in such case?

You can find out what your boss or manager thinks the communications, or more extroverted role, will do for your career; and then discuss ways to achieve that in a way that is more in line with your strengths.

If they think that the communications role will help you make more of a personal impact, you can talk to them about other roles that will push you in that direction in a less uncomfortable way. That could mean using your analytical and reflective abilities to create well-written content that can be shared with others.

More than that, you need to help your boss understand that you will be more valuable to the company if the role is more strengths-focused and allows you to develop more on the things you are already good at. As opposed to making you competent at the tasks that make you feel uncomfortable.

The fact is that when we do things that we enjoy and that we are good at, we are more productive, successful and motivated than when we do something we struggle with.

The aforementioned Gallup study also found that building on employees’ strengths is more beneficial and effective at improving performance than trying to improve weaknesses. Yet, most companies in the United States do not focus on helping employees to use their strengths.

Their data notably highlights the importance of identifying your strengths. They found that employees who figured out what their strengths were experienced 7.8 percent more productivity. Those who focused on and relied on their strengths everyday experienced 12.5 percent more productivity.

That means that we could all benefit from using our talents and strengths every day.

But maybe, the reason some of us don’t use our strengths is because we don’t know what they are? Or maybe our managers don’t know what they are?

How to Identify Your Strengths

Your strengths or “superpowers” are things you do effortlessly, just like breathing. When your boss or manager identifies those talents and asks you to do something that uses your superpower, you may think that “that is so easy. It is too easy.”

You consequently may feel that your boss doesn’t trust you to take on a more challenging project or doesn’t value you. But what if you’re the one who isn’t valuing your innate talents as much as you do the skills that are hard-won.

Here is how you can identify your strengths so you can start valuing and using them.

Pay Attention to Your Emotions


Image credit: Time

To find your strengths, you have to listen to your emotions. However, that is both simple and hard at the same time.

The bulk of our emotions lie in the subconscious part of the brain so it is hard to uncover our deepest and truest emotions.

Here’s a nifty trick: pay close attention to the things that you do with ease and that you get a good result from. Those areas or activities you get a naturally good feeling from – that everything is running as it should and that you have everything under control.

That’s a great place to start as the process will unearth what you are really good at. You then need to listen to what your emotions are telling you.

How do you feel when you finish the task, activity or project? Does it make you smile? Would you like to do it over again? And are you excited to do it again?

Those are positive emotions that will highlight your passions. But beware – sometimes, those emotions are simply the result of an accomplished goal. Pay attention to those occasions where you feel an emotional rush.

Then look into those emotions further. Once you are able to make sure of what and how you’re really feeling, match it to a rational explanation of things that you are good at.
Identify Your Weaknesses

Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, it is much easier to identify your weaknesses. Why?

Because the clues are simple and straightforward: when you don’t enjoy something or when others are better at doing certain things than you are.

Is there an activity you don’t like or don’t feel positive about? Do you lack energy or dawdle when you have to do that activity? Is there anything that you spend a longer time on than others? Is there anything that others do much better than you?

Ask yourself those questions during your work routine and when you see a pattern that affirms any of those questions, that is one of your weaknesses. The stronger the affirmation, the stronger the weakness is.

Why is it important to know your weaknesses when you should be focused on your strengths? Because knowing your weaknesses will help you carve out time to give them attention so they don’t hurt you.

They will not become your strengths but you don’t want those things to hold you back. You can employ strategies like partnering with people who are better than you in the areas you feel you are weak at. In that way, you will be able to turn your weaknesses into strengths.

You however need to allocate your time well and spend more energy on your strengths and developing them. When you identify both your strengths and weaknesses, you will be able to know what to focus on in your life.

Ask Your Colleagues, Family and Friends

Even though it is important for you to dig deep and explore your feelings first, you will be able to get more valuable insights about your core strengths and weaknesses by asking people what they think about you.

You will also see how other perceptions differ from yours or how aligned they are.

You can ask your colleagues as well as your close family and friends what your strengths are via a short questionnaire like this one:

  • What kind of strengths do I have?

  • What do you think has made me successful?

  • What am I good at?

  • In which areas do you think I am better at in comparison to others?

  • What are my weaknesses?

  • What do you think I shouldn’t do at all?

If you get around 10 people to answer that, you should have enough data to do an effective analysis.

Combine those answers with your personal ones to create a more comprehensive view of your strengths and weaknesses.


Image credit: HuffPost

Use a Tool

Gallup’s CliftonStrength 34 helps you to identify and measure your distinct talents or strengths. The assessment reveals your top talents, so it could be very useful to compare those results with your personal findings and peer reviews.

Even though you identified your strengths and weaknesses on your own, and with the help of your colleagues, your analysis may be biased. So it is important to validate those findings with a scientific model.

The CliftonStrength 34 considers a talent as one of the ingredients to cooking up a good strength so it measures talent, not strength. It takes talent (a natural way of thinking or behaving) and investment (the time spent practicing and developing skills) into account to give you an accurate measurement of your strength (the ability to consistently deliver near-perfect results).

It is important for your personal and professional development to identify your strengths and weaknesses. When you know your strengths and weaknesses, as they pertain to the workplace, you will have more opportunity to make a greater impact, enjoy your work more, work more productively with others and simply achieve better results.

It is a win for you, your team and your company.

How Managers Can Identify Employees’ Strengths

To build a team that can play to their strengths starts with some analysis. As a manager, you need to observe people on your team, particularly when they are doing their best. That is because some of them will undervalue what they do well so it is your responsibility to put value on what they do well.

Why?

Because when your team members feel strong and adequate, they are more willing and able to venture into uncharted territory and consider new ideas in unestablished markets.

If you are a manager, start off by identifying the strengths of each member of your team by asking the following questions (which are recommended by executive coach Whitney Johnson):

  • What exasperates you? When something exasperates a person, it could mean that it is a skill that comes easily to them; and that they get frustrated when it doesn’t come easy to others.

  • What compliments do you dismiss? We tend to downplay the things that we are good at. Moments of “Oh, it was nothing” when someone thanks us for something that we did, can point out our strengths. The ones we underrate but are valuable to others.

  • What do you think about when your mind is idle? Thinking about something constantly means that it is something that matters to us. Our brain needs to come back to it because it matters that much to us. So it means that we are probably good at it – the thing we keep thinking about when we have nothing to think about.

Wrapping Up


Image credit: Inc.

People like discovering what they are good at. But to make a noticeable impact to an organization or business, employee’s strengths need a clear purpose.

Whatever executives are trying to do, be it to do more with fewer employees or bringing a new product to market, knowing what individual team members are good at and using that information with intent gives a business a greater shot at success.

Furthermore, employees that use their strengths at work are usually more productive because the demands and activities of their work are more intrinsically fulfilling, which makes them work even harder.

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