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Know Your Strengths and Maximize Your Impact

, | June 4, 2024

by Justin Sipher

Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Justin Sipher, Program Leader, Leadership Coach and Consultant at MOR Associates. Justin may be reached at [email protected] or via LinkedIn.

One thing I know from my career in higher education, and now in my sixth year facilitating leadership development workshops and executive coaching, is that being human means having flaws. There are countless resources focused on “fixing our weaknesses.” Development often follows a “deficiency-focused culture,” driving us to work hard to overcome these shortcomings. While there is value in this approach, it shouldn’t be our sole focus for growth. This article explores the other side: our strengths as an opportunity to grow.

As author Tim Ferriss says, “It is far more lucrative and fun to leverage your strengths instead of attempting to fix all the chinks in your armor.” Additionally, Gallup research has found that people who have the opportunity to use their strengths at work are more productive, more likely to feel they can do their best work, and have higher engagement levels. Given this, why not explore how we can fully leverage these strengths?

In our journey through life, we encounter diverse activities and challenges, each revealing our unique blend of strengths and weaknesses. Our strengths often result from a combination of natural aptitude and diligent effort. These are the areas where we excel, where our skills and talents shine brightly. They may emerge from our innate abilities, honed by years of practice and dedication, or from specific interests and passions we have pursued with vigor.

MOR’s leadership development programs offer several opportunities to explore one’s strengths. One of the first is the 360 feedback assessment conducted at the onset of a program. Inevitably, when debriefing the 360 with a coachee, they often focus on the critical feedback about areas needing improvement. Sometimes, it’s an affirmation of something they already know; other times, it’s an “aha” moment. Regardless, I always draw the coachee back to something many overlook or don’t spend enough time on: their strengths. Our strengths are assets we should not take for granted or minimize. Author and researcher Marcus Buckingham suggests that when people have the opportunity to use their strengths every day, the teams they are on consistently outperform those where people can’t use their strengths.

For these reasons, consider how your strengths could have a more significant impact. A strength does not always mean it’s something you use often. Some of us have strengths that rarely impact significantly, especially if we are unaware of them. Learning about our strengths can be informal (self-reflection and perception), anecdotal feedback, or more formal methods, such as MOR’s increased focus on strengths in the Lead From Where You Are program.

Several well-established assessment tools can help you understand your strengths. One is CliftonStrengths (paid) from Gallup, and another is The StandOut Assessment (free) from The Marcus Buckingham Company. CliftonStrengths provides a broader view of one’s talents, encouraging development across multiple domains. StandOut is a more focused analysis on making significant contributions in specific roles. Tools like these can be a significant first step in formalizing the awareness of strengths.

In his book “The Versatile Leader: Make the Most of Your Strengths – Without Overdoing It,” Author Robert Kaplan introduced the idea that strengths can become weaknesses if overemphasized. This is an important concept; this article only suggests using your strengths at some opportunities. Not only can your strengths be underutilized, but they can also be over-leveraged and become liabilities. This is a proverbial example of suggesting that when your strength is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

So why is it valuable for individuals to lean into their strengths to grow? Focusing on existing strengths allows individuals to build on what they already do well, boosting confidence and motivation. It’s like starting a journey from a familiar place, making the growth path more manageable and fulfilling.

Four Strategies for Enhancing the Impact of Your Strengths

  1. Identify and Acknowledge Strengths: Reflect on past achievements and solicit feedback from others to identify strengths. Acknowledging them is the first step toward leveraging them effectively.
  2. Practice and Refinement: Once identified, devote time and effort to practicing and refining those strengths. This could involve seeking opportunities to apply them in different contexts or seeking feedback to improve continuously.
  3. Grow but Don’t Overuse: One challenge when growing the impact of your strength is the potential for overdoing it. Take time to make sure you are maintaining balance.
  4. Get on the Balcony: Invest time in considering ways these strengths could have a larger impact on you and your organization currently. Whether it’s your relationships and networking, strategic thinking, leading change, time prioritization, or any other aspect, consider “what if” opportunities to leverage a strength in new and expanded ways. This could include taking on new challenges that allow you to utilize your strengths differently.

Ultimately, we are at our best when we are self-aware of our strengths and weaknesses. As the EQ framework by Daniel Goleman suggests, only with self-awareness is there a chance to self-manage. This applies equally to how we use our strengths and overcome our weaknesses. Understanding what strengths you possess and then making sure they have the impact you desire maximizes your value and, as a result, grows the effect you are having. Now, go forth and put those strengths to work!

Which strategy could best help you know your strengths and maximize your impact?

Last week we asked you to rate the teamwork in your most immediate work team.

  • 31% said they function very well together
  • 34% said they function well together
  • 20% said they function somewhat well together
  • 15% said they need to function much better together

We have quite a range of responses in the teamwork of our teams. Each team requires a personalized approach. One common thread could be to explore teamwork through the lens of strengths. Do team members have the opportunity to leverage their strengths at work each day? Are team members aware of each other’s strengths? What is a small step you could take this week to better enable those around you to leverage their strengths?