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Play to your strengths

Updated: May 19, 2021

“Success is achieved by developing our strengths, not by eliminating our weaknesses.” Marilyn von Savant

The key to being successful and happy in your work is not eliminating your weaknesses. It’s focusing on your strengths.

If you recognise and focus on your strengths you’re more likely to understand what you’re good at and why. This means you’ll be able to focus on doing more of what you’re good at. Which means you’re more likely to enjoy your work - and do it well.

Many of us spend a lot of time thinking about our “weaknesses”. If you’ve worked with me you’ll know I’m not a fan of that phrase. I think it implies there’s something you’re doing wrong, rather than being a perfectly normal human being who’s better at some things than others.

Of course it’s good to be aware of the things we could improve. And, yes, we should aim to improve where these things are holding us back. But by focusing on what we’re not so good at, we can end up being very hard on ourselves. We can start to lose sight of what we do have to offer.

I strongly recommend taking some time to identify and understand your own strengths. Here are a few exercises you could try:

Identify your career high points. Think about the achievements that make you really proud. What skills and knowledge were you using at those times? What did you do that made a project successful or helped you work well with a team?

Think about what you enjoy. Think about the times when you feel most “in the flow” in your job – these are probably the times when you are working to your strengths. What is it that makes you feel comfortable or in control?

Ask other people. I appreciate this may not come naturally, but it can be very revealing. Ask the people who know you well what your strengths are, and I guarantee you’ll hear something that wouldn’t have occurred to you – either because you hadn’t noticed it or, more likely, because it’s not something that you value in yourself.

Notice the things you find easy. We can underestimate our strengths because they come naturally to us. I work with a lot of marketing and communications professionals who take for granted their ability to get key points across clearly. We all know the impact that poor communication can have on a team, so I’d argue it’s a definite leadership strength.

If all else fails, work backwards. Are you one of those people who finds it much easier to list the things you’re not so good at? If so, look at that list and see if you can reframe those characteristics into strengths. Yes, maybe your attention to detail isn’t great, but that might mean you’re really good at keeping an eye on the bigger picture. Maybe you hate public speaking, but does that mean you’re better at building relationships one to one? Be honest and generous with yourself.

When you’ve got a sense of what your strengths are, keep the list to hand and refer to it regularly.

In The Squiggly Career, Helen Tupper and Sarah Elis recommend spending about 80% of your time on building your strengths, with 20% of your time spent on developing weaknesses. I think if we all adopted this approach we would be more effective and definitely happier. Certainly, we’d be more likely to avoid stress and burnout.

Identifying and developing your strengths will also allow you to stand out and progress in your career. When you find what you’re good at, you can aim to get even better. Look for roles that allow you to focus on your strengths, and they’re much more likely to be a good fit for you.

Believe in your strengths and you'll become known for them.

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