Introduction – why strengths anyway?
Today’s episode is going to be a check-in on using your strengths well at work if you’re already a strengths fan and user and it’s going to be a useful introduction if you’re relatively new to the world of strengths. Today, I’m going to be giving you my top five tips on using your strengths to make your work life more you-shaped. Before we get started, I have a couple of things to share.
First of all, how am I defining strengths? At Strengthscope, we say that strengths are those qualities which energise us and which we are either already really good at or that we have the potential to become really good at.
Secondly, why bother? Is there a reason why you would want to gear your work life more towards your strengths? In short, the answer is yes. The research tells us that people who know and who use their strengths effectively report higher levels of well-being, motivation, self-confidence and job satisfaction as well as lower levels of stress, more effective problem-solving, improved relationships and greater career success. If you’re interested in my sources here, the blog has all that information and is in the resources section of the Strengthscope website.
As I said, I have 5 top tips for you today to help you strengthen your experience of work. Let’s go.
101: Know your strengths
The first thing you need to do if you want to use your strengths more at work is to know what they are. Plenty of ways of doing that from starting with a blank sheet of paper and writing down the things that you enjoy most about work and which give you the greatest sense of satisfaction and lead to those feelings of ‘flow’, where you’re fully immersed in what you’re doing and time just flies, right the way through to using a strengths assessment of some kind to give you a basis for understanding where your unique strengths lie. Or a combination of both would be my advice.
By the way, bear in mind, I’m not necessarily just talking here about the things you’re good at as being your strengths. No, as per our definition, yes you may be good at them, but equally important is that these things energise you. So make sure you have that front of mind when you start identifying your strengths.
So start with a strength assessment of your choosing and then reflect on what you love most about your work and which strengths might be in play when you’re really enjoying yourself and you’re fully in the moment. Armed with this info, head into my Top 5 tips for using your strengths more of the time at work.
Tip 1. Energise your work every day
Ask yourself in your current role, with the set of tasks that your job requires, how can you use your strengths more of the time to have more fun and gain more energy from your work? This is about using the strengths you have to do it your way, rather than feeling you have to do it their way, or the taught way, to get a good outcome.
If I’m doing a project management task for example, I might have an Efficiency strength to work up a plan, a Detail orientation strength to make sure my plan’s not missing anything and to help me get the quality output I need and a Results focus strength to feel good about completing each stage of the project. Great! That’s using your strengths to get more from your day-to-day.
But what if I don’t have any of those strengths? Well, use what you do have…perhaps Leading to get the project team rallied around a goal, Enthusiasm to motivate the team and Flexibility to change tack as the needs of the project unfold. Whatever your strengths and whatever your role requires, with a bit of lateral thinking, you’ll be able to rewire your role so that you’re using those qualities that bring you joy more of the time.
Tip 2. Develop your strengths with skill
We’re told from fairly early on in our careers to develop in areas that are weaker and to focus our efforts there to avoid disaster. It’s not bad advice, particularly in early career where we might not be so aware of our risk areas, where it’s helpful to have them pointed out so we can do something about them. Improve your presentation skills, make sure your time management improves, get better at managing your stakeholders, etc, etc. Definitely when these are areas that could get in the way of your performance at work, they are worth your developmental focus. We’ll come back to them because there’s a way of approaching your development which brings your strengths more into play when working on weaker areas.
Before we go there though, and this is not something that’s commonly done, is to consider which of your strengths you’d like to develop greater skill in and put together a plan to do that, if needed with your line manager. Say you have an Empathy strength – ask yourself, for example, how can you learn better questioning and listening skills that will help you build on that strength area AND create more value in your role and for your team? What about an Optimism strength, ask yourself where you may be able to put yourself forward for challenging ‘stretch’ projects that you believe have a good chance of success, especially where these have been rejected or avoided by more pessimistic people in your team. Whatever your ‘go to’ strengths are, consider how you can upskill in those areas to up the value you’re bringing to your role.
Coming back to areas where you’re not strong like time management, presenting skills or whatever. In these cases, ask yourself how can you use the strengths you have to improve in these areas rather than hammering away on something that you find draining or a real development turn-off. That way, you should be able to get more energy from developing in those areas. For example, use your Collaboration strength to upskill in presenting by either working with a colleague in preparing your presentation or co-present with someone, learning from their approach as you’re doing it. That way, you get to stay energised rather than feeling drained by the experience.
Tip 3. Use your strengths to work with others better
Speaking of Collaboration, a powerful way of using your strengths at work is to combine strengths forces with colleagues who have complementary strengths to you. For example, you might bring Strategic mindedness to be able to see the bigger picture and consider different future options. Your colleague might bring Decisiveness and Initiative to make things happen and drive them forward. Sharing your strengths with others also reinforces in you where you can add greatest value to your team and in your work role. And there’s almost a limitless number of combinations of strengths that you can put together in a way that will bring more value to the team.
Tip 4. Manage your stress through strengths
Under pressure and stress, we’re all prone to our strengths entering the ‘overdrive’ zone. That’s when we keep pressing the same strength buttons but they’re not having the effect that we want. A really valuable way of using your strengths more at work is to bring in alternative strengths to balance your ‘overdrive risks’ and to avoid using the same strengths strategy over and over. For example, my Results focus strength might see me getting agitated when we might miss a project milestone but I know that I can’t deliver the project alone.
If my Results focus strength tips into overdrive, it might see me panic and take back work from others so I feel more in control of the outcome, but that risks me burning out or taking on too much, or it might see me getting directive with people in the project team which could undermine their motivation. Instead, at this crucial point, as my alternative strengths strategy, I could choose to bring in my Developing others strength to make sure that I bring other people in to support the delivery of the project in a way that they can develop new skills or gain new experience.
Tip 5. Find a career path where you can play to your strengths
In many organisations, there’s still a view that the only way is up in a career, rather than sideways, diagonally, downward or considering a wholesale career change. That can work from a strengths point of view, because you’re always going to have the strengths you have and you can use them in whatever role and to manage whatever your chosen career transition or career path.
But it’s worth considering, given your strengths set, what career or role choices might give you the very best chance of playing to your strengths every day, or most days most weeks? When you look at it that way, you may well find that the career path being mapped out for you in your organisation isn’t the only choice and that maybe with a little research and lateral thinking, you can find a career direction that really is you-shaped. That is, where you’ll find it easier to use your strengths to add value to your role.
Conclusion – strengths mean work, but it also means energy
Those are my top 5 tips for bringing your strengths more to work in your current and future roles. Wherever you are on your strengths journey, it’s worth checking in from time to time on how well you’re doing in those five areas because it’s all too easy to fall into the negativity bias trap, even today. Good luck bringing your strengths to work more of the time and making your career journey more you-shaped and more energising for you. Till next time, stay strong.