Why optimising your strengths is more important than discovering them

There are commentators out there who will tell you that the most important thing to do when taking a strengths approach to work is to DISCOVER YOUR STRENGTHS. So, identify them by name, feel good that you have some strengths and then things will fall into place for you.  Really?

We believe life isn’t that simple. Discovering your strengths is an important step but we feel that there’s a wider context here – and that strengths discovery is only part of that bigger picture. We’ve found that you’ll truly get the best from your strengths if you follow a kind of route map for your development, which gives you purpose, context and opportunity to stretch and grow in areas that are meaningful to you.

Our route map includes the following 5 steps. We recommend getting disciplined in following this approach if you truly want to flourish at work and put your strengths to work to their best effect.

  1. First, set clear ASPIRATIONS for your career and personal development. Setting aspirations is about clarifying what you want to achieve with your career and development and aligning your goals with the organisation’s goals. You need to be clear on what success will look like and why it is important for you and your organisation. So, your aspiration might be getting a promotion within 2 years, or getting more from every day in your current role, or becoming a more effective professional in your area. Just be clear on your aspiration and make sure it’s Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-limited (SMART).
  2. Second, build a good AWARENESS of your strengths, performance risks and changing career environment, including your job requirements.  This part is about discovering your strengths but also realising where they fit into your work context. Building awareness involves understanding your strengths, skills and experience and working out how to match these with the team and organisation’s goals as closely as possible. It also involves finding new opportunities within and outside the organisation to help you build your strengths and career.  So, you might discover at this stage, for example, that you have a Strategic mindedness strength, that your organisation needs to become more aware of future trends in its area, and that you have a skill in formulating strategy, which comes naturally for you but not necessarily for others.
  3. Next, take ACTION to optimise your strengths and performance. Taking action is about developing the day-to-day productive habits and a support network that helps you perform as well as possible and moves you closer to your aspirations. It also involves minimizing the impact of your performance risks (including strengths in overdrive and limiting weaknesses). Finally, it is about identifying ‘stretch’ opportunities to learn, grow and continuously fine-tune your strengths and performance.  So, with the Strategic mindedness example, you might decide to push for more opportunities to get involved in strategic planning in your team or department, at the same time as developing out skills in change management and looking for role models in strategic leadership from whom you can learn.
  4. Following this, strive to be AGILE in the way you use your strengths and skills to ensure you maintain performance in the face of change. Being agile is about learning how to be more flexible in the way you apply your strengths, skills and experience across different work situations. It is also about adapting your goals, work approach and relationships to the changing work environment with speed and precision.  So, you may find that strengths and skills in Strategic thinking aren’t particularly valued in your area of the business, so you may need to search elsewhere in the organisation to find a home for these qualities. You may also learn that your lack of Detail focus or Persuasiveness may mean that your ideas aren’t as credible or convincing as you want them to be, so you might need to work on these areas, or work with others who already have these strengths and skills, so developing your agility.
  5. Finally, celebrate ACHIEVEMENT and build momentum for future success. Celebrating achievement is about taking stock of what you have achieved, seeking feedback and learning from both successes and setbacks. It is also about learning how to remove things that are getting in the way of your success and strengthening things that are helping you succeed. This will help pave the way for even greater levels of success, as well as higher levels of confidence. So, tick the goals you have achieved off your list as you go – perhaps successfully participating in strategy discussions about the future of your organisation, achieving promotion to a strategic advisory or leadership role, or completing a course of study in change management.

As you can see, discovering your strengths is an important part of your development journey but it’s only part of the picture. Transformation comes when you place your strengths in a practical context and point them in a direction that’s meaningful to you.  Following a route map like this will help you achieve much much more in your role, in your career and in your life.

Dr Paul Brewerton, MD, Strengthscope