When it comes to being authentic, with skill, there are few better approaches than by using the strengths approach. So today, I would like to focus on how to be more you, the strengths way. I have 5 steps to share with you:
- know your values and purpose;
- understand what energises you;
- build a brand around that;
- keep stretching, keep learning;
- avoid overdrive.
Here’s my step-by-step guide:
Step 1: Know your values and your purpose
It doesn’t get bigger than this. Your purpose is what you are here for. On earth, for the time you have. What do you want people to say about you when you’re gone? And when you’re here? For me, I’m here to create a better world, based on some of my values of love, inclusion, individuality and authenticity.
And speaking of values, they are your bedrock – your guiding principles to a way of life that you are most at home with. Most of us have a load of these, some more important than others. For me, I would add to those I’ve already mentioned integrity, responsibility, loyalty, curiosity, family and no judgement. There are more, but those will serve to illustrate.
So if you want to be more you, the strengths way, step 1, your bedrock, is to get clearer on what you’re here for (your purpose) and on your life principles (your values).
So what are yours?
Step 2: Understand what energises you
The strengths way is about recognising who you are at your most comfortable, energised and skilled best. There are a few ways to arrive at this but most start with some kind of strengths profile and the best of these, so they say, is Strengthscope.
Alongside a strengths profiler, it’s important that you do a few more things…self strengths-spot, gather info from the people whose opinion you value the most and who spend the most time with you, and spend time with your feelings, learning to notice when you feel most alive, most at one with your life, once you put to one side the shoulds and musts and parental or societal voices.
For me, my go to, bring with, ‘(almost) always on ‘strengths are 1. Collaboration (for the connection, for finding common ground, for the sheer joy of doing things together and sharing in experiences), 2. Empathy (partly in service to deepen my connections by understanding you better, and also just to understand you for you) and 3. Leading (for building energy around a vision or a goal, to move people, emotionally and literally towards a meaningful goal).
So what are your ‘stand out’ strengths?
Step 3: Build a brand around your strengths
So knowing and labelling your key strengths – those things that energise you and that you are great at or have the potential to become great at – is a good start. But if I just met you and said to you that my key strengths are Collaboration, Empathy and Leading, that would give you something but it wouldn’t give you a huge amount go on. And it’s unlikely it would help you to see how I can bring value to your world (other than maybe collaborating with you or empathising with you). But where’s the colour, the depth, the value of all of that?
To take it to the next stage, my advice is to find your own words to describe the benefits of the strengths you bring, examples of where you’ve used them, the benefit to others and stories that bring your strengths to life.
The value of my Collaboration and Empathy for example is in really getting under the skin of how you’re going to bring your best by joining the dots of what I observe, what you tell me and what we’re trying to do together and then giving you a clear insight into what I see to work through it with you and see if it’s accurate or valuable. I’ve built that strength combination into my executive coaching practice as an outworking of those strengths in combination, as well as into my leadership and management roles by helping team members to see and to value their strengths, skills and potential.
I am also told regularly that I have vision, that I can bring people around that vision and galvanise belief and action towards a shared goal, something that I believe is going to have a positive impact in the world. So that’s leading and collaboration combined to energise positive change.
When you know your values (your bedrock) and you know strengths (and the benefits they can bring), you can work up a brand and start to communicate it with confidence because you will be describing you at your natural, energised, confident and comfortable best. And people need to hear about that, because otherwise they may not get the full picture of authentic you and all that you bring.
How close are you to developing your personal brand?
Step 4: Keep stretching and learning
Our strengths are natural qualities that we are drawn towards using and probably have been for most of our lives. That means that, in most cases, we will have become fairly skilled in using them. But it also means that we are likely to have fallen into habituated patterns of behaviour where we are most likely to get a consistently positive outcome. And that can inadvertently, when we’re not paying attention, lead to the development of a ‘fixed mindset’ around our strengths, where we avoid risking using them in a new or more challenging context.
And yet, our strengths are our core DNA of value, they are most likely to involve the most practiced elements of our behaviour. So step 4 involves consciously planning to continue to grow and develop them to their next level of impact. Sure, this means risk, but it also means bigger potential reward and likely more confidence as we grow and develop our skills further.
For me, if I am seen already as a visionary leader then what can I do to stretch that Leading strength still further? How can I get more people around the vision? How can I learn to hone my Leading skillset? I can read, I can research, I can get mentoring and coaching, and I can take practical steps to more widely communicate my message so that more people can get value from my strengths and I can supercharge my vision.
What active steps are you taking to develop your strengths set further, so that you can be more you, but in a more skilful way?
Step 5: Avoid overdrive
Gotta love overdrive. The shadow side of our strengths. By way of example, my Collaboration in overdrive can mean overstretching my commitments and falling short on delivery of the value that I’ve promised. Antidote: pick my collaborations carefully, set expectations realistically and boundary well. And I use my Strategic mindedness strength to help bring the bigger perspective to that to avoid initiating too many collaborations for my own good and for everyone else’s.
My Leading in overdrive can look like an idea without a plan. Antidote: get a plan together that’s SMART and make sure that the right people are involved in managing it through to a successful conclusion. And that’s unlikely to be me. I choose to get other people’s help to develop a plan and stick to it and actually to manage me to bring my best and to get a good result.
My Empathy in overdrive can lead me to lose my sense of self in my connection with someone else. In the service of others, I may forget to serve myself and that can lead me to over-analyse and over-worry. Strategic mindedness to the rescue to make sure that I can keep a bigger picture perspective. And the support I have from others to give me an external view on something I’m experiencing or feeling is essential for me.
What are your overdrive risks and what are your antidotes; how can you manage them so that they don’t get in the way of you being your best you?
Those are my top 5 for today to be more you, the strengths way: know your values and purpose; understand what energises you; build a brand around that; keep stretching, keep learning; and avoid overdrive. Till next time, stay strong.