Strengths fear affects all of us
At Strengthscope we come across this all the time, but it’s not talked about all that much in the wider world even though it has big implications for people being more authentic, more fulfilled, happier and more energised at work.
What do we mean when we say ‘strengths’ – we will use this definition at Strengthscope which is that strengths are underlying qualities that energise us and that we are great at or have the potential to become great at. So strengths in the workplace aren’t skills, instead, they are aspects of work which we love, that are naturally ‘us’ and that often are the reasons we get out of bed and keep coming to work every day.
But in general, people aren’t that great at recognising, acknowledging or using their strengths and there are a lot of reasons for this – basically we’re taught from an early age to conform to the model of what’s expected, locate and iron out weaker points in our character and skill sets and moderate any possibility of getting too big for our boots by talking as little as possible about our successes, positive qualities, strengths and talents.
In the world of work, this has led to a slightly unfortunate turn of events, which has seen, until fairly recently, a focus on the same basic principle.
Deal with weaknesses – meet the standard – fit the profile.
Rather than encouraging people to work out who they actually are, what they love and how they can use that knowledge to contribute a unique difference to their role, their team and their employer.
This more strengths-focused approach is now starting to gather momentum…FINALLY.
So now all’s good, right? Well, actually, no, because while the strengths approach has become better known and more widely adopted, the prevailing culture is still one of deficit, weakness and negativity.
And so this naturally creates anxiety for people who are motivated to use their strengths or who are strengths-curious.
So we want to cover a few points on strengths fear and what you can do about it.
These are common concerns that some people voice, or even if they don’t say it, may well be thinking about it when they experience strengths initially.
When people see their profile for the first time, (for many people it’s actually the first time they’ve ever had their strengths acknowledged or described in this way) it’s positive, affirming, enlightening and for many people can be life-changing.
But very quickly on seeing their profile, people will focus in on those parts of their strengths wheel that are draining, or they will worry about their strengths sometimes going too far.
Totally understandable reactions given where the world is in its journey into the positive.
Which is…early…let’s say.
Sometimes people do struggle to take on board the importance of their strengths as a way of defining their uniqueness and how they might best be able to make a contribution at work. Some common concerns and my response to each include:
“Will people reject me if they know who I am? Isn’t it easier to conform? To be just like everyone else.”
This concern comes from a worry that what makes a person uniquely them isn’t good enough or isn’t right somehow, and that belief comes at us from an early age.
It can lead to a deep disconnect and mismatch between what we’re really like and what we present to the outside world.
In our experience, it’s so much easier to be real you if you tell people about your strengths and what makes you different and you own that.
“Won’t people criticise me for saying that I have strengths at all?”
Strengths are about energy and not about how skilled we are necessarily
So there’s no WAY that people will criticise you for talking about what you love, enjoy and what makes you, you.
Authentic, truthful personal story-telling is infectious, human and connects us with others on a whole new level. When you have a language, a framework, to talk about ways you can contribute that energy to your team or role, some exciting things will start to happen.
“My strengths don’t reflect what’s valued in the organisation – it’s a risk to admit that I have them”
Totally understandable fear here – you might have all Relational strengths in an organisation that seems to value Execution and getting things done.
The point here is that you can use your strengths to deliver WHATEVER outcome is expected/required by the organisation, including delivering tasks and results and projects but using the strengths you have so that you can keep your energy, interest and engagement up.
“If I have a strength and I work to make it better, then I have further to fall if I fail. I’m better off just keeping quiet, staying in my comfort zone and settling for good enough”
Maybe, but…think about people at their very best, how impressive that is, how much we value that as a species and how positively affected we are when we see people in their element, in their zone, doing things that WE might see as impossible but that they seem naturally awesome at.
So owning what makes you different and taking a risk to become exceptional in those areas, may well be worth it in the end.
“Surely I should work on what I’m weak at? Doing more with my strengths feels indulgent and abnormal”
A recent example where someone was saying this, this particular lady didn’t feel she could do any more with her Enthusiasm strength because she said it was always on and always at 100%.
So a couple of things there…
- Had she thought about how to teach this out, how to help others with the same or similar strengths to get better at using theirs?
- What about getting even more from it in situations where it could really help other people.
- What about learning how to dial up other strengths so that Enthusiasm wasn’t the only game in town but maybe Developing others, Empathy or Courage could help out and take the driving seat from time to time, that way dealing with any overdrive risk for her Enthusiasm.
To the point on working on weakness – sure, if Results focus is draining for you and yet getting things completed is vital to your role, then use your strengths to find a different way to get results, use others’ strengths to help you get there, and bring in tools, skills and practices to make sure that you don’t under-deliver.
But to focus exclusively on Results focus and developing that, rather than on the more naturally energising qualities you have can be the biggest miss in people’s personal development journeys.
There’s a lot and we mean A LOT of unexplored and ignore territory with our strengths but it’s never too late.
So if you’re interested in having a closer look at how you can hone your strengths into your greatest weapons, and bring your very best self to work every day say firstname.lastname@example.org
Strengths fear is natural but it’s manageable.
Don’t we owe it to ourselves to be the best we can be and to help others be that too?