How to find your strengths?


Stack of books

Do you do what you do best, every day?

Chances are you don’t. Too often our natural talents go untapped … from … cradle to … cubicle, we devote more time to finding our shortcomings than to developing our strengths.
~ Tom Rath, Strengths Finder 2.0

Want to change that?

There are a plethora of self-help books claiming to help you find your passion. They make promises like …

“Discover what you really want – and how to get it”

“How to claim the life you were meant to live”

“How to love what you do every day and live life to the full”

Do I hear you groan? Perhaps not, if you are reading this post. Before you dismiss this as something flakey – read on.

Choosing your vocation
We all got to our current vocations in a range of ways. Some may have been free choices, others out of necessity – perhaps others still were arrived at by fate, when doors opened that you chose to go through. Whatever your story, there may be reason to review your current situation. We spend a lot of time at work. Wouldn’t it be great if it was doing something that boosted your confidence, improved your sense of direction and purpose?

Career advisors and educators claim that children in school now will have many different vocations in their lifetimes. With that level of change, they will need to develop a range of skills and be adaptable. A good sense of their own strengths will be important. For those who have been working – say in a variety of roles – perhaps it is time to reflect and get some feedback on where your strengths lie.

Why might we need feedback to inform us about our strengths? Well, I am not sure about you but I have found that I hear more about my strengths when I am leaving an organisation. In the farewell speech, there is usually a lot of good stuff said and I often think – if that had been passed on earlier – perhaps I wouldn’t be going?

It is a paradox of human psychology that while people remember criticism, they respond to praise. The former makes them defensive and therefore unlikely to change, while the latter produces confidence and the desire to perform better.
~ Roberts, Spreitzer, Dutton, Quinn, Heaphy & Barker (2005) How to Play to Your Strengths

By identifying your strengths and taking this more positive approach, you don’t need to ignore areas needing development.  Rather it provides a balance – especially in a world where people are quick to critique. Tapping into your strengths might change the way you look at your job, your organisation, yourself even.

Do you know your strengths?
You can call on feedback from others about your strengths or do a self-assessment. The first one is likely to be more objective and provide you with insights about yourself you may not recognise on your own. The authors of the HBR article How to Play to Your Strengths (2005) discuss a method called Reflected Best Self (RBS). Theirs is a 5 step process.

  1. Identify people and ask for feedback
    Identify people who know you and whom you respect. Choose a varied group from family, friends, present and past colleagues so you can get a “broader and richer” understanding about how you are perceived. Ask them to provide you with feedback about your strengths. Email is a quick and easy way to collect and use the feedback.
  2. Recognise patterns
    In reading through the feedback, look for common themes.  Using a table can help to sort these.

    Strengths Table

    Source: How to Play to Your Strengths,

  3. Write your self portrait
    Use the themes from the feedback to write a description of yourself at your best.  This should be written as prose, in a few paragraphs. So start with something like, When I am at my best I …
  4. Redesign your job
    Using your knowledge of your strengths, see how you can redesign aspects of your job. Find the parts of your job where you have some autonomy – it may be at the margins.  Try redesigning things in those areas, so that you are able to better use your strengths. If this doesn’t work, start looking for a new role that calls for the strengths you have identified.
  5. Beyond good enough
    Now that you have your strengths identified a great sense of self-confidence flows. Ensure that you balance up the developmental ledger by using your strengths to address your weaknesses.  This will influence the approach you take.

This isn’t the end of the strengths tale. It is just the beginning.  There is more to say about working with a positive focus and the benefits it brings.  But that’s another post.  Until then – be strong!

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