5 Strategies to Optimize Your Strengths

As leaders and managers we seem to spend a lot of time focusing on everyone’s weaknesses or short-comings; very often our own. Performance improvement plans, appraisals, report cards and even weighing yourself can focus on the negative. The area that needs improvement. The areas we or our direct reports fell short. I can focus on the typo my assistant had in an email and totally overlook the project he took on all by himself, flawlessly. It’s always easy to default to picking out what went wrong in order to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Whether it’s the B on the report card with the balance being all A’s, remember the brownie you had yesterday when you weigh a pound more even though you also ran 10 miles or focusing on the budget shortfall when sales are way above expectations. We focus on the weaknesses and try and mitigate them.optimize your strengths
How about focusing and leveraging your or others strengths? I can remember a Marketing Director who was horrible at catching typos. Catching typos is pretty important when it comes to marketing collateral. The director was outstanding at design and implementation but wasn’t that great at details. I can identify with this. I’m horrible at details. Grammar even. So do we send the Marketing Director and me to a course on finding mistakes and typos or do we find someone who “loves” to find all the flaws? They actually find it a challenge to make sure an entire document is flawless. We can send us to courses, school and for an MBA but it’s only going to mitigate the issues. We will never be flawless. It’s best to play to our strengths and find someone else to pick up the slack on our weaknesses.

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So here is how to do that:

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1. Inventory. Take an inventory of what you are good at. In Scott Adams’ book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, he suggests recalling what you loved to do when you were 10 years old. What could you spend hours at? I can remember setting up class rooms and pretending to be a teacher or creating plays when I was a kid in our basement. Hmmm. Maybe that’s why I like facilitating and coaching. Another option is to take an assessment like Strengths Finders. If you purchase the book, they give you an access code to take the assessment. My top three strengths are Strategic, Relator and Positivity. It’s good to know. Being a claims adjuster or mortician might be a bad fit. Inventory your strengths.

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2. Delegate. Figure out your weaknesses, and if possible, delegate them. I’m really fortunate that one of the members of “Cathy’s Brain Trust” (folks who give me feedback before I post these posts) is an English Major. Actually, you all are very fortunate that she is an English Major because grammar isn’t my strong suit. I also don’t have a very good handle on Excel. I can do the basics but it’s tedious to me. I have no desire to attend classes to become an Excel wiz. If I can avoid working on a spreadsheet, I delegate. So look at your team. Are you trying to make someone who loves sitting at a computer trouble shooting, try and improve their customer service skills? If they aren’t friendly and accommodating, perhaps there is someone else who is better suited to take phone calls. As any good team coach would say, put your aces in their places. Delegate your weaknesses.

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3. Dedicate. Now dedicate some blocks of time to your strengths and get into the flow. Csíkszentmihályi (the psychologist who coined the idea of flow) described flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” Parlay what you are good at so that you can do your best work. This is much more productive (and enjoyable) instead of trying to fix your weaknesses. It’s also a much more positive experience. Dedicate blocks of time to flow.

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4. Reflect. Takes some time to reflect on your accomplishments. From my years of coaching experience, this is something most of us don’t do. Take a look back on what you accomplished with your strengths. Acknowledge yourself for all that you have contributed to the world. Even small things can add up. Did you just run your fastest time for a 5k? Did you spend a half hour with your aging mother? Did you pay it forward by buying a latte for the car behind you? Did you make a contribution to ALS? Did you make sure you smiled at a stranger at the grocery store? All of these things add up. Take stock and reflect on all that you have accomplished.

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5. Assess. Assess your optimization of your strengths. The strengths that you have are your gifts. Make sure you are using them. Take my biggest strength, Strategic. I’m talented in creating alternative ways to proceed. If there is any given scenario, I quickly spot patterns and issues. When I am coaching or facilitating, I’m open to all options which enhances my students and clients thinking. When I am given a set curriculum that is regimented and unbending, I might as well be in a straight jacket. I suffocate. I make sure that I have an outlet for my strategic strengths. If you were a concert pianist, a toy xylophone would be an insult and unbearable. If someone enjoys people, don’t put them in a window-less office for 8 hours a day. Assess the utilization of your strengths.

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I realize that most of us can’t spend 60 hours a week on just our strengths and delegate taking the trash out for the rest of our lives. I do think you can strike a balance so that you and the folks around you can feel empowered by making sure that their gifts are being utilized on a daily basis.

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