What does leverage personal strengths mean?
Your personal strengths are the things that you are good at.
Leveraging your personal strengths means using more of what you are good at to get more of what you want.
As for how to use them, what they are, how much more and what it is you actually want, well those are the complicated bits. Let’s start with what you’re good at:
You might say you’re a good cook. Or that you’re good at writing. Or that you’re good at telling scary stories or that you’re good at making cocktails. Maybe you’re good at being determined or you’re good at staying positive. Maybe you’re good at playing the guitar, learning new things or just being dependable. There are literally an infinite number of things you could tell me that you’re good at.
So how do we make sense of all this potential? We’re going to dive a bit deeper into this, but first let’s be clear on what personal strengths are not: they are not your true passion and they are not something you desire to be or have. Personal strengths are here and now, in front of your eyes. They can be evidenced – that means when you demonstrate them you can point to evidence that you have done so.
For example – you say you are a good cook? Great, make me some scrambled eggs…
When you’re considering what you’re good at, it’s useful to think of three layers (think of layers of an onion).
1. The outer layer consists of skills. These are things that someone can be taught fairly easily through demonstration. Think of driving. I can show you how to turn the car on, how to accelerate, brake, indicate, park, etc. If all other factors are normal then I could reasonably expect you to slowly acquire and perfect the skill of driving as I demonstrated more and more how to do it. Some skills are easy to get good at, and some are hard, but all are improved through repetition.
Examples of skills (that are useful in the workplace):
2. The second layer consists of behaviours. These influence the way I go about learning skills and applying the skills I have learned. I might be patient, or determined, or careless… Each of these behavioural traits will influence how I go about learning how to drive. The best research we have suggests that it is impossible to call out one behaviour or even a cluster of behaviours as good (or strong) vs bad (or weak) because different situations call for different behaviours. That being said, Researchers have identified a broad range of behaviours that tend to lead to success in business in the long term.
Examples of behaviours (that are useful in the workplace) :
being stable and consistent
being open to feedback
Adaptablity and flexiblity
3. The inner layer consists of attitudes and beliefs. These set the boundaries within which my behaviours support the development of my skills. Think of learning how to play football. If kicking the ball is a skill and getting good at it enables me to reliably kick a goal, then my behavioural strength of determination will help me practice enough to learn how to kick goals, which will only be useful to my team mates if it rests on my belief that I must follow the rules and kick the ball into the correct goal
Here are some examples of attitudes and beliefs that are useful in the workplace:
Believing that people are fundamentally good and want to do good work
Believing that I can handle what life throws at me
Your personal strength can be any of these layers individually, or a combination of all three. When people talk about realizing your full potential they are usually talking about aligning all three.
So to summarize, your strengths are the things you are good at. They tend to exist in three layers: skills are the front line, behaviours mediate and attitudes and beliefs are the core. Leveraging your strengths means doing more of what you are good at to get more of what you want.
How do you identify and leverage your personal strengths?
Go to work on acquiring the skills and knowledge you need to fully realise your strengths – Peter Drucker
How do you go about doing this? The first step is identifying what you’re good at. Once you have that, the outer layer – the skills – tend to be the easiest to get to and to change and develop. After that, b ehaviours are a bit more tricky. You really need to understand psychology – either explicitly or intuitively – to make behavioural changes, but it is wholly possible (and the information is freely available). Ultimately, t he grand regulator of being able to leverage your strengths is your attitudes and beliefs.
Can you change your beliefs? The short answer is yes. The long answer is ten years on a psychotherapists couch…
I bring you pragmatic and applicable solutions here. Unfortunately that means I can’t give you ten years of therapy, but I can show you the way to a few short cuts (and you can always call me or email me any time if you get stuck).
Identify what you’re good at part 1
Start with Skills – your current skills. It is most useful and constructive to start in the here and now. I’ve met people who say “I’m not good at anything” – but they are normally comparing themselves to where they would like to be, rather than to where they currently are. You might not like where you are, and want to get somewhere else, but the plain and simple fact is that you are where you are. You can only build from where you are. At the risk of over quoting Drucker, “You cannot build performance on weakness”
So the first step on the journey is to plunge into the here and now. Take a deep breath, become aware of yourself in your clothes with your feet resting on your shoes, and consider what you are good at. If you need some help with this then just google “skills inventory”. You’ll find about 15 million pages that can provide you with checklist after checklist. Try to identify 5-10 skills that you have right now.
Once you’ve identified your current skills, take some time to identify which of these your current role requires – you can circle them or underline them. An example for me that spans both is public speaking. I’m good at it and my job requires that I do it.
About 4 in 5 people find this exercise pretty easy. If you’re the 1 out of 5 that struggles to find the link, then come back to the here and now. This is not an aspirational activity. When I do this with coaching clients I refuse to accept that there are no current strengths required in your current role. The same applies to you: review the lists until you have your current skills that are requirements in your current role. Don’t judge what you come up with. Just be brutally honest.
Park this list for now – we’ll revisit it shortly.
Identify what you’re good at part 2
Before we can get to leveraging your skills we need to understand your most and least useful behaviours. Again we are right here in the present moment. No wishful thinking, no aspirational desires. If you have to, go and stand in front of a mirror for this exercise and stare into the depths of your own eyes. This activity requires honesty.
Your behavioural strengths are the things that facilitate you applying your skills to greater effect.
Consider two doctors. Doctor Bob and Doctor Thomas both went to Harvard Medical School and both finished top of their class. Both have exemplary technical skills. They can diagnose common maladies with reliable accuracy and great speed. Doctor Bob sets up a practice and has a full waiting room in no time at all. Doctor Thomas is still staring at his empty waiting room months in. The difference between the two is bedside manner. It is not about he level of skill they have, but rather how that skill is applied.
So this is the looking in the mirror part. Consider the skills you just listed. The second list, the ones that are useful in your current role. On the left hand side write down the behaviours that help you to apply these skills to greater effect. To take my personal example of public speaking, I’m going to write down relationship building, interactive, and having fun. I believe that these ways of approaching and delivering my talks improves the response I get. My belief is based on feedback I’ve received.
Doctor Bob might write friendly, patient and compassionate. I’ve already given you some examples of useful behaviours from a leadership point of view.
On the other side of your skill write down the behaviours that hinder you – that stop you from getting the best outcomes from applying your skill. For me I would write down leaving things to the last minute, skipping ahead, and overcomplicating. This is based on me looking in the mirror and feedback I’ve received.
Our Doctor Thomas might write too factual, don’t connect with them personally, treat them like a problem to be solved.
There are two rules for this activity: be honest with yourself, and be open to the evidence. Being open to the evidence means removing your filters – the subconscious filters that we all use to seek out information to reinforce our views… The best way to be open with the evidence is to look for evidence that contradicts your viewpoint. If you think you’re compassionate then look for evidence to the contrary, not evidence to reinforce your view.
It doesn’t have to be a long list, on either side. Just try to identify 2-3 things that enhance the outcomes you get from applying your skills, and 2-3 things that hinder or undermine those outcomes.
Do this for each of the skills you identified.
Look for themes in the enhancing behaviours. the more skills you look at the more likely you are to come up with authentic behavioural strengths. Martin Seligman would call these your signature strengths. They are behaviours that come naturally to you that serve to enhance the impact of your skills.
Cherish, nurture and respect these. They are incredibly valuable: skills are binary – you either have them or you don’t; behaviours are multipliers – you can apply a signature strength to almost any skill, whether it is a strength or not, to get a better result.
Identify what you’re good at part 3
The third and most difficult set of strengths to identify are your beliefs and attitudes. If you are interested in finding out more about this topic just type schemas, self-limiting beliefs or CBT (which stands for cognitive behavioural therapy) into google.
Your beliefs are the core of the onion. they are the most deeply buried and hardest aspects of personal strength to access and change. And like the butterfly wing flap that leads to a hurricane they have an exponential effect on the magnitude of your strength. If positive behaviours are a linear multiplier then positive beliefs and attitudes are exponential multipliers. Unfortunately the opposite is also true:
Beliefs are the foundation. If you don’t have a solid set of beliefs, then you are on shaky ground.
Quite simply, beliefs that reinforce your value and ability in the world are useful, and can be considered strengths (we’ve already looked at a few examples of these). Beliefs and attitudes that undermine your value and detract from your sense of capability are definitely not strengths.
If you want to get more of what you want, you have to identify and eliminate your negative schemas / self-limiting beliefs, and choose to adopt more positive schemas / self-affirming beliefs. It’s easily said, but not so easily done. My advice if you’d like to explore this further would be to talk to a professional.
As always, please feel free to contact me if you get stuck.
Leverage what you’re good at part 1
Once you’ve got a sense of your current skills that are required in your role (from the first activity in the webinar), list out what constitutes evidence of that skill. Do this for each skill. For example, I am good at public speaking. My job requires that I speak publicly. The evidence that I am speaking well is two-fold: people provide me with positive feedback after I speak, and I get asked to speak at events at an increasing frequency.
Once you’ve identified the evidence the next step is to come up with a plan to generate more evidence. Yes I said generate. I have a plan to get more better positive feedback from more speaking engagements.
If you want to leverage your strengths – and remember this means doing more of what you’re good at to get more of what you want, then you must plan to generate more evidence – if you’re ambitious, plan for an evidence explosion. so much evidence, of so much magnitude, that you cannot be ignored!
This activity is so critical. This is about learning how to leverage your strengths. Once you’ve done this once, you can apply it to any skill – but if you don’t follow through all the way with one skill – taking that one thing from skill through behaviours and attitude alignment into the evidence explosion, then you will not fully hone the capacity to leverage your strength.
The key message: first, get better at what you’re already good at. Take a deep dive into improving. Be evidence-based and get world class.
Leverage what you’re good at part 2
Finally, now that you know about the evidence explosion, we can talk about developing new strengths.
For some guidance on this, we turn to a recent study of 250,000 360-degree surveys of 30,000 leaders completed by the Harvard Business School to identify skill combinations that result in higher performance
The results are quite startling. The study identified 7 core strengths that all others build from. If you’re looking to develop a strength you don’t have, try to identify one that you do have in one of these clusters, that you can build from.
The key message here is that a djacent skills are easier to develop than wholly alien ones.
For instance, I might go from giving presentations, to giving speeches, to running webinars. These things are not the same skill sets, but they are adjacent, and I can leverage my current skill into new skill acquisition.
If you want to be doing something completely different then you need to figure out the breadcrumb route in between your current strength and the thing you’re trying to acquire. This means building a bridge of adjacent strengths to get from where you are to where you want to be. People do this naturally – they rely on what they already know. If you’d like to check out the HBR article then just google “HBR How to improve your strengths.”
My personal advice, based on no Harvard research but purely my own experience with executives, is that in order to learn new things, to develop new strengths, first: you have to get good at getting good. Then you can try something similar but different.