Living and working from your strengths
Imagine LeBron James sitting behind a desk and answering phones for an insurance company. Not only would his 6’8” frame look ridiculously oversized in a standard office cubicle, but our knowledge of his world-class basketball skills would have us scratching our heads at the vocational misplacement of this giant man.
Yet, in less obvious ways, this mistake is repeated again and again in ministries, churches, and workplaces across the globe.
In the case of LeBron James, his natural gifts of size, strength, and agility were recognized by people who helped him develop his raw talents into amazing strengths on the basketball court. Not only did LeBron benefit from his talents being developed and utilized, but every teammate, coach, and fan shared in the successes that came from his strengths being productively expressed.
Though it seems so obvious in LeBron’s case, most of us fail to operate from this same paradigm. According to research conducted by the Gallup organization, less than 20% of employees working in large organizations feel that their strengths are utilized everyday. (1)
Contrast that statistic with the benefits that come from those who capitalize on their strengths. Work teams that intentionally engage with employee strengths are:
- 8.9% more profitable
- 12.5% more productive, and
- 6x more engaged than typical employees (2)
Though these statistics are from the business world, similar outcomes are reported in not-for-profit and ministry realms as well. In the face of such compelling research, it's obvious that strengths matter in what we do.
NAMING A TRUE STRENGTH
Strengths are defined as "those things you consistently do with excellence and satisfaction.” Notice the key words in this definition:
Consistently means that something is only a true strength if it is repeatedly and reliably present in one's performance. An occasional great shot in golf doesn't make one a pro golfer, and an occasional great performance doesn't guarantee one has fully activated a strength. However, every great performance suggests that a potential strength may be involved and only awaits further development. Strengths are proven by their consistent track record.
Excellence is the external validation that one's performance is of high quality. Just because someone enjoyed themselves and was happy with their performance doesn't mean that others felt the same way. Simply watch any of the competitive singing or dancing shows on TV for evidence that one’s self-assessment is often quite different from others' perceptions. True strengths will need to be confirmed by others.
Satisfaction, though subjective, is also a necessary ingredient for defining a true strength. If one is not inwardly energized and satisfied by the activity, it's not a true strength. Consistent, high-quality performance is always a good thing, but it's not a strength unless the performer experiences an internal and intrinsic sense of satisfaction. True strengths cause one to feel “strong" and "in the zone" as well as energized by the activity.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
Before you can hope to harness the strengths of those around you, you need to first understand your own unique strengths and how to consistently bring them into your daily activities. Consider the following questions:
Do you know what your unique strengths are? If you do, how well can you communicate them to those around you? If you don’t, what do you need to do to better identify them? How much of your current role affords you the opportunity to leverage your strengths into high performance?
If you've read this far, you’re probably convinced that paying attention to your strengths is worthwhile. So how do you identify your strengths? Keeping in mind the definition above, here are four things to pay attention to:
1. Your inner drives - You will naturally gravitate towards roles and activities that play to your strengths. What sort of activities do you long to do more of? If money or time constraints weren't an issue, how would you most like to make your contribution to the world? Your heart will move you in the direction of your strengths. Pay attention!
2. Accelerated learning - What subjects in school came easily to you? What parts of your working life have you been able to pick up quickly and perform at a high level? When have you "shot ahead of your peers" in learning a new skill or role? The activities and areas of work which you have been able to learn quickly are good indicators that you are tapping into areas of strengths.
3. When you experience “flow” - When we are engaged in strength-based activities, we often experience a feeling of energized focus, full-engagement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. Whenever you feel "in the zone" during an activity, there is a good chance that you are tapping into your strengths.
4. Glimmers of excellence - As stated before, the occasional great performance doesn't guarantee that a strength is in full effect; however, it could indicate the potential presence of a strength-in-the-making. Since strengths are natural talents that have been developed through practice and experience, signs of emerging excellent performance will be present even in the early stages of strength development.
In addition to these tips, different assessment tools are available in the marketplace to give you a head start in identifying your strengths. My favorite strengths-assessment tool is the Clifton StrengthsFinder offered by Gallup. Through it (and others like it) you will get feedback about your areas of natural talent and a language to communicate about your strengths.
TAKING THE NEXT STEP
Identifying your strengths is just the beginning of the strengths journey. Once you have identified your natural talents, here a a few tips to begin developing them into reliable strengths:
1. Intentionally use your strengths in your current environments.
You were already using them to some degree, but with greater awareness comes greater potential for focus and potency. Intentionally using your strengths is one of the best ways to keep growing in effectiveness.
2. Enhance your strengths with additional training and experience.
Your areas of natural talent are your areas of richest potential. Focus your professional development in making your strengths into world-class strengths and you will benefit accordingly.
3. Stay in your strengths zones.
With success will come invitations and opportunities to perform outside of your strengths. Be willing to experiment and continually refine your understanding of your strengths, but don't allow yourself to drift too far away from your strengths. Does anyone remember Michael Jordan's brief foray into professional baseball? He was still a great athlete but he wasn't operating in his area of strengths!
Once you've experienced the power of working out of your strengths, you'll be ready to help your peers, co-workers, mentees, employees, etc do the same. Then you'll really see the power of strengths in action!
1. Buckingham, Now Discover Your Strengths, p. 6
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dave Zovak serves with CRM in Southeast Asia. He and his wife work with leaders in the region to see disciples made and churches started and strengthened.