Many people are not playing to their strengths – Are you one of them?
Ever had that feeling that you couldn’t wait for the day to end? “Roll on 5pm!!” I am sure we have all had days like that. What is more troubling however is to be in a role where you feel this on a regular basis.
My first job out of school was working as a bank teller. I didn’t give it much thought as I was just keen to get a job to pay the rent and start my working career. It took me all of two days of teller training to work out that I wasn’t well suited to this role and I certainly wasn’t playing to my strengths. I went home exhausted by the 8 hours of speaking with customers and the standards of accuracy required for that role. Within 4 weeks I have found another job that enables me to play to my strengths, be part of a solutions team and work more autonomously from time to time. As a result I got 2 promotions and was heading for my third before I decided to head to university for a business degree.
Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman in ‘First, Break All The Rules’ describe talents as “simply a recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behaviour. They say the “key is for managers to help each employee cultivate his or her talents by finding them a role that plays to those talents.”
Cultivating your talent is another way of saying play to your strengths, what are the things that give you the greatest joy and sense of accomplishment. Is it connecting with people? Is it delivering against a goal? Is it researching a solution or leading a team?
We all have strengths and we all have a brilliant contribution to make in our work environments whether we are balancing numbers, managing projects, delivering supplies or saving lives. What I find is that when I am playing to my strengths I’m at my absolute best. I am ‘kicking goals’, I am resourceful and I am growing and developing something to make a better world however large or small that might be.
It does not mean however that I don’t have to do some things that I am not passionate about or not necessarily good at (non-strengths) in my role. Being in the zone and playing to my strengths more than 70% of the time however provides the energy reserves I need to do all parts of my role and stay in the zone of great contribution.
In contrast working for sustained periods of time in the areas or talent zones we struggle in is counterproductive for the individual and the organisation. I was asked to consult to an organisation recently on a valued member of a team that was not performing in their role and tensions were rising with their leader. When I spoke with them and went through their talent profile, they offered up the comment, “I am not suited to this role am I? I think I have known that for a long time and I haven’t been able to have a good conversation with my leader” In this case her strengths were in working with people, providing customer service and training and development and she was working in a highly analytical role with little people interface. A great outcome was a joint commitment with her leader to work on securing a role that suited her talent and they gave themselves the next 3 months to achieve this. A practical solution for a valued team member.
It would be nice to think that this incident was an aberration on the employment landscape however it is all too common.
In my late teens and early twenties, I spent time volunteering as a Youth Leader in different community groups. I distinctly remember it as a time of great self- doubt for many young people who didn’t know what they were good at and didn’t know how to play to their strengths. Perhaps this is part of the reason youth suicide is so high in many of our communities.
Playing to your strengths and being recognised for your contributions has great health benefits for you as an individual and your team. It releases those wonderful endorphins in our brain that enables us to feel valued and appreciated and makes our contributions stand out more. We might even have fun in the process!
As a leader or a colleague one of the greatest gifts you can give someone is to help those around you to understand their talents and encourage them to play to them as much as possible. Take some time this week out of your busy schedule to focus on 2 -3 people around you and encourage them with what you see as their strengths and talents. It will make their day and yours at the same time.
It is important to note that while we can do this for people and achieve a significant uplift in morale and culture, most people find a sense of real validation when they can confirm their great strengths with a fully validated talent profile. It helps them understand their brilliance and value.
Enjoy the journey – play to your strengths and surround yourself with people who complement your great talents to complete the picture.