6 Key Steps to Personal Strengths

A great quote on personal strengths:

"You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle."
~ Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple (Stanford - 2005 commencement speech)

Doing great work means working with your personal strengths, the things you are great at and love to do. In the book, GO Put your strengths to Workit covers in detail on applying and finding your personal strengths in these six steps: 

1) Challenge Your Assumptions 

The way most people think is this: "Take care of your weaknesses, and success will follow." However, if you just focus on correcting your weaknesses you will end up with a bunch of mediocre talents. You won't shine greatly in any area, that you'll be just...average.

That kind of thinking requires a leap of faith. You have to trust yourself (or others) that playing their strengths will enable success in the long run.

For example:

Pro baseball player, Ted Williams didn't put all his energy on stealing bases, or home runs, he focused on hitting the ball. (he was the last person to bat over .400 in 1941!).

Warren Buffett donated some $30 billion to the William Gates Foundation. Why? Doing charity work doesn't interest him, he's far more interested in building businesses.

Don't take my word for it, be willing to experiment and test the assumption you should focus more on personal strengths..

2) Know your Strengths and Weaknesses

Once you're ready to take the dive and make your strengths work for you, there are a number of ways to help you identify your strengths. There are different ways to analyze your strengths, from learning styles, personality, skills, or by tasks.

  • strength & weakness cards - A simple but effective way to identify certain tasks you like and dislike.
  • multiple intelligence - Which one of the 7 categories do you fall in?
  • kolb learning style - This theory has four cycles of learning.
  • Meyers Briggs - Arguably the most popular personality assessment test on the planet.
  • strength finder - This test zeros in on your skills, knowledge and your talents.
  • visual auditory kinesthetic - Do you prefer to to listen, see, or feel the communication/learning?
  • left brain right brain (dual brain) - Are you a better leader or a manager?
  • transactional analysis - Ego analysis. Which one of the 3 egos are running your life?
  • johari window model- Do you know your blind spots? Be sure you know the big ones that are holding you back.

The tests are just labels that do it's best to try to analyze you in a certain perspective. It's useful, but don't use the tests as the end result, use it as a guide, not a manual. It's the productive activities that make time irrelevant that are your real strengths.

When it comes down to it, you know it's a personal strength when you're in the 'zone' and can't wait to get back to it again. On the other hand you know you have a weakness when you can't wait for the task to be over with and you have a 'hangover' that drained you from doing that particular task.

That's what the strengths and weaknesses cards are for, to help identify those things.

3) Find ways to use your Strengths 

Once you have a good idea what you are good at, position yourself where you can spend the most time doing your personal strengths. Think about it, would you rather have fun for more of your working on things you're good at or things that bore you?

The way to start doing things that strengthen you is to plan ahead and measure time spent on strengths. Pick two activities that strengthen you and be sure to put it in your calendar. Obviously some of your strengths are not a good fit for your job and will require some creativity. 

For instance, you're a programmer that spends most of the time on the computer. However, you really want to work with people on the design aspects. If that's the case, then find ways where meeting up with people more often can add more value.

Also, write down how much time you think you'll be spending on your strengths. According to the Gallop poll, only 17% of us spend time on our strengths "most of the time". A sad number you don't need to belong to.

4) Stop your Weaknesses

Again, your weakness are activities that you just can't seem to do well, no matter how many times you try. These are the the things that end up making you feel tired and always put off doing it. (there are people who actually like to clean bathrooms out there somewhere.)

Now this time, you're gong to put down the two activities for the week that weaken you. At this time, think of ways you can defer, delegate, or just simply drop that activity. Perhaps you'll find a certain weakness task not as important as you thought it was. The whole point is to experiment. 

Most of the times it is just the few tasks you cannot stand doing that ruins your day or week. Keep that in perspective that it's only the few tasks, not the "entire" job or class.

5) Communicate your Personal Strengths

If there's a project that you know you would love to do and kick ass, be sure to let your boss know. If you have your own business, outsource the tasks that are boring to you and focus on doing your great work. It will generate the biggest bang for the buck. 

Speak up! Let people know what you really want to do. If you don't do this then others won't know you true strengths, they will assign tasks that they think you're good at. 

6) Develop Solid Habits

Once you've done the steps above, the question is "How long will the changes last?" That entirely up to you. Be consciously aware of what activities excite you and the ones that bore you to tears.

These suggestions are from the book:

  • Review daily what strengthens you and weakens you - This will reinforce the things you should and should not be doing
  • Every week, do your strengths planning - Plan your week with as
  • Every 3 months meet with your team or manager - consider this like a progress report, to discuss how things are going
  • Every 6 months re-assess your strengths and weaknesses - Hopefully you are spending more time on personal strengths and looking for new ones.
  • Yearly review - Review your weekly plans to see if you've been more engaged in your personal strengths

So there you go, something you can work on every day, week, 3 months, 6 months and a year towards your strengths.

Go Live Strong!

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