Know Your Strengths and Use Them

Thursday, August 25 2011

British philosopher, Sir Isaiah Berlin told the story of the hedgehog and the fox. The fox was always trying new things to capture the hedgehog. The hedgehog knew how to do one thing and he did it very well. He knew how to roll up into a ball and protect himself by presenting the fox with prickles, which the fox could never penetrate.

Leaders and coaches often spend the bulk of their time focusing on what a person is not good at and can ignore what the individual is already proficient at. Focusing on someone’s strengths and incorporating those strengths into day-to-day activities can produce enhanced results. That does not mean that leaders shouldn’t deal effectively with performance issues; but, if the only feedback an individual receives is around areas that need to develop, it can be very disheartening and counterproductive. One client I know calls it “nagging.”

Michael Porter, author of Book Yourself Solid, suggests that when selling yourself to prospective clients it’s more important “Who knows what you know?” and “Do they like you?”  than the previous premise, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” This is equally true for your relationships with internal clients.

You leverage your strengths when:
•    You know your strengths.
•    You determine which of those strengths are also valued by others.
•    You ensure that those who can use your strengths understand their value.
•    You spend time building relationships with those influencers, so that they choose to work with you.

A great exercise is to ask 10 to 12 people for feedback about what they perceive to be your top three strengths. Consider asking a selection of individuals representing different groups, such as peers, direct reports, clients or customers, friends, community, and association members. You may be surprised at the similarity of the answers, or you may find one group sees your strengths differently. Ask people to be honest and enjoy the experience.

Ultimately, leveraging your strengths as a leader helps you to develop strong teams. It builds confidence, raises morale, and will result in increased retention and better results.

Suggestions for further reading:
•    Now Discover your Strengths (2001) by Marcus Buckingham
•    Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance (2010) by Marcus Buckingham