2021 has just started, but strengths-based conversations and coaching sessions seem to be the main topic of my year already. Why is this such a hot topic and what can it do for you? Deep diving into this topic and its importance for personal and team coaching, I’ve interviewed the leadership and intercultural coach, founder, and driving force behind Coaching Without Borders, Margo McClimans.
Getting to know your strengths
Maybe you’ve expected me to end this subtitle with “strengths… and weaknesses”. But no, the focus should be on your strengths – the things you’re good at, the talents you’re born with. Instead of putting 100% of your energy into your weaknesses and getting a minor improvement, focusing on your strengths can have a much bigger impact. Of course, we should decrease weaknesses and not ignore them. But spend as much energy as needed until a point that these weaknesses don’t hold you back anymore, and then rapidly start using the main part of your energy to become the best at what makes you unique, your strengths.
Margo, can you tell us more about why knowing your strengths is important?
Human beings evolved to focus on threats rather than opportunities because back in cave-man times, dealing with threats meant the difference between life and death. This negative bias impacts us still today and creates a tendency to focus on our weaknesses, rather than our strengths. I am of the opinion that growing areas where we are already good is much more productive, inspiring, and effective than trying to “fix” our weaknesses. Moreover, knowing our strengths means we can hone how we work, what we do and don’t do in a way that brings better results and creates energy.
There are multiple ways to get to know your strengths. Firstly, answering questions such as..
- Which tasks are naturally easy for me?
- What do others compliment me for?
- What do I automatically do, but doesn’t cost me a lot of energy?
- Which tasks or moments energizes me, make me smile?
Secondly, there are many online assessments that can give you a (sometimes scarily accurate) overview of your strengths. (See the FREE link to one of those at the end of this article.)
You often use the Strengths Profile online assessment. Why exactly this tool?
Strengths Profile is the only tool I know of that measures not only what you are good at, but also what gives you energy. Moreover, it asks how much you use your strengths and with these three dimensions, they create 4 different categories, which are very actionable.
Realized strengths are what you are good at, give you energy and you are using often = keep going. Unrealized strengths are those which you are good at, and give you energy but you are not using much at the moment – this is the pot of gold. Do more of these to have better results and more energy!
Learned behaviors are things that you are good at, but don’t give you energy. Start weeding these out of your repertoire if possible. Finally, weaknesses (they are not afraid to use this word – refreshing!) are those things that you are not as good at and drain your energy. For heaven’s sake; delegate, delete or defer!
What if, after making the assessment, I’m disappointed or disagree with my strengths?
Teddy Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” One reason I can imagine someone would be disappointed with their strengths is if he/she is comparing him/herself to others….or to an unattainable ideal self-image. Either comparison is a drain on your confidence and takes your focus away from more important things in life.
Part of knowing your strengths is about building your self-awareness. Personal work is the hardest work there is, and also the most important. Your strengths are just one dimension of your personality – not who you are as a person overall. Take your focus away from your disappointment. Instead, focus on what might be possible if you lean into your unrealized strengths.
Using and fostering your strengths
Getting to know your strengths is just a part of your improvement. Awareness increases the amount of effort you’ll put in and the realization of when you are over-or underutilizing your unique powers. However, the next step, and the actual hard work, is to voice, nurture, and use them deliberately.
I’ve done the assessment and accepted my strengths. Do you have any tips on how to use my strengths more deliberately?
Shape your work. Get feedback, discuss your strengths with the people who know you best or who work most closely with you. Find out what low-hanging fruit they see for you task-wise. What new tasks would help you utilize your unrealized strengths? What tasks can you get rid of that require learned behaviors or weaknesses?
You’ve been working with this assessment and many clients over the past 15 years. What has been your main learning?
My strengths don’t feel like strengths to me. It is just how I do things. I find a lot of people, especially women, have this same experience. They don’t recognize their own strengths because they think, big deal, can’t everybody do that? Knowing my strengths (and also therefore what things are NOT my strengths) has been a liberation. It helps me give myself permission to stop doing things that I am not good at or don’t give me energy. This is a big part of why I am able to build such a great team around me.
As a small business owner, especially a personality-based business such as coaching, it is easy to fall into the trap of doing everything yourself and keeping all knowledge about how you do things in your own head. Recognizing that I want to spend as much time as possible doing the things that I am good at and passionate about inspired me to seek out help; first with operations, billing etc, and now also with communications. Thanks Team!
Feel free to use the Strength Profile for FREE until the 31st of January 2021. Via this link you can do the assessment for free and feel free to reach out if you are interested in personal or team coachings around this topic.