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MANAGEMENT: Do You Play to Your Strengths as a Leader?
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altImagine Yao Ming sitting behind a desk working as a mid-level manager. Not only would his 7’6” frame seem ridiculously oversized for 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 workplaces across the globe.
 
In the case of Yao Ming, his natural gifts of size, strength and agility were recognised by people who helped him develop his raw talents into amazing strengths on the basketball court. Not only did Yao Ming benefit from his talents being developed and utilised, but every teammate, coach and fan shared in the successes that came from his strengths being productively expressed. Yet, most employees and organisations fail to operate from the same paradigm. According to research conducted by the Gallup organisation, only 20% of employees working in large organisations felt that their strengths were in play every day. 
 
Contrast that statistic with the benefits that come from employees who capitalise on their strengths. Work teams that intentionally engage with employee strengths are 8.9% more profitable, 12.5% more productive and report 6 times the level of engagement than typical employees. In the face of such compelling research, it's obvious that utilising people’s individual strengths matters in the workplace.
 
altWhat about you?
So, what about you? Do you know what your unique strengths are? If not, what do you need to do to better identify them? If you do, how well can you communicate them to those around you? How much of your current role affords you the opportunity to leverage your strengths into high performance? Before you can hope to harness the strengths of your employees, you need to first understand your own unique strengths and how to consistently bring them into your daily activities. 
 
Strengths are defined as ‘those things which 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 was 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/dancing TV shows for evidence that people's self-assessments are often quite different from others' perceptions. True strengths will be confirmed by others through the affirmation of the high quality performance.
 
Satisfaction is a subjective concept, but it is a necessary ingredient for defining a true strength. If one is not inwardly energised and satisfied by the activity, it is not a true strength. Consistent, high quality performance is always a good thing, but it is not a strength unless the performer experiences an internal and intrinsic sense of satisfaction. True strengths causes one to ‘feel strong’ and ‘in the zone’ as well as energised being by the activity. 
 
altIdentifying Your Strengths
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 some tips:
 
1. Pay attention to 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. Notice 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. Notice when you experience flow. When we are engaged in strength-based activities, we often experience a feeling of energised focus, full-engagement and enjoyment in the process of the activity. Whenever we feel ‘in the zone’ during an activity, there is a good chance that we are tapping into our 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 of a strength. 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 hints for identifying your strengths, different assessment tools are available in the marketplace to give you a head start in identifying your strengths. My favourite strengths-assessment tool is the Clifton Strengths Finder offered by Gallup. Through it (and others like it), you will be given feedback about your areas of natural talent and a language to communicate about your strengths.
 
Next Steps
Identifying what your strengths are is just the beginning of the strengths journey. Once you have identified your natural talents, here are 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 greater potency. Intentionally using your strengths is one of the best ways to keep growing in effectiveness.
 
2. Seek to enhance your strengths with additional training and experience. Your areas of natural talent are your areas of richest potential. Focus your professional development on turning 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 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 co-workers and employees do the same. And then, you'll really see the power of strengths in the workplace!
 

by David Zovak 

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