Each of us has particular strengths: talents in thinking, habitual ways we approach problems that give us energy to solve them. Research of more than two million people by the Gallup Organization has shown that organizations that capitalize on individual strengths are more likely to be profitable and productive than others.
Can your work be more productive (and lucrative) if you leverage your strengths?
Focusing on fixing individual weaknesses creates mediocrity; instead, recognizing varied talents, encouraging them through training, then leveraging them to overcome challenges is the basis for excellence and fulfillment. Here’s a perfect example:
Steve was a high-powered executive in the energy industry who recently was laid off. When we examined the reasons he was let go and compared them with an assessment of his talents, he realized that he had failed to bring to the job one of his greatest strengths — empathy.
Raised in a British boarding school, Steve had been taught that it was weak to be so feelings oriented. In the workplace, however, understanding colleagues’ feelings can be an important quality that lends cohesion to a team. It’s also a useful warning gauge when a company is in trouble.
“I knew what everyone was feeling and so could have positioned myself better, but I ignored the information,” Steve admitted. If he had leveraged his empathetic talents, he might very well still have a job.
Recent discoveries in neuroscience help explain why different people solve problems so differently. When we’re born, our brains have the potential to fire in any direction. Through relationships, experiences and genetics, they begin to fire in certain patterns. Because the brain cells that fire together wire together, they begin to make pathways; the next time you think, you’re more likely to think again in that particular sequence . Then, during puberty, your brain sheds the capacity you haven’t used. By the time you’re an adult, your brain is wired to think in certain ways, which is why using your talents creates excellence because you can do it faster and better than people who haven’t been thinking that way their whole lives.
However, as Steve discovered to his detriment, we often cut ourselves off from our own special abilities. We may be focused on our flaws and unable to perceive our strengths. Or we may take them for granted. Or, like Steve, we may harbor pre conceived ideas of the “right” way to think and therefore disable ourselves.
What are your strengths?
There are many ways to understand your strengths. At Professional Thinking Partners, we often focus on “domains of competence,” which describe four broad categories of thinking. (Once you hear what they are, it’s pretty easy for you to intuit which your mind typically uses.) Research by Herrmann International of a sample of over half a million people has found that 60 percent of us have two of these four; 30 percent have three; 6 percent have one; and only 4 percent, all four. They are:
- Concerned with data, facts, and numbers; focused on being "logical" and rational. With money, concerned with ways to count. With time, concerned with the present.
- Concerned with processes, operationalizing, logistics, tactics. With money, concerned with ways to save. With time, concerned with the past, with how things have been done previously.
- Concerned with feelings, morale, teamwork, helping people grow. With money, concerned with ways to help. Time isn’t so important.
- Concerned with newness, possibilities, strategy, "big picture." With money, concerned with ways to spend to do exciting new things. With time, concerned with the future.
Notice your strongest domain(s). Which are your concerns in any given situation? Are you, like “Ruth,” energized by change, bored by numbers and routine, highly innovative and have no use for “people problems”? She’s one of the 6 percent of the population strong in just one domain (in her case, the Innovative one). Or are you more like “Dan”: great at numbers and following routines and highly uncomfortable with feelings and newness (analytic and procedural)? There is no right or wrong. Just notice what’s true for you.
Your dominant ways of thinking are the raw materials you bring to every situation in which you find yourself in. The more you put yourself in situations where they’re needed, the better you’ll be at the task.
For instance, you probably don’t want me to be the brainstorm person in product development, as I lack innovative thinking. But I’m great at partnering with people who come up with the big ideas and helping them bring the idea into reality with my analytic, procedural and relational talents.
When you’re stuck, ask yourself: If my strength in ____ were a person, what would s/he advise right now?
When Steve did this self-analysis, he realized that he was extremely strong at relational thinking but had been trained to avoid it. In effect, he was cutting himself off from his greatest capacity. He began to give himself permission to use his strengths and quickly found a job using his amazing capacity to relate to others. Now he’s using those strengths to excel in a very challenging job fraught with all kinds of cultural and religious sensitivities in the Middle East.