Ask a woman to name her signature strengths and she’ll often squirm in her chair, look away or hesitate. Try asking her what she’s an expert in, and she may just leave the room! On a daily basis, women juggle important demands … yet talking about our talents can be downright unnerving.
Five years ago, I realized the full importance of strengths while interviewing 30 C-level women for my first book. I was flat-out amazed that not one or two — but most every woman I sat down with — noted that she didn’t just hammer herself for her weaknesses, but she actively, strategically cultivated her gifts so she could call on them in any situation.
The good news is that you can do the same. It takes a little time, and for some — a level of self-permission — to really harness your superpowers and then capitalize on them to benefit your career. You can use this checklist to get going:
Beyond listening to feedback from others, how can you identify where you’re particularly adept? Karl Staib, author of the book Work Happy Now, offers some insight: “People love coming to you for this thing because they know you will do an amazing job. Career superpowers are actions that come easily to you, are fun and you can do them for hours on end.”
Are you especially skilled at bringing a room of people with different agendas together – to focus on one unified vision? Can you sell so effectively because you’re able to make a personal connection with each prospect? If so, take a cue!
Just as an athlete trains in a new sport (that supplements their main sport) for dexterity, so too should you. Jodi Glickman, author of Great on the Job: What to Say, How to Say It. The Secrets of Getting Ahead, recommends, “Use your strength in a situation that’s ‘higher stakes’ than normal — such as presenting to an audience of 100 rather than a smaller sized one — or use it in a new or different environment. If you’re great at presenting to clients, but have never pitched new business, ask to present in a business development context.”
Glickman adds that one hallmark of skill mastery is being able to teach it to others: try training someone junior to you on your superpower.
Your strengths won’t have much growing power if you ignore them. Mitch Shepherd, founder of the Women in Real Life (WiRL) Summit, an online skill building conference for women advised, “Continuous improvement needs to be an area of focus or it simply falls off the radar until there’s a problem. The biggest thing is finding something you want to learn and develop, so you’ll stay motivated to dedicate the time.”
Whether you read a blog, watch a TED talk or attend a topical seminar, you need to consider new angles of your strength. How is this skill likely to be needed in the future? In what areas are you most enthused about having an even bigger impact?
The final step involves in getting others to associate you with your superpowers. After all, they’re pointless if no one knows you have them. Rather than being passive in your approach, decide that the keywords you’re associated with are in your hands. Do you want to be called upon for your knowledge of a particular industry trend, methodology or technology? Spearhead a task force in that area, offer a brown bag lunch to teach others on the topic or ask if your project can be featured along with a Q&A of you on the company Intranet.
Says Peggy Klaus, author of Brag: The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It. “Talk about yourself and your accomplishments in a conversational, story-like manner. The more you do it, the less forced it will feel.”
Women who make it to leadership roles have abilities that are valuable in the marketplace, personal awareness of what they are, and then they flex those muscles in all kinds of highly visible situations.