What do you need to do in order to perform better in your role – or to progress in your career? Do you need to work on those things you’re not good at? Address your weaknesses? Get to grips with those bits of your job you don’t particularly enjoy but that have to be done?
For most people that’s what personal development means – it’s about focusing on your weaknesses in order to become competent in every aspect of your role.
Here’s a radical idea though. When working on your personal development, don’t focus on your weaknesses. Focus on your strengths.
And by strengths, I don’t just mean what you’re good at. I mean those tasks and activities that you love to do, that energise you and motivate you to do more.
Because contrary to popular opinion – and most management practice – it’s only by focusing on developing your strengths that you can truly become a high performer.
And it benefits organisations too. Because by focusing on strengths we can improve employee engagement, performance and customer experience.
Let’s start with self-awareness
Do you know who you are as a person? What makes you tick? What you love to do?
You’d be surprised how many people I come across who haven’t really thought about this before. But it’s the crux of personal development. Because how can you know how you want to develop unless you have a good understanding about your own strengths and weaknesses?
A greater level of self-awareness means you make better career choices. Rather than haphazardly falling into a career, you’re more targeted. You’re able to evaluate a role against what you are good at and what you know you like doing.
Having a sense of perspective about your abilities also makes for better relationships.
We’ve all come across that person who likes to think (and tell everyone else) that they can take on anything, tackle any challenge. We’ve also, no doubt, met (or been) the person who constantly berates themselves for being useless – ‘I can’t do anything.’ Neither one is terribly pleasant to be around.
But knowing your strengths means you’re more comfortable in your own skin – and as a result more comfortable to be around. You’ve accepted who you are and are happy to be honest about what you can and can’t do, what you enjoy and don’t enjoy doing. And that makes life easier for everyone.
Stop taking what you’re good at for granted
When we’re good at something we tend to take it for granted. Sometimes it comes so naturally to us that we don’t even recognise it as a strength. It’s just what we do.
It’s perhaps easier sometimes to spot those things that we don’t do well.
But with a strengths-based development approach, it’s not just about accepting or recognising what you’re good at. It’s also about taking steps to get even better.
It’s about looking for ways to push yourself in your strengths. So the brilliant violinist in the school orchestra doesn’t try to learn to play instruments that she’s not so brilliant at. She seeks out opportunities to play violin with a professional orchestra, where all the other musicians are as good or better than she is.
Spend 80% of your development time on your strengths
80% of your personal development activity should be spent on ways to stretch yourself in your strengths. Told you it was radical!
It flips traditional development approaches on their head.
But spending time on your weaknesses will only make you a competent all-rounder. That’s because the things we’re not good at also tend to be the things we don’t enjoy doing. So once we’ve reached an acceptable level of competence we stop.
But with strengths there’s no stopping us! The fact we also really enjoy doing them gives us the impetus to keep going. Until we become brilliant!
So having identified what your strengths are, consider how you’re going to stretch them. Who can you spend time with who’s already really good at this strength? How can you gain experience at a higher level with this strength? What resources can you access that will help you develop your skills in this area?
Working around your weaknesses
Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, that’s all very well and good, Rebecca, but I still have weaknesses that I need to tackle.
First of all, before addressing on your weak area, consider how important it is that you fix it. Is it going to sink the boat if you don’t?
For instance, I run a lot of workshops. It’s a key part of my job. But I am rubbish at writing on flipcharts. Frankly I’m embarrassed by my incomprehensible scribble!
But it’s not that big a deal, really. It’s not going to sink my boat!
So, instead of spending time trying to improve, I’ve found ways to work around the problem. I use a co-facilitator, I give myself more time, I use my creativity strength and draw pictures instead of writing.
So ask yourself, how much of a risk is it if you don’t improve? Do you have other strengths you can draw upon to help you? Can you delegate that task to someone else?
Then, and only then, use 20% of your development time to tackle those weaknesses that it is critical you address.
Focusing on your strengths doesn’t mean it’s easy
All development is hard. Even if you’re good at something it’s not easy to push yourself beyond your comfort zone. In fact, it can knock your confidence to discover that you find it difficult doing something you thought you were good at.
Perhaps you organised a small event within your organisation. Now you’ve set yourself the challenge of a much bigger more public event. You have all the skills but you’ve never done it on this scale before. It’s ok for that to feel scary. You are stretching yourself.
And make sure that you have the support of someone who knows you well and who can reassure you that you’ve got this. That’s invaluable. Not someone who’s going to push you too far, too fast. But someone who will help boost your confidence and give you the support you need to take that extra step.
Because by taking that extra step, you can take your career to a whole new level.