The more time that goes by, the more convinced I am that Marcus Buckingham is absolutely right when he says:
“people are dramatically more effective, fulfilled and successful when they are able to focus on the best of themselves.”
He calls it the strengths revolution, and says that the corporate mentality of focusing employee development on shoring up weaknesses is antiquated and ineffective.
This “focus on your strengths” philosophy is equally powerful for entrepreneurs. You want to use your strengths as major building blocks for the foundation of your business.
- If you are outgoing and love to meet with people, make sure that you work live events and speaking into your service business.
- If you are an introverted researcher and writer, an online business may fit your strengths well.
- If you are quick on your feet and articulate, you may want to integrate television into your PR strategy.
- If you love structure and processes, you may want to create a business that thrives with automation.
But even the most powerful strengths can backfire when you rely on them too much.
When strengths attack
A couple of months ago, I had a large number of presentations to deliver in a short time frame. I love to speak, and enjoy the entire process of structuring a presentation from concept to final slides. I can also improvise well, adding examples and stories on the fly. I do not need to have everything perfectly scripted in order to feel comfortable in front of a large group.
I relied so much on these strengths that I did not allow for adequate time to complete my presentations and have time to rest. I was sitting in a hotel room at 1am, still tweaking slides for an 8am meeting. And I was grumpy, exhausted and short of creativity.
I had relied on my ability to improvise so much that I had neglected a key concept:
In order for your strengths to flourish, you have to design an ideal environment.
In my own case, I have to build in enough design and planning time when creating presentations so that I have a few days to rest and assimilate the core message. When this happens, my ability to improvise really shines, since I know the basic content cold and can riff in new directions on the fly.
I often tease my friend Jeff Moriarty about attacking strengths. He is a force of nature here in the Phoenix area. He is great at designing creative, interactive and lively events. And he knows how to fire people up to get involved in their local community. The New Times of Phoenix described his crusade as “Trying to Forge a New Identity for Phoenix, 140 Characters at a Time.”
But his enthusiasm for creating sometimes runs up against pure physical limitations.
There are only so many hours a day. And so many units of energy per day.
His tremendous strength needs to be tempered by rest, grounding and pacing. And an annoying friend like me who will say “Jeff, do you think you may want to rest from the last 13 events you organized before launching the next 13?”
To make sure your strengths don’t attack, answer the following questions:
- What are my key strengths?
- What are the conditions that allow them to shine?
- What dilutes them?
- What happens if I lean too heavily on my strengths?
- Which skills do I need to counter-balance my strengths?
- If I don’t have them myself, who can I hire who has them?
- Who is a peer mentor that is aware of my strengths and will help me keep them sharp?
The last point is really important. You must have people in your life who will give you feedback and perspective. Charlie Gilkey does this for me — if he sees me start to improvise a lot of new ideas without building in planning, he calls me on it.
I am sure you have your own examples where relying too much on your strengths got you in hot water. What did you learn from the experience and how has it strengthened your business?
You can take the Strengths Finder assessment by purchasing the Strengthsfinder 2.0 book. There is an access code in the book that you can use to take an online assessment. The results are very illuminating.
Couldn’t agree more. I have experienced some challenges this year and when investigated deeper, it turns out that my environment (physical and mental) isn’t the environment in which I thrive.
Have been taking steps to address this over the last few months and the results have been astounding in so many ways and on so many different levels.
Environment now forms part of my weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual business and personal reviews to ensure that I am in the best possible place to thrive.
[…] When strengths attack by Pamela Slim – “In order for your strengths to flourish, you have to design an ideal environment. In my own case, I have to build in enough design and planning time when creating presentations so that I have a few days to rest and assimilate the core message. When this happens, my ability to improvise really shines” […]
[…] by Joe Taylor Jr. on December 22, 2010 · 0 comments Pamela Slim writes that it’s easy for creative people to fool themselves into thinking that th… […]
[…] The more time that goes by, the more convinced I am that Marcus Buckingham is absolutely right when he says:“people are dramatically more effective, fulfilled and successful when they are able to focus on the best of themselves.”He calls it the strengths revolution, and says that the corporate mentality of focusing employee development on shoring […] Original post […]
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This is a great perspective. I find that I spend a lot of time trying to work on my weaknesses or “opportunity areas” (–> there’s some fun corporate-lese for you!) when that time could be better spent focusing on the things I am awesome at. It would be more productive for me to delegate these weak areas out to people who love doing them. I also love the advice on watching out for when your strengths attack. Thanks for the great post!
Hey – I’m back… This post inspired me to write about what happens when I *don’t* play to my strengths. I hope you don’t mind me sharing.
Thanks for the inspiration, Pam. 🙂
But doesn’t that assume that we never seek to improve ourselves? I’m all for focusing on your strengths when doing something like starting a business or looking for a job. However, it seems like we shouldn’t just assume our weaknesses are what they are and can never change.
Oh noes, in Pam’s crosshairs! Given her growing MMA training, I’m not sure this is where I want to be…
But I can’t really argue. I sit here at home today, so burned out from constant running around I have an eye twitch and a sore back. So the things I really want to be doing are getting accomplished less effectively because I have not tempered and focused myself better. I will claim moving houses is a bit of a wildcard in all of it, but this is a pit I often find myself in.
Your advice is sound and wise, and considerably less painful than a rear naked choke! I tap! I tap! 😉
Not only do I love the insights you’re sharing here, but I love the questions at the end. I’m going to do them today — and I know it will help.
I want to echo one of your points — that designing an ideal environment is key. The work I do with my clients focuses on the physical work environment, and this can be a jumping-off point for looking at the ideal mental, emotional, and time-related environment that you allude to. It’s SO valuable to start with the end in mind, and align one’s actions from that intention. Sorry you got a sleepless night out of the deal!
Thanks for sharing this — it’s a much needed jolt for my fuzzy-headed day!
I’m curious to know what you think about weaknesses then. Should we avoid areas in which we are weak and / or hire others to make up for them? Or should we attack those weaknesses head on and try to remedy them? For example, should that introverted person (which he or she works on an online business) also try to work on becoming more extroverted?
Good question Gal!
Marcus Buckingham would say to NOT focus on shoring up your weaknesses. That will not lead to superior performance over the long haul, and will be draining for the person doing it.
His book “Now Discover Your Strengths” goes into this in a lot more detail.
And I found this interview on The Today Show:
I believe we all tend to get confused about this in a few ways:
1 – predjudice – neither introversion nor extroversion, for example, is a weakness at all. Some of the things that get labeled “weaknesses” on annual reviews and such are actually preferences that don’t matter or orientations that needn’t (or can’t) be changed. In my opinion, this kind of labeling constitutes bullying.
2 – Shoring up weaknesses while cultivating strengths is a losing game because they are often the same trait or actually require “training” oneself to do opposite things at once. The person who could be a champion body builder and a champion marathon runner would be extremely rare. So, why do we expect the super-geek numbers cruncher to learn how to “vision” or the visionary utopian to learn how to be a good day-t0-day manager? When they try, it usually results in a diffusion of focus.
3 – confusing character weaknesses with lack of talent. The tendency to lie to avoid conflict is a character issue to work on. Not being able to read a map is a deficiency in a talent. So, not working on weaknesses does not mean not working to develop integrity.
The message comes in threes. I think I have heard variations on this message three times in a row this week. I am so fiercely loyal to understanding my strengths that I want to be the basis of my work. Although sometimes I am hiding from them.
But you raise the flags I also need to hear which is ” it is tending a garden”, your strengths have to be well tended too as well. And receive sunlight and not be hidden. All words I must now go write down and try to live by.
Wise words as always,
I love it when messages hit you over the head!
Charlie would love your use of a garden metaphor. You really do have to care for those strengths!