Why it pays to play to your strengths…

12 Mar
March 12, 2015

Susy Roberts, 12th March 2015

Did you know that when we do activities that we enjoy, that we’re naturally gifted at and derive great pleasure from doing, we become far more productive, successful and motivated than when we force ourselves to do something we suck at?

So much so that organisations who encourage employees to play to their strengths experience far higher levels of employee and customer engagement, productivity and profits than those concerned with fixing people’s weaknesses or using competency frameworks to bring everyone up to the same level.

The good news is that if you’re looking to create a high-performance team, or inject new life into your leadership development programme, adopting a strengths-focused approach is a quick-win solution that can deliver some pretty impressive business results.


Adopting a strengths-focused approach

It never ceases to amaze me just what an amazing bunch our coaches are. Kathy Toogood, for example, has only gone and co-authored a best selling book – the Strengths-Focused Guide to Leadership (by FT Publishing) now available on Amazon.

In it, Kathy and her co-author, Mike Roarty, explore why research shows that an emphasis on performance strengths in appraisals is linked to a 36% improvement in performance, whereas an emphasis on performance weaknesses is linked to a 26% decline in performance.

The simple fact is we generally excel at doing the things we like doing the most, the moral being that leaders who give employees the opportunity to do what they do best every day have a 30% higher probability of success on productivity measures than those who don’t.

The problem is we humans have a negativity bias. We’re naturally inclined to look at what didn’t work or what could be better, instead of focusing on what’s going well. We automatically do this across all areas of our life, so reprogramming leaders to give them a strengths-focused mindset takes a little work. Critical to this is not only equipping leaders with the ability to recognise strengths in both themselves and others, but also using these insights as part of their goal setting and regular conversations.

In particular, their one-to-one interactions with others, where recognising and praising someone for using their strengths, and talking about ways of using this to achieve other goals, can dramatically increase their confidence and energy levels to drive further performance. For example, instead of berating the IT guy for never being at his desk, the strengths-focused leader will recognise his ability to go out into the business and talk to people and see if he can use this strength to solve an issue she has about sharing data across the organisation.

Does this mean we can forget about weaknesses?

To a great extent, a strengths-focused approach frees people up to forget about expending wasted time and effort on something they dislike and consistently struggle to do effectively. If someone hates presenting, and doesn’t need to do this to succeed in their job, it’s perfectly okay for them to help research presentations for someone with a natural flair for doing this to deliver instead.

Although it might seem counter-intuitive to allow someone not to develop their skills in a particular area, the reality is that if instead of forcing people to become competent at something they hate doing, you encourage them to excel at something they’re already good at, it will do them and the business far more good.

A key part of a strengths-based approach is recognising the different talents of each and every individual in the team and allowing each individual within the team to play to their strengths, to create a high performance team, instead of trying to make everyone the same.

If, however, an individual’s weakness is critical to their job or is limiting their progression, a strengths-based approach can also help them to address this. Not least because most weaknesses are often strengths overplayed. For example, a particularly analytically minded-individual, who excels at researching decisions and assessing risk, might struggle to perform in a leadership role where the pace of decision-making and need to delegate doesn’t allow them to indulge their desire to get all the facts before making a decision.

By helping them to see how their strength overplayed has actually become a weakness, they can be helped to correct and refine their approach.

Similarly, someone who struggles to build rapport and relationships with others but excels at problem solving could be encouraged to view establishing better relationships with other people in the team as a problem to be solved. By applying their strength in rational thinking to the situation, they will probably be able to come up with a number of actions they could take, instead of continuing to shy away from the problem as requiring people skills they lack.

Start identifying your strengths today

It’s easy to assume a strength is just something you’re good at, but if you hate doing it, what’s the point? Instead what really defines your strengths is something you’re good at and love doing because it energises and motivates you.

Take a few minutes to write down a couple of things you’re good at, that you love to do and that really energise and motivate you. Also take a moment to write down a couple of things that you’re not good at, that you hate doing and that really drain you.

Get a friend or colleague to do the same then take it in turns to tell each other about the things you love and then the things that drain you. What did you notice about each other when you were talking about the things you love, compared to the things you don’t? What was the impact on yourself when talking about these things? What activities at work will allow you to focus on your strengths more? Do you need to be involved in the things that de-energise you at work?

So next time you’re feeling really motivated and energised about something you’re doing at work, notice what strength you are playing to and think about how you can build more of this into your life.

The Strengths Focused Guide To Leadership by Mike Roarty and Kathy Toogood, from FT Publishing, is available to by on Amazon Here

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