We are familiar with the typical SWOT analysis including strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. I came across this interesting book based on solid research that capitalised on the key term, strength. How can we direct our strengths to succeed? Today’s column will attempt to discuss the essence of the New York Times Bestseller, ‘Go Put Your Strengths to Work’.
Marcus Buckingham goes round in harping on strengths. He is a British-American, New York Times best-selling author, researcher, motivational speaker and a business consultant. He bases most of his writing on extensive survey data from interviews with workers in countries around the world and he promotes the idea that people will get the best results by making the most of their strengths rather than by putting too much emphasis on weaknesses or perceived deficiencies.
In fact, strength related research is nothing new. Way back in 1966, Peter Drucker wrote his seminal book titled ‘The Effective Executive,’ where he highlights the need to focus on strengths. Marcus goes beyond. As the book reveals, research data show that most people do not come close to making full use of their assets at work. In fact, only 17% of the workforce believes they use all of their strengths on the job. The book ‘Go Put Your Strengths to Work’ aims to change that through a six-step, six-week experience that will reveal the hidden dimensions of one’s strengths.
‘Go Put Your Strengths to Work’ is the third in a series of personal development books by Marcus Buckingham. The overarching theme that is there in all three books is the focus on strengths. This book is both descriptive and prescriptive at the same time. It realistically describes six practical steps in channelling strengths towards success.
Six Steps reviewed
Each step, according to Marcus is a practical guide for one to identify where he/she is really good at. He has included a checklist for oneself to assess in each of the steps.
Step 1: Bust the myths
This first section of ‘Go Put Your Strengths to Work’ is devoted to knocking down three common workplace myths – let’s peek at each one. For each one, ask yourself if you believe in the myth (and why), what it would cost you to abandon the myth, and how would it benefit you to believe in the alternative idea instead.
Myth 1: As you grow, your personality changes. The book argues that, instead, as you grow, you become more of who you already are. It believes that your true personality takes a long time – and a lot of experiences – to blossom, and people that are truly effective are those that are able to find their true personality earlier on. This is a rather controversial point, but I find it to be quite often true – older, more experienced people tend to be far more in tune with who they are than younger, inexperienced people.
Myth 2: You will grow most in your areas of greatest weakness. This is in contrast to typical school approach. It involves putting people into an education that is “well rounded” rather than devoting more time to teasing out the specific strengths of the students in their major. This book is all about the opposite of this statement, that you will grow most in your areas of greatest strength.
Myth 3: A good team member does whatever it takes to help the team. This is probably the hardest of the three to overcome mostly because of the whole “There is no I in team” mentality. Here, though, an alternate truth is proposed: a good team member deliberately volunteers his strengths to the team most of the time. In other words, a good team is composed of people who play to their individual strengths, and thus a good team is assembled from people with different strengths.
Step 2: Get clear
How do you find and define these strengths? The book offers four signs of a strength: success (you find success whenever you use this trait), instinct (you’re drawn over and over again to certain activities), growth (activities where you use the trait feel easy and leave you happy), and needs (doing these things seems to fulfil a need in your life). Basically, your strengths are those activities that make
you feel strong when you do them – and also are things that others see as being good in you (the ones that don’t inspire others are hobbies).
The book proposes that whenever you do something that makes you feel strong and empowered, you write it down in detail. For example, I feel strong and empowered whenever I write something really well and I know it will help people. Similarly, when you feel the opposite of strong, you should write down whatever activity it is that makes you feel weak. Then, when you have a collection of these, look for the things that they have in common. I generally feel strong when I’m writing something good or I’m being a parent; I feel weak when I deal with people or things that are largely out of my control.
Step 3: Free your strengths
Now that you’ve identified the things you’re good at, the book encourages you to spend one week focusing on the activities that truly make you feel strong and see what the result of that week is. At the same time, try as hard as you can to simply avoid the aspects of your job that make you feel weak. This shouldn’t be a permanent switch, especially if you’re worried that avoiding those things that make you feel weak will get you in trouble.
More specifically, the book encourages you to focus in on two of the strengths during the week using a four step plan for each one. First, identify how the strength really helps you in your current job
Step 4: Stop your weaknesses
At this point, the book turns to the identified weaknesses from step two and uses an approach parallel to the one from step three to minimise weaknesses. It actually turns out to be quite complementary to the previous step, as it seeks to reduce the space that weaknesses take up in your psyche and your life – this frees up room to maximise your strengths.
First of all, just stop doing the things that make you feel weak – if you can’t completely stop, cut out as much of the activity as you possibly can. Then, identify and team up with people who are strengthened by the things that weaken you. Next, offer up your strengths regularly so you’re seen as someone who can offer these skills to others rather than being represented by your weaknesses. Finally, for those weakness-based activities that remain, work on changing your perspective so that you can perhaps apply your strengths to these tasks.
Step 5: Speak up
The first four steps are all rather introspective, but they’re only useful to a certain degree if you’re in an environment where you’re supervised by and interact with others. This section focuses on talking to others about your self-identified strengths and weaknesses, particularly your supervisor.
The biggest part of this chapter is about scripting conversations in advance. Why? When you have a conversation where you have a specific piece of information or a specific idea to convey and you want to lead from there to a conclusion, scripting and planning a conversation in advance can help you really keep on the topic that you want and get to the conclusion that you want.
Step 6: Build strong habits
Obviously, once you reach a change in your life where you’re better able to use your strengths and are less reliant on your weaknesses, you’re in a better place. But how can you stay there? This book suggests adopting five regular habits in your life:
Every day, look over your strength statements and your three weakness statements. This keeps them fresh in your mind.
Every week, complete a “strong week” plan. Basically, identify two ways you’ll maximise your strengths in the coming week – at the same time, identify two ways to minimise your weaknesses in the coming week.
Every quarter, close the book on your strengths. Schedule a meeting with your boss and go over ways you maximised your strengths in the previous three months.
Every six months, go over your strengths in detail. Make sure you understand what they really mean and how you’re applying them.
Every year, toss out your strengths and start over. You can use your old ones as a starting point, but there will likely be some clarifications as your understanding of your strengths and your weaknesses grow.
Sri Lankan managers can immensely benefit in having a strength-focused approach in harnessing talent. Rather than wasting energy in attempts to improve weaknesses of employees, the sure fire path is to focus on strengths. In essence, strengths should be channelled towards success.
(Dr. Ajantha Dharmasiri is the Acting Director of the Postgraduate Institute of Management. He also serves as an Adjunct Professor in the Division of Management and Entrepreneurship, Price College of Business, University of Oklahoma, USA.)