the quality or talent that allows someone to
deal with problems in a determined and effective way
I’m sure you’ve been asked more times than you can count to describe your strengths. You probably launched into a well-rehearsed recitation that was certainly true and tested through experience. But, as you were speaking, did it feel a little lifeless to you? Inauthentic? That the strengths that you spoke were meant for the listener’s benefit and not for your own?
For many, this is an awkward question which is probably why people shy away from it once they’ve answered it in the past. But there’s a way to turn this question around to your benefit by asking yourself:
What is most alive for you right now?
How have you made your best contributions lately?
What actions of yours have made the most impact on others?
How have you grown since the last time you asked yourself these questions?
By opening yourself up to a fresh inquiry of what is most alive for you now, you can get down to the important question of whether you’re using your best talents to solve the problems you care most about.
Chances are, you’ll be surprised and/or grateful for what you see when you look into your personal strengths mirror. Or, it will be a great wake-up call as you head into the new year.
Step One: What you think
You’ve no doubt been asked at one time or another to create a list of your strengths, which naturally leads you do to more complex assessments. What I’m asking you to do here is slightly different. First, go ahead and list your strengths that naturally and quickly come to mind. These are the things that you’ve taken for granted about yourself, and form much of the basis of your self-identity. Now ask yourself when the last time you used each of these strengths was, and in what problem or opportunity. Be as specific as you can here. This is a check to see if one or more of these are out-of-date, or if the problems or opportunities you focus on these days emphasize a different strength of yours. Move the out-of-date strengths to the bottom of the list to create more room for a fresh consideration. Finally, identify that which you love to do. Personal strengths plus love equals passion, a powerful component of your personal competence!
Step Two: What others say
Now think back to the statements and compliments that you’ve received in your life recently. These can be from casual statements from colleagues after a big project, performance reviews, or conversations with friends and family. In fact, if you haven’t done an informal, personal 360 process in a while, try it. Here’s how. Identify two friends who have known you for awhile (the longer, the better), two people you’ve worked for, two people who have worked for you, and throw in one family member for good, historic measure. This will provide seven data points for you. Ask them this simple question: “What do you think is a personal strength of mine, and describe the last time you saw me use this strength?” Gather up all of the responses, and look for the common patterns in what they’ve told you. Those patterns equal some of your current strengths.
Step Three: Objective proof
You’ve dedicated part of your life to developing a certain skill set and competencies. What credentials, degrees and certificates do you have? How have you used these to solve current, complex problems at work, home or in your community? By carefully looking at which elements of your credentials you’ve actually used to achieve results points you to your most proven skill sets.
For example, I once joined a company to establish an internal university for the company. Unfortunately, the economy turned sour and I had to use my skills to identify and implement a reduction-in-force plan, rather than something that would empower and enrich its employees, which was my passion. The company’s existence was saved as a result of the downsizing which was crucial.
The intersection between your credentials and the results you’ve obtained while using those credentials equals objective, personal strengths. But, make certain that you like what you’re doing! If not, it’s an early warning sign of getting stuck in life-draining work.
Step Four: What the world, or your community needs
You’re on the home stretch now, and I’ve saved the most important step for last. Personal strengths are certainly very nice to have, but as Merriam-Webster said above, strengths are qualities that allow you to deal with problems in a determined and effective way. What opportunities or problems matter to you in the world, or in your community?
If you need a bit of guidance here, try this: What are the things that drive you absolutely crazy or make you angry when you hear about them in the media or in your social circles? Your unexplained anger or irritation are signals to you of things you care about intuitively. Go there to explore. The problems you care about most will provide you the best opportunities to apply and further develop your strengths. This is where you’ll make the most satisfying difference to yourself and others.
Step Five: Celebrate your sweet spot!
Congratulations! You have arrived at your sweet spot: a new, fresh consideration of your personal strengths backed by your passion, along with a set of problems or opportunities in which you can truly make a difference!