The term “strengths-based approach” is often seen in the context of social work, but it is also very useful in career development. The main thrust of this concept is to focus on one’s strengths rather than to fixate on areas of weakness. Instead of seeking out your professional faults, build upon your reliable superpowers. Discover and leverage your strengths for maximum career satisfaction. I believe in this positively slanted approach and have seen the way it empowers others to achieve their goals. But first, to implement this methodology, you must know your strengths.
Knowing what you do well is critical for a few reasons. Most importantly, it enables you to explain your strengths to others. If you cannot name or describe your best talents, you can’t expect others to know these things about you. People may be able to observe some of your gifts, but they won’t know the full power of them unless they know you well. Being able to talk comfortably about your accomplishments is a necessary skill for successful career management. No one likes to do it, but at some point, it must be done.
Side Note: Learning to humblebrag is an art that can be learned, which gives me an idea for a future blog. But for now, I’ll stay focused on why you need to know your strengths. Instead of getting into that secondary topic, I will direct you to an excellent resource for the challenge of speaking about yourself: Brag: The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn without Blowing It by Peggy Klaus.
Second, knowing your best abilities will give you a guidepost to judge when a future opportunity might be a good match. If it lines up with your best skills that you love to use, odds are it will be a good fit. I understand that other factors come into play, but an alignment of your talents is a huge factor in job satisfaction. Finally, when you can share your strengths and practice them regularly, it becomes what you are known for. People begin to associate you with those behaviors or ideas (which could turn into your brand). This often attracts similar opportunities.
If you agree with the points above, can you walk the talk? Do you know your superpower(s)? Can you name your top three skills or a few desirable personality traits you possess? I know this is not an easy question. Many people can’t answer this off the top of their heads. Ten years ago, I was not fully aware that creating order was my superpower, but in my 40’s I learned to name and own this strength. Now I can proudly share it, and I notice when people point it out. One nice side effect of being a career professional is that I have become very tuned into my strengths. It’s because you can’t ask others to do something that you have not done yourself.
Most of us don’t know our strengths because we are not looking for them. We might focus on this temporarily while we are looking for a job, but most often, we try to avoid leaning into our success. Sometimes we think it’s too selfish or self-absorbed to create a list of the great things we have done. Sometimes others discourage this type of behavior. Most often, we are unaware of our best strengths because they come so naturally to us. We assume everyone can do it just as easily. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we know there are some things we do better than the average person.
I saw this recently with a mid-career female client moving into a corporate role. We’ll call her Deborah for confidentiality purposes. Before our first meeting, I was given background information. Consistent feedback showed that others saw Deborah as innovative, dedicated, and efficient. She was starting a new role in a company where she had worked for a few years. The organization had recently created this position to improve communication and processes for corporate initiatives across the organization. She was feeling overwhelmed and wasn’t sure where to start. She was also feeling doubtful of her abilities. Yet, earlier in this conversation, she stated that she was feeling similar to a prior time just before she initiated a new company program that turned into a huge success. I pointed out that the skills she implemented in that situation were the same skills needed in this new situation. I suggested that her superpowers could be precisely the reason she had been selected for this new post. After some contemplation, she agreed with me that she did have these skills, and in fact, they were a unique combination of talents needed for this challenge, but she hadn’t seen that point of view until that moment.
If it’s hard to unearth your greatest assets, how can you discover them? What actions can help you determine what you bring to the party? How can you uncover your superpowers? There are many ways. No one way is the right way. Implement whatever is reasonable for the time available in your life at this moment. In a few years, you might come back to this idea and see how things have changed or remained the same. However, know that the more data points you have, the better you can see trends and make more accurate conclusions.
Look at past documentation. Have you saved your past performance reviews? When you read them, do certain comments stand out? Are there clues to your strengths in what others have said about you? Do you have recorded communications that compliment you or share positive feedback? Have you received awards? What specific skills earned you those honors? Were you recognized for being a team player or for selling the most products?
Collect informal data. Listen to the verbal compliments you are given. Think about common questions and requests you receive. Is there a theme among them? Often different people ask us for the same kind of help because they know we’re good at it. People often ask me to arrange something for them – people, things, resources, events, etc. The most common question I receive (that is unrelated to careers) is, “Will you come to my home and help me organize the closets?”
Survey your connections. Ask ten people you know and trust what five words they would use to describe you. Look for trends. More formally, you can send a survey to others and gather responses. One example of this idea in action is the REACH360 created by William Arruda. This resource offers a free tool, and you can also upgrade for a more in-depth understanding of your results. You have to set up the system by selecting certain questions and providing e-mail addresses for your respondents. All answers are anonymous. My tip is to decide who you will ask and gather e-mails before signing up because once you register on the site, the free version has a time limit of 14 days to gather the data.
Take strength-based assessments. You can purchase the CliftonStrengths assessment by Gallup (formerly Strengths Finder) by going to https://www.gallup.com/cliftonstrengths. You can also buy the book to obtain the code that allows you to take the assessment online. After you complete the assessment, it will identify your top five talents.
The book itself is small. The bulk of the content is found in Part II, which explains each of the 34 traits being measured. Use the book or the online information to read about your unique qualities and ways to develop them even further. In 2020, Marcus Buckingham started offering the StandOut online assessment, which serves a similar purpose. You can find it at MarcusBuckingham.com. It pulls out your top two superpowers from a set of nine and explains how you can leverage those strengths. During COVID, it was free to all. Now they are giving away 1000 free each day.
Periodically take stock of your strengths. Your superpowers are likely to remain a constant, but they may evolve. Talents ingrained in your personality, and best talents often stay with you for life, but some skills and areas of knowledge will grow and develop as you move through your career. Due to circumstances, you may focus on specific ones at certain times. The more you use them, the stronger they will become. However, as you master some skills, you may bore of them and need to take a break from using them. This will allow you to strengthen other skills.
One final note, just because you have a superpower doesn’t mean that you have to use it all of the time. When you have a strength that you don’t enjoy, you will burn out if you are forced to use it too much. This is another reason you need to know your strengths and which you enjoy using the most. Consistently relying on that information as a guidepost should help you make better decisions throughout your career journey.