Talk about a light bulb moment! This is something I’ve been passionate about for years but the fire ignited good and proper this weekend when I was at an event with 100 incredible female entrepreneurs and we were all asked to write down our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in relation to ourselves and our businesses.
What got me fired up was the strengths bit. I know from experience that when most people write down their strengths they tend fall into one or a few of these camps:
Aware of some of their strengths, but by no means all of them
Mix up skills with strengths
Have a good idea of their strengths but not how to leverage or 'own' them
Haven’t really thought about what their strengths truly are or how they apply to how they do business.
And I realised that it’s time to speak out about why I think knowing what we’re talking about when it comes to our strengths is VITAL to our businesses and why even if you think you know your strengths, you should probably look again.
Going back a bit, my path to being passionate about strengths began around 9 years ago when I felt truly lost. I was in a job I didn’t enjoy but had worked so hard to get to, I was a new mum and I had depression. I really didn’t know how to take the next step or what that should be.
One of the major things that began to turn this all this around, and ultimately led to my career change and my having my own business, was my then manager (a wonderful supportive woman called Jackie) who asked me a very simple question:
“What are your strengths?”
I was stumped. I also felt quite embarrassed and a bit ashamed that I didn’t know. It seemed like such an obvious thing that I should know!!!
I knew what I liked doing and definitely what I didn’t, but really, hand on heart I didn’t know how to answer that question with any clarity and certainty at all.
But it got me curious.
I was offered the opportunity to work on my strengths, I took an assessment and got a report. Some things resonated, some things didn’t, I don't remember feeling particularly overwhelmed with insight. It was only when I had a coaching session to dig deeper that I experienced the paradigm shift, which in my mind was akin to Neo getting how the Matrix works!
Things that I had identified as being a weakness or failing of mine were actually strengths.
I had a way of understanding myself and why I am different to other people (just as we all are) in a way that I could really get behind.
I could see how my strengths had come together in powerful combinations to create successes that I’d experienced in the past….and why some situations and goals had been more challenging, uncomfortable and less successful.
I could also see and accept it when someone else told me what they valued about me, because I could now see it and appreciate it myself.
For someone with depression and massive impostor syndrome, feeling like a fraud in most situations at work, this was HUGE!
More than that it was a GIFT! A guiding light for a better life from that moment forward. I made better decisions, worked better, felt more confident and more ‘me’ than ever before.
Fast forward a few years and I trained as a strengths coach, and as I began to coach others I noticed some interesting patterns emerge, particularly among the people I coached.
They often couldn’t recognise their top strengths in themselves. Just like the bridge of your nose, the things you’re brilliant at are there in plain sight but you just don’t see it.
They thought ‘surely everyone can do this?” about their most powerful strengths, because they came so naturally to them.
They thought some of their strengths were failings or weaknesses. How will you ever own your strengths if you think at some level they are undesirable, or let you down in the past?
They weren’t working and living in a way that allowed their natural talents to become their strengths
They hadn’t mastered their understanding enough to to help others understand them too, so their brilliance and the value they could add stayed hidden.
Seeing people undervalue themselves, not seeing how brilliant they are breaks my heart.
Now I have my own business and I'm proud to be part of a community of phenomenally talented and transformational entrepreneurs making a big impact in people's lives and in communities.
Now my “stand for strengths” feels even more important than it did in the corporate world….
After all, a business owner who does not have a grasp of their strengths is operating at only a fraction of her potential and that makes no sense!
You are probably working too hard and making life more difficult than it needs to be
Denying yourself the opportunity to be disruptive and stand out just by being more you, so that you can connect with and serve more ideal clients in your unique way (and not like everyone else!)
You get knocked off track by feeling like a fraud or comparing yourself to others.
You know you need help but aren't allowing the right people to help you.
You have blind spots you keep walking into because you're not aware they are there, or how to get around them.
And if any or all of these apply to you, it's not your fault! We simply aren’t taught to focus on our strengths. Our education system and often the work environments we experience work on ‘rounding us off’ rather than being bigger stars. On filling the gaps, addressing what’s wrong with us instead of celebrating and putting more energy into what is right.
Depending on your culture, it’s also not comfortable to be clear to others what we’re good at (isn’t that blowing your own trumpet? Having a ‘bob’ on yourself? Being a show off?)
Well times are changing.
More than ever the world and our clients need our support and we want to work in a way that feels authentic, aligned with who we are.
We need to be more discerning in working out OUR way, rather than trying to make ourselves fit someone else's mould.
That's the power of discovering, living and working to your strengths. Who's with me?