Extreme Makeover: 3 Questions to Improve Your Strengths

If you spend your life trying to be good at everything, you will never be great at anything. – Tom Rath

Renaissance Man

Around the time that I graduated from high school, the principal paid me a compliment. He referred to me as a renaissance man; someone with many talents. At the time I took it as encouragement to continue to work on my strengths, to identify any weaknesses, and work to improve those areas. I looked for areas where I needed improvement and worked diligently to set myself on the path toward betterment. Some of you may ascribe to a similar concept, your mantra may be ‘show no weakness’ or ‘never let them see you sweat’.

Strength Over Weakness 

I have since come to realize that if I spent too much time working to improve a weakness, they will never become strengths and during that time, my strengths start to dull. For example, when I was younger, I changed the oil in my car. I admit, vehicle maintenance is not one of my strengths and an oil change took me about 3-4 times longer than it probably should. Investing time into learning about engines would not make maintenance a strength for me. I may understand and improve at maintaining a vehicle, but I am never going to work for Hendricks Motorsports tuning engines. To put it in a different perspective, I am not going to ask my mechanics to plan a military operation for me, so why should I expect that I can do their job?

Finding Energy

So, now that you can see why it is important to spend time improving your strengths, you need to clarify what your strengths are. A few weeks ago, I listened to a podcast with Marcus Buckingham and he used a definition of strengths that I thought was brilliant. He said that a strength is an activity that strengthens you. I know that it sounds a little cyclical, but bear with me for a second. According to him, a strength is an activity that builds you up, not just something that you are good at doing. For example, I was always good at math and engineering, however, I am drained of energy after doing detailed work. Traditionally, I would say that engineering is a strength of mine; however, according to Marcus, it is not. He presented a great way to examine if a job played to your strengths: envision yourself doing the day to day tasks of the job. In my example, I always enjoyed building and conceptualizing a project; the end product. However, when I think about the daily tasks of designing the connections that keep a bridge standing, it is not what gives me energy. As I examined this, I realized that my strength is in conceptualizing, visualizing, and inspiring toward an end product. Those activities give me energy. That energy is what keeps me at work for long hours (to the chagrin of my family). Malcolm Gladwell said that it takes approximately 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to achieve mastery in a field, which means that drawing energy and enjoyment from your strengths is important. Focusing on this concept has helped me to refocus my time and energy on to improving my strengths.

Questions:

  1. What activities give you enough energy that you could invest the time necessary to be an expert?
  2. When you think of the daily activities of your job, do you get excited?
  3. Have you spent your self development time focused on the right skills, knowledge, and talents needed to improve your strengths?
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