Working in our strengths is a great way to live…and a lot more energizing than working in our weaknesses.
What are strengths? They are our skills, capabilities or talents that we believe we are good or great at. We know this because they come naturally, they give us energy and they feel like they are part of our true self (not some image we portray to the world). We gravitate to using these skills because it feels good.
Our schools and society sometimes influence us to work in certain ways; we become socialized. Even work does this to us. I recall from an early part of my career that a performance review felt focused on abilities I needed to improve. This was probably part of the system design but I now believe it’s also how my mind worked, i.e. to not show my weaknesses. It was growthful but uncomfortable. As I matured, I accepted the need to continually grow but knew that my strengths were the driver. This simple change in attitude caused me to thrive.
We all have unique or uncommon strengths too. These may be even more important because our apparent mastery lets us make special contributions.
I believe that God offers us a set of life experiences to learn from. Experimentation leads to discovery and this is turn positions us for a life of potential. You can discover your strengths on your own but you may consider something like the on-line StrengthsFinder or Character Strengths tests.
From the earliest moments in my career I have memories of seeking expanded roles and responsibilities that interested me. It was less about advancing than exploring ways to make work energizing. I was discovering that I could make work something I enjoyed, sometimes simply because learning something new excited me. Toward the end of my career, I even went so far as proposing new company roles and suggesting I was the right person to fill them. I didn’t have a name for it then but I have come to call it job shaping.
We all have talents, needs and values. When these align we are full of energy and closely working in our life purpose. Only we know these things about ourselves, our managers have no way of knowing unless we tell them.
When we are job shaping, we modify or create tasks and projects that energize us…within a role and subsequent roles. These need to be tasks, assignments or projects that your employer aligns with. When we are job shaping we seek to exclude work that doesn’t energize us. We stop doing some discretionary things or find ways of delegating or rearranging. I believe we earn the opportunity when we deliver good results and add value to our employer.
I am not 100% certain that all companies and roles within companies or departments are suited for job shaping. But you don’t know if you don’t try. Start small and then become more strategic. Make your manager an offer he/she can’t refuse!
In his book the Rhythm of Life, Matthew Kelly reinforces that “everything is a choice”. We choose our jobs, relationships and how we spend our time. I believe this to be true and then further believe that our values are what guide these choices. What you believe to be important in your life and work are your values.
An early manager in my career noticed that I was taking work home and suggested to me that my decisions should be guided by “God, family, work”, in that order. Work was overwhelming at times but this simple phrase guided me to some balance. My need for personal productivity (the value of achievement) continues in me today. The good news is that I can identify with other values which when taken as a whole help me understand myself and choices in a more complete context.
Some values are explicit to us and others are more subtle or even sub-conscious. They become ingrained in us early in life through family, friends, faith and experiences.
Work values and life values should be consistent. When work values are inconsistent for us we experience stress and less-than-potential performance; when aligned, we experience passion and energy.
My proposition is that we should make our decisions consciously with awareness. Give some thought to your top values. Take a look at this list and try to narrow it to ten. Monitor some of your decisions to see if your values are truly guiding you toward your purpose and goals.
I love to “build capability”. This is especially true in my volunteer work and how I choose volunteer assignments. It is the idea that we can help someone or an organization make sustainable improvements. We help build capability when we use our time and talents to help others gain new knowledge, skills or just confidence. Capability building is “teaching people to fish” and offering a long-term solution.
There are many ways to do this. Consider the context of helping teens become mature, responsible adults as you read.
- Mentoring or coaching or teaching. Mentors build people up and pull them toward their own dreams and goals with encouragement and advice. Mentors share their experiences to build (life) skills. They influence by being a role model.
- Problem solving support. This means not giving people the answer or owning the decision but helping them think through options or helping with a decision process.
- Systems. These could be personal systems for establishing a new habit, family systems for managing money or school or work systems for improving the effectiveness of a broken or critical process.
- Simply being there. Listening with empathy and quietly supporting in times of grief or distress can give someone the hope and encouragement to move forward with strength.
Adding value to people’s lives by building capability is part of my life purpose. It is my way of trying to make a difference. Can it be part of your Purpose too? We all have talents and (unique) strengths to share.
“Where there is no vision, there is no hope.” – George Washington Carver
Do you have a personal vision? Vision is your ability to “see” into the future. It is part dreaming, part direction and part idealism. It’s not that we have a crystal ball or ability to predict the future; it’s that we become what we think and believe. Vision leads to hope and to possibilities. It is a guide that requires goals and actions.
Vision statements should have some generality to them. For example, “I am never bored; I am learning something new every day” or “Our house is inviting to family and friends”. Of course there will be days when you are bored but the language of a vision should be big and bold. These general statements lead to many potential detailed scenarios.
Visions should have some idealism to them; something not quite in reach now and maybe not even in the foreseeable future. They should be energizing because they draw us to a new possibility. We are constantly thinking about it.
Put your vision on paper and post it prominently. Share it with your family and others who will proactively support you. Revisit and update it regularly as you get clear about what’s most important in your life. Your vision might include aspects of family, personal growth, career or just about anything of importance.
Vision and Purpose are related but different. Vision describes where you are headed while Purpose describes who you are and why you exist. Vision is seeing. Wouldn’t it be helpful to be able to “see” your future?
I just finished reading an old book, Zapp! The Lightning of Empowerment for the third time in 25 years. It was transformational for me originally and foundational now. Whether managers at work, parents or volunteers, we regularly have times of situational leadership. “We are all leaders”.
Effective leadership starts with beliefs about people. I will suggest two:
- People inherently want to do a good job. When they don’t, it’s frequently related to poor systems and organization design. I am a Theory Y thinker.
- Performance is influenced through clear, demanding expectations AND supportive coaching of new capabilities.
Effective leadership is executed through principles that align the needs of the project AND the individual, for example:
- Leader as supplier not customer. A good manager of employees or project team members seeks to support by adding value. Do a search on servant leadership to learn more.
- Participative, principle-based decision making. Involve the people affected by the decision. Align on the principles. Make decisions at the lowest level to develop future capacity. “Give people good games to play”. More carrot, less stick.
- Mistakes are opportunities for learning, not punishment. My entire career was lived in a learning/coaching environment.
Back to Zapp! Good leaders maintain self-esteem, they listen and respond with empathy, they ask for help in solving problems and offer help without taking responsibility. We Zapp when we give “positivity; we Sapp when we take away energy. Empowering leadership is an essential transferrable skill.
What would you add to my beliefs or principles?