Operating Within Your Strengths Zone
How many of us grew up under the premise that we could be anything we wanted to be, if we just applied ourselves hard enough? I certainly have recollections of my mother regularly imparting this message on me, mostly when I was refuting doing my homework. A mother now myself, I have had to work hard to manage the aspirations and expectations of my children within the realms of reality. Keeping their dreams for the future alive is a constant challenge and I can certainly understand how easy it is to revert to ‘you can be anything you want to be’ when they look at you with such hope in their faces. My daughter, at the tender age of 13, has recently had to form an opinion on her career path that will shape her impending subject choices. Whilst my son believes that we are thwarting his chances of being a Formula One driver because we are refusing to sell our house to fund this. Both may succeed in the paths they wish to travel down (although, I can categorically say we are not selling our house), but the indicators in their behaviour points heavily towards this being a goal not firmly underpinned by their evolving strengths, but one based upon an impending time constraint, current trends in media advertising and extrinsic motivators (money, reward, title, benefits).
In order to support their thinking my current conversations with them do not focus on something that they may or may not be in 10 years’ time, but more poignantly, what it is they have done recently that excited them, that they have really cared about doing or achieving. I ask questions that will fix the moment to a feeling and provoke thinking in a forward’s direction. For example, one of them recently came home very excited that they would be moving up to top set PE. I asked the question – what do you think your teacher saw in you to move you up? The response ‘I always work hard and show good sportsmanship’. I followed this with curiosity by asking the question – what does good sportsmanship look like? ‘I work as a team member and when someone on my team has done something good I let him or her know’. How does it make you feel that your teacher is pleased with your performance? ‘I feel proud and happy’. I wanted to then challenge the thinking by asking – what have you learnt about yourself because of this? ‘I always wanted to move up into top set and now I have because I worked hard so my teacher would notice me. Anything else? ‘I work as part of a team’. Anything else? ‘I encourage others to do well’. Anything else? ‘It makes me feel good when I support my team mates’. Moving forwards I then ask – how can you feel like this more often? ‘I could keep helping out my mates and working hard.’ Where else could you use these skills? ‘Maybe at breaks or in a different subject’. What would that look like? As you can see themes of strengths start to develop from this platform of enquiry based and solutions focused questioning, becoming even more powerful when you revisit the topic a few weeks later to continue to support and embed the transference of skills. By scaffolding the conversation they are becoming more self-aware of whether they will get the best from themselves, the influence this will have on others and how these strengths can be transferred within and between situations making their future choices more informed.
Similarly, within my professional capacity I have also had interactions with colleagues where career decisions are based upon extrinsic or company led factors. As a result, personal fulfillment and achievement has not been attained because of consistent failure to work from and within identified personal strengths. Entering a profession or taking on promotion that has not been supported by a transition conversation, based on strength finding and transference questions, can be a costly exercise for all involved. Out of this circumstance a shift in focus can be created that relies on operating persistently within the realms of personal limitations and can eventually become a barrier to success. An expectation gap between the individual and organisation establishes itself and is played out through increased negative behaviours and relationships, a decrease in productivity and stifled creativity. So, how can we work towards making the right choices and increasing the gratification and achievements we get out of our professional lives? As with my children, it starts with a conversation that sets in motion a thought process around identifying or re-engaging with what it is we are good at, what we need to do more of. The language may change in its complexity, but the essence of the conversation remains the same. Take a moment to ask yourself the following questions. Then, reflect upon your answers to inform your thinking and increase self-awareness of when you are operating at your optimum.
- What have I done or achieved that excites and motivates me? What am I good at?
- What is my performance output like when operating within my strengths zone?
- How does operating within this area make me feel?
- How often do I operate within this capacity? How can I function here more?
- How will working here help me to aspire towards my future goal?
- How can I transfer these skills into different areas of my life?
- How much bigger is my sphere of influence as a result of operating in this zone?
- How often do I revisit my strengths to re-energise and move forwards?
- What do I not yet know I am good at? How can I find this out?
Of course in life circumstance and opportunity also play a role, but once you can align a situation with your strengths you have the baseline from which to move forwards, to make informed and potentially positive and life-changing decisions that exhibit more chance of sustainable output. There will always be occasions and situations in life that play to our limitations, but these are much easier to face head-on if we can identify and engage with our strength zone the majority of the time.