Want to Make Real Progress? Build on Your Strengths.

Many successful people continually strive to improve. They ask themselves (and others), “What can I do better? How can I get stronger? What’s the best way to out-perform my opponents? How can I achieve more?”

These are useful questions to be sure, but too often the answers focus on improving weaknesses rather than capitalizing on strengths. If you’re an extrovert, you’re going to have a hard time enjoying uninterrupted quiet time more than your introverted colleagues. If you’re a big-picture person, you probably won’t become the most detail-oriented person in your company. Or as one of my more creative friends suggested, “You don’t want to race a goat up a mountain if you’re a fish.”

Recent studies confirm what common sense has always suggested: we make more progress in less time when we utilize our strengths. I’m not suggesting you should stop trying to improve in areas where you struggle, but consider focusing the majority of your time on using your strengths to their best effects.

Once people hit their 30s, they often have a sense of what they’re good at, but if you’d like a more formal process, you can use assessments like the Gallup Strengths Finder or the Myers Briggs evaluation (a quick version of the Myers Briggs test can be found at 16personalities.com). My friend and colleague Marc Carson administers personality-based assessments using the Majors PTi exam.

Having gone through Marc’s process, I definitely have more insight into why certain functions are easy or hard for me, and I realize that some of the skills I’ve always taken for granted are not necessarily easy for everyone. The process also helped me understand how other personality types approach certain types of challenges. The more I learn, the more I can help my clients (especially when we’re dealing with crisis communication).

In the book Good to Great, author Jim Collins suggests that the primary reason some companies surpass others to become great is their decision to narrowly focus their resources on their field of key competence. I think the same is true for humans. I have a finite amount of time and energy. I don’t want to divide my time so that I get a little better at everything. I’d rather use that same energy to get a LOT better at one or two key skills that take advantage of my natural talents.

At some organizations, leadership teams post their core strengths on their office doors so colleagues coming to meet with them can frame discussions in a way they will best understand. Some people want you to cut to the chase immediately, and provide background information as needed in response to their questions. Others like to understand the big picture first, so they can see where your information fits into the strategic direction of the company.

Knowing yourself and your audience will help you use your talents and communicate with others more effectively.

If you need help communicating with others, let me know. I’d love to use my strengths to bolster yours.

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