Play to your Strengths – Well, Sometimes.

You hear, and most act upon, the advice to “learn all you can and improve your weaknesses.” Traditional education focuses on being well-rounded and not having any major knowledge gaps, so we get used to pushing through learning things we don’t pick up quickly.

But there is another idea, most commonly learned by taking an assessment like StrengthFinder, to instead figure out what you are good at and then focus on it intensely. The thrust of this idea is that effort multiplies in your areas of power – a week of work improving your public speaking when you are naturally good at it pays off more than a month of working on a weakness.

Combining these, most of us just shore up the very important weaknesses but play to our strengths. Seems simple, well maybe not.

All strengths have blindspots

For example, I am good at solving problems, and I am (relatively) calm in a (work) crisis. Because of this, I’m not afraid of a small crisis. This is a blindspot.

I’m not going to prevent these things from happening as aggressively as someone who freaks out and jumps out of a window when a bug is found in production. This means that my strength is also a weakness – if I “play” to this strength then I, without knowing it, might make it more likely to happen so that someone like me is needed.

I used to work for an executive that had a similar strength: he was very good at convincing employees and clients to not resign or walk away from the contract. He excelled in last-ditch efforts and high-pressure situations. Being good at talking people back into the building is a good tool to have, but he seemed to use it an awful lot. Without meaning to do so, he did a number of other things that seemed to cause situations in which his particular set of skills would always be needed.

Maybe if it happens three times it is partially on you, brother.

I can manage more projects at a time than the average person. I read 3-5 books at a time and can keep track of where I am on each one. I have seen old friends years later and will continue conversations with them that we had two years ago and they will not remember them. I can mentally bookmark things and then return to them.

This means that I might say “yes” to too many things at a time and create situations in which I over-allocate myself, thus making it a weakness. It also means that I might multi-task, a common way to not be productive, more often than someone than can’t do this easily. It is a weakness and a strength.

You have to be careful to not play towards your strength, but instead, recognize when they are truly needed and then use them.

I’m writing a book about successfully working from home; click here if you want to know when it is complete.