Play To Your Distinctive Strengths

Last week we introduced take the right risks the first attribute of the 7 personal transformers

Another key element of ensuring you take the right risks is to make sure you’re exploiting your particular skills, or ‘distinctive strengths’.

If you try something you’re only moderately good at, you’re increasing the risk of failure. A distinctive strength, is something that you do, that others within your sphere do not. Pairing this strength with a need to be met or a problem to be solved gives you the momentum necessary to move into hyper-growth, the sweet spot of the transformation S-curve.

When I asked a group of 100 people in a large multinational how many of them played to their strengths on the job, less than 5% raised their hands. This was unusually low as straw polls go, but still indicative.

When Charles Darwin first encountered finches on the Galapagos Islands, he gathered numerous specimens not quite realizing what he had discovered. Upon return, he presented these specimens for identification. What at first glance were all just ‘flinches’ turned out to be twelve different species. Thee were similarities, but evolution had allowed each to develop a distinctive strength. Each species had a novel beak structure that allowed it to exploit a specific food resource. In business terms, they all had similar core competencies (feathers, wings, feet, beak), but it was a distinctive, seemingly subtle strength – the type of beak – that allowed the finches to effectively compete for a specific type of food.

On a personal level, the first step to charting your own advantage is to identify what you do particularly well and what makes you feel good about yourself.

This could be, for instance, whether you think you’re better at teaching or learning, buying or selling, leading a team or creating on your own. So ask yourself “what makes you feel strong?” Marcus Buckingham says that “Our strengths clamour for our attention in the most basic way”. What makes you feel inquisitive, invigorated and successful? Or you might think of your Go to Activity when you are really stressed out. I am not talking about going out with your friends to a pub. I am talking about that activity, whether it is that sale, or client you mentor, the activity that you do that makes you feel in control again.

What is the thing that you have super powers in and everyone else finds it difficult? It may not be because these people are deficient in a particular skill, but rather because you’re unusually good at it.

Or think back to your childhood to try to identify something that made you different or even a bit of an oddball to your peers.

You may think little of their praise because you think of this attribute in yourself as unexceptional – but that could be because it comes naturally to you. “Oh that compliment again!!” People tend to overvalue what they aren’t and undervalue what they are. It is quite likely that the compliment is pointing you towards an area of your greatest strength. In fact it is quite likely that your superpowers are not on your resume. Because you ignore them.

These proficiencies aren’t necessarily your best skills, but typically they carry a price tag of sweat and possibly tears, and they speak volumes about you. These are the skills you point to when someone asks, “What is the hardest thing you’ve ever done?”

If you want to fly up the S-Curve then bring your superpowers to work and play where no one else is playing. When you have a solid idea of your specific, perhaps even unique strengths, try to match them with a product that needs to be developed or a job that needs to be done, either in your organization or in a new arena, then push yourself towards it.

Remember, however, that you will start at the low end of the S-curve. A new job, for example, will mean unfamiliar tasks, different people and new information to acquire. And sometimes you might simply get your choice wrong. Sometimes you are on the wrong curve. You may see a huge opportunity, or hope to be hired to do a job, but before taking the job or starting that business, make sure that you have the strengths that meet those needs. If there isn’t a match, it will be tough to drive toward competence.

As you look to transform yourself, don’t think just about what you do well—think about what you do well that most others can’t. Those are your disruptive strengths.

To get a deeper understanding of how these capabilities play out with your team, read more at play to your distinctive strengths

To perform at the highest level, each member of your team must operate from a position of strength. I’m not talking about the strengths of the team in general, but of each individual’s distinctive strengths. What does each person do well that other people on the team do not, and what sort of problems do these strengths equip them to solve? As a manager, your job is to pinpoint what people do uniquely well and pit these abilities against assignments that make their strengths relevant. This powerful combination (abilities + assignments) busts through the challenging low end of the transformation curve.

Don’t assume people know what their strengths are. Usually, we have a tough time spotting our own superpowers. Because these are things you do reflexively well, like breathing, your strengths are often invisible. And you dismiss them: it’s human nature to undervalue what comes easily. Which is why sometimes we hire people into the wrong roles. Because they include on their resume what they work hard to do, not what they do without thinking. Identify your reports’ strengths – their superpowers, their genius – and play to them.

Play to your people’s distinctive strengths, encourage them to play where others aren’t and you will create a flywheel for climbing up the transformation S curve of learning.

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