Tanya Geisler is a CTI-certified coach (also known as “a catalyst, not a therapist”), the creator of Board of Your Life and Step Into Your Starring Role, a speaker, and champion of clarity, action and achievement. Life is a grand production… and it’s time for you to step into your starring role. Visit Tanya at TanyaGeisler.com
(I held this Vision Interview in 2012 to complement a yearlong self-discovery and journaling course I created. This program is now being transformed into a self-study class called “Art of Journaling” that will be available late September 2013).
We often think of a strength as something we’re good at, and a weakness as something we’re bad at. But Marcus Buckingham says that “a strength is an activity that makes you feel strong—an activity that strengthens you.” Do you agree? What is your detailed definition of a strength?
I have so appreciated how Marcus has elevated the strengths conversation with the deliciously simple: “What makes you feel strong?”
YES to the YES!
The place where there is natural aptitude, ability and dare I say it, mastery. It’s yours. And that quality of innate competence is bolstering; there can be no question about that. That’s a strength. Period.
Where I pause here is in the place of “activity that strengthens you.” I don’t believe that this is true right across the board.
Here’s why: I think the discussion about strengths actually begins with values.
Those aspects of you that make you fundamentally who you are. Without them you’d be just a reasonably drawn facsimile of yourself.
You may possess a natural aptitude for something, and if it’s not rooted in your values, it doesn’t actually strengthen you, but rather, it can deplete you.
At the front end of my former career in advertising, I was a fantastically strong project manager. Those juggling balls stayed up in the air no matter how many more were thrown my way. And I can still juggle like it’s my job.
But Honey? I’m never going back there. The dissonance was palpable. My life now is about managing fewer balls, but with care and intention.
Was identifying your true strengths easy for you or did you have to struggle? And how did you accomplish it? What do you wish you knew back then?
I think the struggle lies less in finding the strengths and more so in knowing which ones to activate. We tend to know what we’re “good at”, but as my friend Dyana Valentine says, “Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you have any business doing it.”
Competence ≠ brilliance.
Had I known sooner in life that understanding my values would have helped me determine which strengths to activate, which ones to leverage, which ones to manage, and which ones to save for parlor tricks, I’d have spent less time in situations and relationships that weakened me.
But I know it now. Oh yes.
Are the true strengths and the true passions of a person always aligned? In other words, do our strengths lie in what we’re best at or where we find the most pleasure and joy?
I think that strengths are about ability, and passion is about desire. When they intersect, that’s where the honey’s at, to be sure. And you see it with truly successful people: the people that smile from the inside out because their vocation is in that sweet spot.
And it doesn’t often look like that. It often looks like “I can do this, but I really want to do that. And I don’t know how. And it’s too hard to figure it out, so I best stay here, in the place of can.”
Our work is to get to that. By any means possible. That’s how the inner smilers did it: they sought the why, built the what, then dealt with the how.
Danielle LaPorte says that a true strength is not necessarily about skill or adeptness and that it’s about vitality. How does concentrating on your strengths vitalize your life and business?
After you’ve rooted in your values and discovered which of your strengths energize you and make you want to put on thigh-high boots and cape, you’re unstoppable. This I see on a daily basis.
When you’re coming from your place of power, you are magnetic. In your life and in your business. And there ain’t nothing more vital than magnetism.
Equally powerful is knowing your areas of weakness so that you get the support you need to bolster those places and mitigate risk. I’m not advocating living from fear and risk-aversion. Quite the contrary.
Do your SWOT analysis, know the nature of your kryptonite and continue to leverage your strengths in the most expansive way.
What is a good litmus test or what are good diagnostic questions for discovering our strengths? What’s the best method of identifying and amplifying them? Do our true strengths have signs we can perceive?
Marcus’s “what makes you feel strong” is a grand place to start.
There’s a nifty free Character Strengths Finder Test: http://viacharacter.org/www/ (right hand column where it says “Take the Via Survey”).
Then move farther afield. What are people thanking you for? When do people come to you for support?
My Board of Your Life program was built around the concept that people in our lives see our genius, strengths and gifts far more clearly than we can see ourselves.
So, ask people in your life: “What is my superpower?” They are dying to tell you. Promise.
The work is in:
- believing them, especially if it’s something you’ve never seen in yourself; and,
- taking the information, doubling back to your values and checking for resonance.
- Does it energize you or deplete you? And now you’re at a choice to leverage that strength or shelve it.
(If it’s a go, I can hook you up with a cape maker.)
What do you think about weaknesses? Marcus Buckingham advocates not paying attention to weaknesses and just focusing on and magnifying our strengths. What do you think? Should we never attempt working on our weaknesses?
Again, Mr B nailed it with his elegantly simple: “Weaknesses are the things that make you feel weak.” I’ve also seen that can be found in what you apologize for.
What to do about those pesky weaknesses lies again in knowing your values. The thing that makes you feel weak could be an amazing opportunity for growth that I’d hate for you to miss.
For instance, I apologize for being messy. Is my messiness dishonoring a core value and hence something I need to clean up (pun intended)? Not in a true and meaningful way. Looks like messiness is simply one of my weaknesses that require a work-around (ahem, like a cleaning service).
Howevah. I also apologize for being late in my personal life. I absolutely despise being late and yet, I often am late meeting friends. Something always seems to “come up” in my business. Clearly, I make my business a greater priority than my personal relationships. Ouch.
Can you hear the discomfort and how my value of respect for others takes a beating there? I recognize the opportunity for developing that weakness and I’m all over it like white on rice.
Sometimes, we must deal with our weaknesses. To wit, you hear from everyone (myself included) that to get it all done in your business and life, you must “ask for help” and “practice saying ‘no, but thanks for asking’”. But we’re reluctant to employ these practices as they make us feel weak and resistant (how’m I doing?) and we know we cannot do our great work without strengthening those flabby muscles.
Also, be mindful of where feeling weak actually has you feeling weak-kneed. You say you are completely inept when it comes to art. Not one creative bone in your body, you pragmatist, you. So why does your heart skip a beat when I challenge you to sign up for a painting retreat?
How are business models, especially when online business is concerned, related to our true strengths? For example, if we have a website or blog where we share our expertise and experience, how should we choose our business model and our offerings?
There’s a lot of ground to cover in those questions, but I’ll keep it to two places to look.
The first: You are technically strong in your business. You are a brilliant artist, coach, practitioner, teacher. Of course. Otherwise you wouldn’t be doing it, agreed? It is rooted in your strengths, and the reason you put out your shingle in the first place. This is where you are of service to the world.
Second place: You may not be as adept at working on your business. This is where knowing your weaknesses is of paramount importance. I can run my own website, but know what? My web developer is the Queen, so why would I spend a nanosecond trying to sort out code?
Strengthening weak muscles takes time, effort, dedication. Resources that we have in finite amount. Be sure your weak muscles are the ones you really want to have worked.
And with that said, you can build the ancillary offerings of your business in any way you choose (you’re always at choice… isn’t that delicious?) So if you love the idea of creating an offering that may not be based in your strengths (but is rooted in your values), trust that you can figure it out and (or) get the support required to shore you up.
You are passionate about the concept of “finding your thing.” How can we utilize our true strengths in finding our thing?
Knowing your strengths is one piece of a very elaborate, very beautiful quilt. A vital piece, yes. But still only one. Equally important, and among many other factors: chronic curiosities, aversions, gaps, dreams, your “no” list, and of course, the Grande Dame of them all, values.
You also need to go through your life with an awareness of what works and what doesn’t for you. That’s what knowing your strengths and weaknesses heightens in you.
Take my time in advertising. I was a strong Project Manager, to be sure. I was also an Account Director in later years. After a time, it became clear that this wasn’t my life’s work.
I didn’t throw away the experiences I had gleaned. I went back and culled what I did exceptionally well (my cues were: what made me feel strong, alive and what I was being thanked for). It was the creative process of brainstorming, client connection, aha breakthroughs and transformation (of a corporate brand, mind you, but a transformation nonetheless).
Can you guess how I spend my days as a coach, now?
How do our strengths transform as we grow older? What is a good approach to reassess and realign our strengths?
The innateness of a strength endures. You have it or you don’t. And that may simply mean that you haven’t yet detected the strength within you.
Over the course of your life, situations will present that call you forth to meet them with what you have and what you’re made of. Like using a muscle you didn’t know existed but that shows up when required.
You can’t know your capacity for forgiveness until it’s been tested. Continuing to ask whether a strength energizes or depletes you (and recalibrating accordingly) is just called progress.
Love your every strength as you love your every muscle. Exercise them, stretch them, nourish them, hire them the best masseuse. You don’t need to use them all at once. Know which ones you need and when. It’s a long and glorious road. Pace yourself.
Cigdem’s Note: Another great strengths assessment I use with clients is Gallup’s Strengths Discovery Package.