Management by Coaching
Which hidden strengths aren't you leveraging?
Focusing on weaknesses seldom works
By Kimberly Paterson, CEC
Thomas Leonard, considered to be the Vince Lombardi of personal coaching, said, “For us to become truly successful and happy in this lifetime, we need only focus on two things: building on our strengths and zapping the blocks that impede our progress.” Yet when we think about improving performance—either our own or someone else’s—we typically head straight for the weaknesses that we want to fix.
The truth is, focusing on weaknesses seldom works. People waste valuable time and energy setting goals, taking training, investing in tools and creating elaborate systems to muscle themselves into doing something they can’t do or don’t like doing. The newfound discipline works for a week or two, but after that most people drift right back to where they were. That’s because their actions aren’t aligning with their internal operating system.
When you focus on your weaknesses, you set yourself up for failure. Continually focusing on improving them is a “high-friction” enterprise. You may feel that it makes you noble, but it doesn’t. In the end it saps your energy and makes you numb.
Concentrating on strengths changes everything
Instead of focusing on what needs to be improved, turning your attention to your strengths produces immediate benefits and profound changes in performance over time, including:
Increased confidence. When you are honest with yourself about your strengths and stop trying to cover up your weaknesses, confidence increases exponentially.
You get even better. When you identify and articulate what you do well, you get better and better at it. You can move from competence at what you do and how you do it to mastery. In a business environment where competence is the price of admission, mastery makes you far more attractive to clients.
You attract ideal clients. When you know and project your strengths, you attract people who respect and value what you have to offer. This deepens the client connections you make, improves retention and makes doing business a lot more pleasurable.
More fun. For most people, concentrating on strengths brings a new level of enjoyment to work. When the work you do aligns with your strengths, you are “comfortable in your own skin” and not striving to be someone or something you are not. People sense your comfort level, and it increases their comfort level with you.
Know all of your strengths
The more you understand your strengths, the more effective you will be in every aspect of your life. How thoroughly and deeply do you understand all of your strengths; and how good are you at leveraging them? If you are like most insurance professionals I coach, you see only a handful of your talents, skills and gifts.
Start building a list of your strengths, which include: talents, skills, experience, intelligence, perceptiveness, communication, awareness, energy, leadership, clarity, standards, values, knowledge, reputation, competitive advantage, professional network, creativity, education, resourcefulness and willingness.
Most people find it easy to identify a dozen or so strengths, but the power of the process lies in going beyond the obvious and digging deeper. Think about the life experiences, skills, and mindsets that you bring to the table and how they contribute to making you an exceptional person.
Because we’re conditioned from childhood not to be boastful or to have too high an opinion of ourselves, articulating your strengths can make you feel a bit uneasy. Those early lessons last a lifetime. Ask friends, family and colleagues who know you well what they see as your strengths. Clients are an excellent resource in helping identify your strengths from a business perspective. Focus on accounts that fit your ideal client profile. Keep in mind that you are not fishing for praise; you are looking for understanding. An effective way to approach this is by asking what value your clients are getting from their relationship with you.
Capture as many strengths as you can—the more the better. Look for common themes and note the frequency with which you hear similar answers from people. This is where your real power lies. From a tactical standpoint, the list is an excellent resource for exploring and expanding the value you can bring to your organization, clients and community.
Endorse your weaknesses
Concentrating on strengths doesn’t mean living in denial about your weaknesses. Trying to conceal them from the world takes an inordinate amount of energy; ignoring them will cost you dearly in dollars and relationships.
Face the weakness head-on. Instead of trying to fix them or beating yourself up, look at what facing them points to and what it tells you. Weaknesses are generally great signposts. They can tell you where to go and what to focus on. When you examine a weakness many times, you will see it has a direct correlation with a strength.
Practically every job—no matter how perfect—exposes at least one of our weaknesses at some point in time. When you find yourself in that situation, look for help from someone who is strong in that area, or tap into an existing strength to get the result you need. The following example shows how this works.
The principles in action
Take the case of Ted, a principal in a fast-growing Midwestern agency. Ted was the classic entrepreneur—a hard-charging, high-energy, enthusiastic and creative guy with a million balls in the air. His weakness was follow-through. Ted’s mind was filled with possibilities, but he had a real challenge when it came to delivering. He consistently missed deadlines and left valuable projects unfinished.
Ted thought what he needed was a better time management system and more discipline. In conversation, it quickly became clear that Ted had tried this approach many times. Despite the different systems he used, not one ever worked for more than a week. Being a slave to project planning and a daily task list simply didn’t fit his internal operating system.
Ted’s perception of himself was that he had a tendency to be irresponsible. When we explored all of his strengths, Ted saw this wasn’t true. He was extremely responsible when he had a “do-or-die” deadline or promised something to a client or colleague. He had trouble with the promises he made to himself and self-imposed deadlines. We solved the problem by creating deadlines that were real and visible to others. Once the deadline was tied to a commitment to someone else, he delivered. Rather than trying to fix the weakness, Ted tapped into his strength to achieve the result he wanted.
Learn what your strengths are. Put them to work when you face challenges. Give yourself permission to let your strengths take care of you. It’s one of the best investments you can ever make.
Kimberly Paterson is a business and Certified Energy Leadership Coach. She is President of CIM, where she works with insurance organizations to build the vision, strategy, customer insight and leadership skills to energize people and achieve outstanding results. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.