Most people think that they know their strengths…
I hear them say things like “I learn fast” or “I’m good with people” but most people have not spent enough time or effort to truly understand what it is that they are great at or have the potential to be great at!
Maybe these are true, but these aren’t specific enough to really be what you are great at. What is it that makes you great with people, What is it specifically that you enjoy in the interaction with others, is it even the interaction at all, or maybe something else.
When I hear something as vague as “I’m good with people”, which I do in maybe 7 out of every 10 interviews with professionals, I immediately try to start digging to understand what they really actually mean.
It could be that they are great at: relating to others OR communicating with people OR helping people problem solve OR building relationships quickly OR about a million other possibilities.
What on earth do you really mean? (Download our pdf version of this article for resources to help you out!)
What is a signature strength?
For our purposes here, let’s consider a “Signature Strength” to be the intersection of areas you’re great at, your enjoyment, and where you bring value to the world.
This means it’s not enough to be really good at something, in addition you must have some love or enjoyment of it too. This provides the basis for what we really mean when we say “do what you love”
We really mean, spending as much time as possible working with those things you are great at that you also really enjoy. When you get to do that on a regular basis, work starts to feel like play more and more, but you are also going to be getting superior results in your work compared to someone who’s time and activities are not well aligned with their strengths.
Making “discovering your strengths” Less Confusing
Over the years I’ve gotten feedback on my strengths from many people. They say things like “You’re great at having uncomfortable conversations.”
Awesome right? That must be my strength! (This is where most people stop!)
I had considered that a strength for a period of time. But when I looked a little deeper I realized there was more to it: I have always been someone who gets trusted by people very easily. It helped me to be successful in other jobs and helped me to build relationships and have a lot of information because people were willing to share with me. Because people trusted me so easily and so quickly it would often make me very comfortable with them just as quickly. This enabled me to say things that others wouldn’t normally say, or deliver difficult feedback to people, or to ask for something from them that could be kind of scary.
Doing this over and over again in sales situations and HR investigations, interviews and challenging situations where you have to earn trust and provide feedback caused me to get very good at having the courage to say things others wouldn’t normally say and to be far better at that as a skill than the average person. But the real Signature Strength here was my ability to genuinely connect with others very quickly in a way that caused you to trust me.
This enabled me to become very good at conventionally uncomfortable conversations and drastically raised my tolerance level for those conversations.
It’s like an iceberg: It’s not what everyone can see on the surface that is your strength, what’s under the surface that is far more important!
You will likely find the same thing for yourself when you start to unwind your own personal web of life events that lead to your Signature Strengths.
How to get more specific when trying to discover your strengths:
I’m writing this post in the hopes that I can help you break your strengths down into specifics (or at least more specific than when you started reading this)
There are many ways to do this but I want to give you several ways to go about discovering your strengths. The first way is what I do when I am interviewing others (many people don’t know their own strengths but I still have to figure them out in a short period of time spent with them during an interview)
I start with what they really enjoyed in their last roles, previous jobs, current job, volunteering, hobbies (make a list of the couple of things you enjoy most in each one). Now which of those things would you consider yourself really good at? Which of those things caused you to be successful in other areas?
As you start to break down these lists, you will start to discover your strengths because some will surface to the top.
Ask yourself are these things that you are really good at? Are these what other people think you are great at? (sometimes what we think isn’t a big deal actually is, it just comes easy to us)
Actions to take Today:
- Get a piece of paper: List out all your past jobs and roles
- What are the 2-5 things you most enjoyed about each of those AND what did you find you were better than others at?
- Answer these questions: “What was it specifically that you enjoyed?” and “Why did you enjoy that part so much?”
Bonus Actions To take (for overachievers)
Clifton Strengths Finder: if you want to get really clear (and eerily accurate) verbiage to articulate your strengths, I would suggest purchasing the Clifton Strengths Finder Assessment for about $25 (or our video series to get a deeper understanding on strengths). It will help you get started down the road of identifying your strengths even more quickly.
We use it behind the scenes with our Coaching Clients and Career Change Bootcamp students. Here’s an episode of the HTYC Podcast where we share audio from an actual coaching call with Bree Hunter from Australia (Take a listen. You’ll enjoy it. No other Career Coaches in the world actually share how they coach) – Also Bree gave us permission!