What are your best qualities and how can you play to them?

You should focus your energies on improving your strengths not your weaknesses.

by Miranda Kennett
Last Updated: 31 Mar 2015

There has been a seismic shift in the leadership development world away from concentrating on weaknesses (or 'development opportunities', as they were euphemistically termed) to focus on identifying and exploiting our strengths.

The rationale is that expending effort on areas where we're weaker is rarely successful and serves to depress us with our own inadequacies. Brain scans indicate that we process verbal criticism using the same sites with which we handle physical pain. Since we can't build on weaknesses we're better off spending our energy on making the most of our strengths.

There are at least 20 types of strength that have been identified in four areas.

Using this list, try working out what your top five strengths are. Add to your own perceptions with feedback from others.

Next, assess whether you currently use these qualities to good effect in your work. If there's a gap between what you feel to be your key areas of proficiency and how you operate, consider ways in which you could use them to greater effect.

While doing this exercise you will probably also notice areas where you do not excel. Check whether these gaps are relevant and important to your work. If not, then they may be 'allowable weaknesses'. If you find that, admirable as your key strengths are, you are missing an important quality that you need to do your job really well (for example, you're a bookkeeper with poor attention to detail, or an HR professional with very little empathy or interest in developing others) then you're probably in the wrong job. Similarly, if you find that your present role doesn't allow you to fully use your best qualities, then look at whether you can use your talents in a role that will allow you to shine.

A word of caution: while playing to your strengths will undoubtedly contribute to greater success, you will need to check that you don't over-use them. Self-confidence can tip over into arrogance, decisiveness to bullying, empathy to soggy-shouldered sentimentality. And never forget that continually increasing your knowledge will also shore up the strengths you posses.

Miranda Kennett is an independent coach. If there's a leadership issue you'd like her to address, contact her at miranda@mirandakennett.co.uk. Follow her on Twitter @mirandajkennett

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