Playing to your strengths is less about your long-term career path and more about how you approach your everyday life.
Focusing on strengths vs. weaknesses can give you a helpful perspective on improving HR performance. In "Hiding in the Bathroom: An Introvert's Roadmap to Getting Out There (When You'd Rather Stay Home)," author Morra Aarons-Mele provides insights on her experiences navigating the entrepreneurial world as an introvert. Instead of struggling with networking, she found success by leveraging her strengths. In this series on must-read books for HR leaders, we're taking a closer look at how business leaders can learn from her example, both in their own careers and for mentoring their teams.
Here are four strategies that can help you build unique advantages based on your strengths:
1. Focusing on Your Strengths vs. Improving on Your Weaknesses
As a leader, you may be better served by focusing on your strengths than by trying to improve on your weaknesses. Aarons-Mele writes, "According to leadership guru Marcus Buckingham, data show that working on weaknesses is far less effective than working from strengths." She shares the example of LinkedIn's CEO, who gets anxious when having to network. His advice: Accept your perceived strengths and weaknesses, and treat things that make you uncomfortable like skills you need to learn.
He also suggests reframing your expectations of yourself as a leader: "Networking is a skill we learn just like we learn how to do Excel. At some level, you have to master the basics. But you're better off playing to your strengths." In other words, if networking or public speaking sends you into a tailspin, minimize how much you have to do it. Understanding the basics is a smart strategy for overcoming challenges, but it's often possible to network online, sell business through written proposals and use other methods that leverage your most important skills.
2. Get to Know Your Strengths and Be Realistic About Your Weaknesses
We often know ourselves pretty well when it comes to our professional strengths vs. weaknesses. However, leaders can conduct a systematic audit to better understand where they fall.
Four questions to ask include:
1. Historically, which aspects of my career and roles have I enjoyed — and which have I dreaded?
2. In my current role, what do I look forward to? Which activities do I procrastinate on or try to avoid?
3. In envisioning future roles, which activities and skills would make me happiest to focus on? What areas would I prefer to eliminate?
4. Which strengths and weaknesses would my colleagues, direct reports, boss, friends and/or partners point out?
Combine the insights from these inventories to get a more objective view of your strengths and weaknesses.
3. Focus on Your Everyday Experiences
Playing to your strengths is less about your long-term career path and more about how you approach your everyday life. Aarons-Mele writes, "I learned to play to my strengths and nourish my introversion, focusing less on the long-term outcome of 'success' and more on the everyday." Today, she's organized her business to allow her plenty of time alone, to minimize networking and to recharge. Ask yourself what day-to-day changes you could make to better align your work and personal needs.
4. Adapt Your Vision of Success
If you focus on your strengths, it may mean redefining your vision of success. As Aarons-Mele notes, "The 'aha' moment came when I learned to redefine my vision of success. The old vision was media mogul. My new version was less focused on some far-off notion of success attained. I traded 'someday' for today." Is your long-term vision compatible with your strengths and weaknesses? For example, if you don't like managing large teams, then working as a CEO may not be the best path for you. However, a career as a high-powered consultant would allow you to wield influence at the highest levels of large organizations without having to spend time on the areas you dislike. Consider how your strengths and weaknesses will shape your long-term career path.
HR leaders and business leaders will thrive when they understand the context of their own strengths rather than focusing endlessly on improving their perceived weaknesses. The same insights can help your team optimize their performance in unexpected ways and ultimately contribute to a more productive and engaged workplace.