You sit at your desk first thing in the morning and prepare for the day. You make a list of activities, and as you reflect on these, you will feel more drawn to some and a subtle (or not so subtle) avoidance of others.

You may even prioritise, then start work on the top priority – whether you ‘like doing’ that thing or not but eventually you will revert towards those things you are naturally drawn to, excited by, interested in… those activities that energise you.

It’s the most natural thing in the world, to do those things we love to do; we have a gravitational urging towards to those things that energise us and we feel an ease doing.

It is just these areas give us an insight into what our strengths might be.

I’ve been fascinated by the concept of ‘flow’ – achieving optimal performance with ease. And so studying the area of strengths was inevitable.

I therefore decided that rather than simply reading about them, I’d go for a ‘full immersion’ and recently travelled to London to get trained in this area – to get my Strengths Practitioner’s Certification for both individuals and teams with CAPP – the Centre for Applied Positive Psychology (www.cappeu.com).

Over the next few blog updates, I’ll be sharing additional distinctions and insights around this fascinating area. But let’s get started.

What are we talking about with strengths anyway?

A strength…

  • Is a pre-existing capacity – it already exists within us
  • Is authentic – when using our strengths, we feel like they come from the ‘real me’, our own direction
  • Is energising – applying our strengths recharges us; there is more energy connected to
  • Enables optimal functioning and performance – allows us to be at our best; more engaged, more alive, more vigorous, and more in flow

In short, we eagerly do better work, for longer, and deeper when we get to apply our strengths

What else? What are the other benefits of a strengths focus?

There are five fundamentals of the strengths approach:

  1. It focuses us on what works, and what is strong and strengthening (energising).
  2. Strengths are part of our basic human nature; every person has strengths, qualities and capabilities, and deserves respect for them
  3. Our greatest potential lies in the areas of our greatest strengths
  4. Applying our strengths is the smallest thing we can do that makes the biggest difference.
  5. We succeed by fixing our weaknesses only when we are also making the most of our strengths

This last point is important and probably counter-intuitive. Our incline is to focus on our weaknesses, to ‘fix them’. But, you may recall, we move in the direction of where we focus our attention, so focus on weaknesses and… we get more of them.

Fixing weaknesses is also hard yards – it takes three times as much time, effort and money to move a weakness to mediocre as it does to hone a strength from good to excellent

Peter Drucker places strengths squarely within the responsibility of leadership: “The task of leadership is to create an alignment of strengths in ways that make weaknesses irrelevant”.

This therefore suggests that a leader really knows their team members and their strengths; and a strength is what they’re good at, right?

Wrong!

Our strengths are NOT what we are good at!

Consider this true story.

There was once a dog trainer who decided to grow his business so selected public speaking as his means to do this. Public speaking did not come naturally to him as he was a more of an introvert. But he practiced and practiced and eventually became highly skillful, even though it drained him. And his business did grow as a result.

This chap was good at public speaking, on the face of it – a strength, but it was draining; it was not an area he was drawn to and would happily volunteer his time to spend more time doing.

Public speaking was a Learned Behaviour – something he was good at and did often – and thus easy to confuse with a strength but it was not energising.

We all have many skills that full into this category of Learned Behaviours – good at but not energised by.

‘Play to Your Strengths’ – yeah right!

The usual mantra in this area is ‘play to your strengths’. Sounds simple but it’s not. Strengths can become weaknesses.

As an example, one of my known (or realised) strengths is planning. I’m structured and ordered and highly planful which has served me well… up to a point. However, when I over-emphasize this strength, I over-prepare, feel awkward when a plan is not adhered to, can get stuck in a rut.

Over-use of a strength can work against us and become a weakness.

So tapping our potential does not powerfully lie in our realised (known) strengths. Because we know and already use them, they can easily get overused and therefore become counter-productive.

Our potential actually lies elsewhere; but more on that in a few days

So, the Strengths distinctions identified so far:

Realised Strengths are those attributes that are energising, you have crafted and you use frequently.

Learned Behaviours are those attributes that you have learned to do well, but are not energising. Learned behaviour patterns often become engrained over time, and it’s easy to confuse them with strengths because you are good at them – but they’re not energising!