Your strengths: vital when life is tough
In brief – People spend hours reflecting on their weaknesses. Gaps in knowledge, expertise and life experience can be important. However, when you are stuck, your strengths can provide enormous energy. They can help you move forward. The challenge is to understand your strengths to a level where they are readily available in your moment of need. Each strength has the ability to provide a particular sense of satisfaction. Self-awareness is a vital component of success: whatever success means to you.
This six point process, which is part of a strengths based leadership programme, has helped hundreds of leaders to accelerate their success, improve personal satisfaction and reduce anxiety. See what your think…but first some introductory comments.
A few years ago a client of mine, who was arguably at the pinnacle of his career, wanted to talk about his long term ambitions beyond working in the traditional sense. He had a number of “big ticket” challenges to deal with at work and in life generally. By being more readily able to answer a straightforward question about his strengths, the leader experienced a dramatic increase in his sense of well-being -or what he calls his “desire to get up in the morning”. Most importantly, he created a space to focus on what he really wants and cares about. He still has a challenging life but he is moving forward.
Two observations worth knowing
If you breathe out slowly before, during and after you work through the 6 point process below, your results will most likely be of a better quality. Don’t ever worry about your in breath. Simply focus on your out breath. And, if you really want to get the maximum benefit out of this 6 point process, give yourself the gift of working through each point well away from all forms of technology.
The 6 point process to reveal your strengths
Step1 Start writing
First, take a stack of paper and start to write a list of your strengths. It might be difficult to get started. Just let the ink flow from your pen. Keep going. If it helps, imagine you are describing your strengths to someone you really trust or someone who you will never meet again. Use the sortof language you think he or she would understand. Write examples to describe your strengths as you go: just a sentence, so that you really get to the heart of what your strength is about. If you find yourself writing a word that could mean many things, such as ‘communication’, imagine someone saying: “What do you mean exactly?” After that, simply carry on writing to include your answer to the question as if you are telling a story. It can be useful to set a timeframe to complete step one. I like to start with 5 or 10 minutes.
If you get stuck at any point just breathe out slowly and then ask yourself: What else?
Step 2 Expand on your technical or professional skills
Start to add more technical and professional skills to your list. Think beyond work. Which skills do you use at home or in your community? Think about situations when your strengths have been helpful and consider if these memories trigger additional ways to describe your strengths. Describe your technical or professional skills in a way that a reader will really understand what you mean. Giving examples is always helpful.
Step 3 Think about your proudest moments
For this step you could try sitting back in your chair, or perhaps take a short walk, before focusing on your proudest moments. Don’t be modest. Think about what you are most proud of in your career to date and your life as a whole. It might be a small but significant event or a massive event. The important point is that your proudest moment makes sense to you. What were you thinking, feeling or doing that made a difference? Add your thoughts to your list of strengths. You might decide to add a drawing or create an image of your proudest moment. Perhaps a colour comes to mind when you imagine your proudest moment. Whatever comes to mind-make a note on your list.
Step 4 Describe your values and emotional strengths
It is now time to describe your values and emotions. You might find it useful to think about the question: What is really important to you? Take a moment and then write your response. You can then have a go at writing your response as a behavioural strength. For example if you were to think about resilience or trust, how would do you recognise or demonstrate these traits? No need to look up definitions. Simply, think about your emotional strengths and values and how they show themselves.
Step 5 Add input from family, friends and colleagues
Now, it is time to think about your colleagues, friends, family and other significant people in your life. Imagine each group or person is being interviewed about your strengths. There are just two questions: Tell me, what do you value about this person? How would you describe his or her strengths? Of course you can always add a follow on request: Tell me more. Really try to capture the exact words that you imagine each person might use. If you hear yourself saying or thinking – I have no idea – just imagine you do know and write something down. Always focus on the positive. We are not interested in the gaps in your knowledge or strengths at the moment. And, of course, if you have children in your life imagine what they would say in response to the question: What is great about…?
Step 6 Reflect on your strengths
Time to sit back and read your list of strengths. Some of my clients share their list with significant people in their lives. Perhaps you might like to take your thoughts for a walk or move around before reading the list again. Now consider the question: What can I rely on about myself when life gets tough? Finally, at some point in the future (you decide when) take a moment to go through a specific issue you are facing. Take a few breaths and see what comes up for you when you consider this question: Which of your many strengths will help you move forward right now?
©Jeanette Cowley 2019 Updated March 2020