We have all heard of the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis. We have also been told that we should ‘tap into our strengths’, or, ‘focus on our strengths’, etc. 

But what are our strengths? How do we figure out our strengths? And most importantly, how do we focus on them to be par excellent at our work?

Now, Discover Your Strengths (2004) by Marcus Buckingham answers some vital questions we have about what ‘strengths’ are. It shows us how one should firstly; understand how to find their strengths, how strengths are created in the first place, and why most people do not focus on their strengths.

It is also a good guide for managers and leaders on how to tap the strengths of their employees and teams, to make a business thrive and keep it successful consistently.

Now, Discover Your Strengths (2004) by Marcus Buckingham
Now, Discover Your Strengths (2004) by Marcus Buckingham

The Incorrect Focus On Weaknesses

Right from the beginning, we are told to work on improving our weaknesses. Whether it is in school or at the workplace, the focus has always been on finding how to turn weaknesses into strengths, leaving our strengths un-honed, especially when it is our strengths that chart our paths to success.

Strength is defined as any activity that a person can do repeatedly, to perfection, and at the same time enjoy doing it. Yet, many organizations focus time, money, and resources on trying to fix employees’ weaknesses. Companies make their employees attend special training to work on their weaknesses, without realizing that their resources are better used in helping employees better their strengths. 

A study conducted by The Gallup Organization conducted research and asked 198000 employees across the varied businesses if they were able to do what they did best at work every day. The results showed that the 20% who strongly agreed that they were able to do what they do best, were – 

  • The ones who were 50% more likely to work in organizations with a low employee turnover
  • 38% more likely to be working in productive businesses, and
  • 44% more likely to be working in companies that had higher customer satisfaction.

These statistics prove that organizations need to change their perspectives towards strengths and weaknesses. Rather than focus on improving weaknesses (damage control), they should focus on improving and perfecting strengths (development)

Building New Strengths

Everyone has strengths. But, how does one have these strengths? Are they acquired? Or built with practice? If they were built with practice, how did we know right at the start that these were the strengths to build?

This is where natural talent comes in. A person’s talent is a pattern of behaviors and thoughts that make certain tasks easier. Or example, a person could be great at making friends and starting conversations with unknown people. While many don’t find it easier to connect with strangers, it could be said that this person has a talent for communicating.

A natural inherent talent is a predisposition and cannot be changed. However, a person can choose to develop a predisposition (or a strength) by skill and knowledge.

  • Knowledge can be either experiential or factual. For example, a person learning to play the piano will require some factual knowledge of playing – like learning the notes, and additionally, gain experience by way of practice by listening and performing.
  • Skills, on the other hand, can be gained by gathering experiential knowledge. Skills refer to those key aspects of the chosen activity that helps in improving performance. For example, a person who is an excellent orator will have the skills to keep the audience captivated.

Development of one’s strengths and being explicit about the skills they have can help in identifying where one’s skills lie as developing strength is a long-term process. 

The Anatomy Behind Our Strengths

In order to really understand the nuances of strength development, it is necessary for us to dive deep into our anatomy. We need to know how strengths are created or formed. The answer lies in neuroscience.

Our brains, up to the age of three, have about 100 billion neurons that can make about 15 thousand connections between synapses. Yet, by the time we are 15 years of age, billions of these synaptic connections get lost permanently to avoid sensory overload and to reinforce specific connections so that our brains and intelligence can develop.

Some of these connections that remain become stronger than others and allow us to perform certain actions with better proficiency, making some actions, tasks, movements, etc. seem natural, while others uncomfortable. The natural actions become strengths.

These uncomfortable actions need practice so that they start seeming more natural to us and can overtake those connections that cause undesirable behavior. And this is the difficult part. These uncomfortable actions are our weaknesses.

Clues Hidden In Our Responses

A person’s strength gets wasted when their talent remains undetected or undiscovered. To be able to discover talents, one should look into their own spontaneous reactions.

Our instinctive reactions tell a lot about where one’s natural talents lie. Additionally, rapid learning and yearnings can become good indicators of different talents. Rapid learning of any subject can indicate that one has a natural talent for it. Yearning on the other hand can be seen in childhood. For example, if a person has a yearning to sketch and doodle as a child, there might be a natural talent hidden or art.

Seeking Out Strengths At The Workplace

How does working and focusing on strengths help organizations succeed and thrive?

In context to organizations, there are about 34 talents that can be relevant to the workspace that managers can optimize. A few examples could be – 

  • Analytical Employee – Analytical employees are objective and go by the data. They use logic and prefer a logical approach from others as well. Such employees need to be given clear and concise information to work well.
  • The Commander – Commanders are always at the forefront, whether it to share opinions or to convince others to share their opinion. 
  • Restorative Employees – Restorative employees have a knack to wrangle out solutions from any situation. They love solving problems and can lift spirits when the situation is tense. Such employees are best suited for customer interaction roles.

Employers, leaders, and managers can use the strengths of employees to bring out their maximum, helping them succeed in their personal goals as well as in achieving productivity and performance for the team and hence the organization as well.

Final Summary

Organizations can channel the talents and strengths of their employees for achieving better productivity and performance, rather than focus on trying to improve weaknesses. Individuals on the other hand should pay attention to their natural abilities and try to use these natural strengths to succeed in their personal career goals. Focussing on strengths and natural talent is what makes the difference between an average performer and a star performer.