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A Spotlight on Strengths

Have you ever really thought about what your strengths are?

Maybe when you were changing jobs, or trying to find your illusive “purpose” in life, you had a quick think about it – what you like, what you don’t like, what you’re good at…

Perhaps you’re a “people person”, or an “analytical thinker”, or “friendly and outgoing”, or “an ideas person”. But have you really stopped to think about how you effectively use these strengths every day, consciously and purposefully? 

And importantly, what impact – both good AND bad! - these strengths might be having on the people around you?

Until I did the Clifton Strengths assessment (previously the Clifton StrengthsFinder) I had always had a vague idea about my strengths and preferences, but I had never really harnessed them, with self-awareness and intent.

Laying it all out here: my 5 top strengths were Strategic, Relator, Achiever, Futuristic, and Learner, which feels very right for me. Interestingly, looking back, I can see why one particular job frustrated me, as my futuristic and strategic sides were palpably quashed as I was forced to follow the “rules'' and the way things had always been done. I can also see why coaching and running a small business make my heart sing, and give me a bubbling energy, as I can lean into my strengths ALL. DAMN. DAY. Which makes it fun and energizing, purposeful and fulfilling for me.

Consciously using your strengths will do this for you – as humans, it’s natural for us to feel good when we use our strengths. It allows us to be in a flow state, things are just easier when we are using our strengths, we don’t need to fight or concentrate, we can just BE. 

This is all very well and good, and I think many of us had an inkling that this was the case.

But let’s flip the coin for a second.

What are some of the downsides of knowing and utilizing our strengths? And what about our skills, are they strengths too? This is where self-awareness is important!

1. Sometimes our strengths can kind of tip us over the edge, and have an impact on those around us that was not intended, and often not even recognised by us! 

Think of the driven Achiever, always forging ahead and striving for gold. But what about the people around them? Some leaders drag others in their team with them by the ear, kicking and screaming, or they act like a drill sergeant in order to achieve that desired goal. 

And what about the Learner, who gathers and hoards a wealth of information, and then spits it out at others in an overwhelming firehose of data and facts. (I use these as an example as I may have been guilty of these myself! Hehe.)

2. Mistaking your skills for your strengths is another trick we all fall into. Just because you’re good at something, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a strength. You’re probably a pretty smart cookie if you’re reading this (even if I do say so myself) and are probably skilled at many things – public speaking, or spreadsheet analytics, or client relationships. This makes life tricky when trying to find your “ideal career” as it seems to give you so many options. 

But your strengths, unlike your skills, should be effortless, and put you into a flow state, and give you energy and guidance in all you do. No spreadsheet ever gave me joy, I’m afraid! 

Constantly using your skills, rather than your strengths, may lead to dissatisfaction, and a feeling of guilt because you’re just not motivated at something, even though you’re good at it. It doesn’t happen with a lightness of heart that working with strengthы will afford you. A tricky distinction, but an important one, my friend!

So how do we find out our strengths? The StrengthsFinder book and/or test is a great place to start, and then dig deeper into this with your coach. As always, a coaching conversation will bring new and potentially transformative thoughts and perspectives to you, which is a great foundation for a happier and more fulfilling life! 

More about coaching here


Alison Forrest

Certified Executive Coach for Emerging Female Leaders

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