Donald Clifton of the Gallup organization helped the world to realize that we get a greater return from developing our strengths than from trying to fix our weaknesses.
That’s a powerful insight that shifts the focus for leadership development: emphasize your strengths and align your work with what you are naturally good at instead of trying to be someone you’re not.
But the reality is that we all have parts of our jobs that we are not naturally good at—but we can’t get rid of them either. What do you do when an unavoidable part of your job lies outside your strengths?
Procrastination, Stress, and Inconsistency
It may help to recognize our natural response to working outside our strengths. The first natural response is procrastination. We put off tasks we don’t feel equipped to do. Before you judge yourself too harshly as a procrastinator, think through the kinds of tasks you are avoiding. Is there something in common between them? It could it be that you are hard-working and time-conscious in certain areas (your strengths) but procrastinate in other areas (your weaknesses).
The second natural response is stress. Think about holding an exercise band in your hands and then stretching it out. What would happen if you held that position for two minutes? Your muscles would start to burn and ache. The same thing happens when you stretch out of your strengths for an extended period of time. Stress builds up and causes fatigue.
That strain leads to the third natural response, which is inconsistency. Remember that elastic band? The longer you hold the stretch, the more your arms start to shake. In your work environment, that shaking is inconsistent behavior. When you’re fresh (early in the week, early in the day), you are better able to stretch and adapt. But when you’re tired, your performance falls off. Observers might say you were inconsistent, but it’s really the strain of extended time outside your strengths.
There is a smarter approach to working outside your strengths. You actually use your strengths to accomplish something that another person would do differently. For example, one leader who was a conscientious planner (a High-C on the DISC) needed to adapt and be spontaneous and respond quickly to changing circumstances. Instead of trying to learn how to shoot from the hip, we leveraged his planning strength to consider all the most common changes he encountered. He then thought through each one in advance to plan the best response. To observers, he looked more spontaneous and less ruffled by changes, but internally, he was leveraging a different strength.
Another leader struggled with writing lengthy and detailed performance reviews. Instead of trying harder to improve an area of weakness, he leveraged his on-the-spot verbal and people skills (High I and S) to walk employees through a simple matrix and invited them to take notes and participate in drafting the reviews together.
DISC to Diagnose Strengths
There are many good tools available to identify strengths, but I recommend the DISC for several reasons. First of all, DISC helps you identify weaknesses along with strengths. There is no need to dwell on weaknesses, but it’s important to understand them, gain self-awareness, and make informed decisions about where to apply your efforts.
Second, DISC reports plot your profile on a wheel relative to other teammates, so you can see where job/task alignment makes the most sense. Sometimes the best way to accomplish a task is to share it with a teammate who does it better.
Finally, the DISC report reveals where you are adapting outside your strengths right now. I recently saw reports from a team where more than half had stress factors indicated by their adapted scores. With that insight, they can make more intelligent and informed decisions about dividing up work and leveraging other strengths to cover their weak spots.
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