Are your best abilities being eroded by your job? Time to put them back into action.
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A problem for many of us in traditional work environments is that our jobs aren’t defined by our strengths—rather, what we do is defined by the job.
As a result, not only do we not have opportunities to use our strengths, but also sometimes our strengths have atrophied to the point where we’re not really aware of what they are anymore. Consequently, many people’s strengths lie undiscovered and unexplored, and unearthing them is the first step toward flourishing.
In figuring out the best way to apply your talents in the workplace, it’s important to recognize and distinguish between two types of strengths: performance strengths and passion strengths.
Performance strengths are simply the things you’re already good at, or that you have the greatest potential to become good at. If you’re not sure what these are, you can shake them loose with a few simple questions:
· What are my strengths?
· What are my natural talents?
· What are the activities that seem most natural when I do them?
· What do I tend to do well in the work I do now, and what have I been most successful doing in the past?
· What kinds of tasks do I find easiest to learn, either at work or elsewhere?
Are you good with numbers? Language? Planning and strategic thinking? Are you effective in front of people, or are you better behind the scenes? Your performance strengths are the skills and abilities that enable and give you the potential to succeed. When you exercise your performance strengths, you feel as though you are doing precisely what you should be doing.
By passion strengths, we mean the things that light a fire under you, that drive you to use your talents. The questions that will reveal this to you are simply:
· What gives me strength?
· What excites and energizes me?
· What do I love to do, and what did I love doing in the past?
· What are my passions, either at work or in other domains?
Does mapping out a strategic plan for a workgroup give you a feeling of excitement and anticipation—are you eager to see how your ideas play out?
Does listening intently to another person give you a sense of connection and shared purpose? Do you find working with numbers fascinating? Are you passionate about speaking to a large audience, or do you feel happiest when you’re in small, intimate groups?
When you exercise your passion strengths, you feel as though you are doing precisely what you want to be doing.
We’ve all had days when we wake up and dread going to work, because we know we’re going to be doing something that drains us—say, when the annual inventory rolls around and we know we’ll be in the warehouse with everyone else, trudging from shelf to shelf.
Tasks such as these are often unavoidable—but they wouldn’t be quite so debilitating if we were able, more often, to get up and work on the things that energize us, that make us think: Wow! I would be so inspired, so much happier at work, if I could do more of that.
SHARPening Moment: Strengths
• Identify both your performance and passion strengths
• Think of a time when you were in the Peak Potential Zone meaning you were using both performance and passion strengths. What happened as a result? What kinds of successes do you think you could achieve if you were to spend more time in your Peak Potential Zone?
• Try to imagine a way to create what Stanford psychologist Albert Bandura calls “mastery experiences” for yourself, either at home or at work, to build competence and confidence and create both a more joyful work experience and measurably better work outcomes.
• Identify your biggest weaknesses. Without dwelling on them or spending too much time trying to turn them into strengths, how might you minimize their negative impact at home and at work? How might you be able to spend less time doing the things you don’t love to do, without affecting the quality of your work?
In 2003, Jim Citrin and Richard Smith, partners at the executive research firm Spencer Stuart, reported on a study they’d done through in-depth interviews and surveys of 2,000 executives.
Only about 9 percent of respondents felt they were in jobs where they did what they were good at, and felt passionate about their work. However, when asked to describe an extraordinary executive they knew, most of the survey respondents named a person who was both highly competent and passionate about his or her work.
In other words, these extraordinary individuals brought together their performance and passion strengths.
It’s important to recognize the implications of Citrin and Smith’s research, which they discussed at greater length in their book, The 5 Patterns of Extraordinary Careers: First, to achieve our full potential, we need to focus on both strengths and passions, and second, the vast majority of us don’t, even at the executive level.1 There’s a lot of untapped potential.
Unlocking this potential is one of the primary goals of our 10X approach. We guide people in examining and comparing their performance strengths and passion strengths—and most important, in discovering where the two overlap, in what we call the Peak Potential Zone.
1. Citrin, James M., and Richard A. Smith. The 5 Patterns of Extraordinary Careers: The Guide for Achieving Success and Satisfaction. New York: Crown Business, 2005
This is an edited extract from The Joy of Leadership: How Positive Psychology Can Maximize Your Impact (and Make You Happier) in a Challenging World. Published by Wiley, September 2017.