Manage your areas of nontalent, so they don't become weaknesses.
Focus on your greatest talent to develop near-perfect performance.
The concept of a strengths-based development approach is catchy. It's provocative. It's fun to talk about and makes for excellent classroom or team-building fodder. But do you practice it?
A recent conversation with a friend left me considering just how important this simple tenet is to bringing strengths into the everyday. She, like you, had a beautiful profile of themes, full of potential and talent. But she very honestly told me it was hard not to see her lack of executing themes as a weakness. In every performance conversation with her supervisor, my friend found herself mentioning "getting things done" as her primary area of improvement.
This meant she spent the majority of her precious coaching time discussing how she could grow toward average performance. Year upon year she collected action plans focused on helping her become more aware of deadlines, more efficient on following up, and more dedicated to being the "doer" on her team.
I asked her if there were other areas she could improve. She paused, and then told me she was actually pretty good at the rest of her job, so surely the answer had to be no.
But what if she was wrong?
A strengths-based approach to development requires the belief that there is infinite room for improvement in our areas of greatest potential. It means we have to get curious about the times when we are at our best, and honest about expecting even more from ourselves. It fundamentally changes the conversation about growth.
One practice many coaches like to use when mining for talent is to ask about recent success. But if you end the curiosity at identifying your success, you miss the point. Be bold enough to expect near-perfect performance. Study the relationships at play during your most successful moments. Explore the environment, the habits and the practice that led you there.
This comes with a word of warning, however. If you're truly going to aim for excellence, you are going to have to let some things go. You'll need to find the grace to admit and accept your areas of nontalent, even when they describe the person you think others expect you to be. At times you may have to address some blind spots.
But understanding and managing our areas of nontalent needs to be an enabler of strengths, not a solo mission to fix a weakness. Remember this: you are uniquely talented at something -- not at everything. Your family, friends and coworkers need you to be doing your very best -- not doing everything.
Try this: Today, invite someone to a conversation about development. This can be as informal as a dinner-table conversation about what your family did better today than yesterday. And next time you consider your areas for improvement, look first at what you do well. Here are a few great questions to get you started:
- If you took time to focus, what could you do better than anyone else you know?
- What part of a recent project came so easily to you that you just couldn't help but make it happen?
- What is the "world class" version of something you're already pretty good at?
- What would it take for you to be confident as an expert or specialist in a specific area?
Once you have zoomed in on your most promising potential, you'll have more clarity on what needs to come next. Imagine how you can bridge the gap between your current state and the higher bar you've set for excellence. One thing is certain about talent: there is always more room to improve.