It's easy to think that the best in any given role all get there the same way. A strengths-based approach is different. While a strengths-based approach rings true regardless of job or industry, my experience as a teacher taught me what it truly means to soar with your strengths.
It feels like I always had visions of being a teacher and what that "looked like." Of course, my mental image of what I was hoping to become as a teacher came from many different places. As a student, my best teachers were always models I wanted to imitate. My mother was a teacher, so in some ways, my life was spent emulating her example. And, of course, there were the teachers from movies or books who enticed me to envision myself as one of them.
The truth is, when I finally did become a teacher, I realized that as hard as I tried, I could not really be completely like those models I admired, great as they were. Looking back on my time as a teacher, I now realize I taught a lot based on what came most naturally to me, rather than basing my teaching style on what I imagined "great teachers" would do. I naturally knew the adjustments needed for the uniqueness of each student. After some trial and error, I became more comfortable in my own skin, but I always felt like I had never quite reached the apex of success, simply because I didn't "look" like other teachers I had known.
It wasn't until I learned about the rather revolutionary concept of strengths that I could finally understand what great teaching looked like, for both me and all the other teachers that had such a big impact on students.
When teachers learn to teach based on their innate strengths, it is like Independence Day for them, complete with fireworks and celebration. They finally feel what it's like to be in their "zone," so that the teaching they deem so sacred is done authentically, powerfully and with the kind of joy that keeps one focused and engaged. Rather than spending time trying to continually become good at every technique and approach, a strengths-based teacher can home in on the talents that can take them to greatness.
The conventional approach to development is different than developing from strengths. Keep these three hallmarks of strengths-based development in mind to understand the difference this can make:
- Only some behaviors can be learned.
The conventional approach seems to think greatness can be taught. We know to be truly world-class at something, it takes an element of innate talent. Skills and knowledge can be learned, but is no substitute for the potential at hand when we embrace natural patterns of behavior. Which behavior should you stop trying to learn or perform? Or which behavior should you perhaps find a complementary partner to help offer support?
- The best in any given role deliver the same outcomes using different behaviors.
If all it took to be world-class in a role was to follow the same steps as a previous champion, wouldn't we all be winning gold medals and starting successful business ventures? Instead of assuming the best performers all get there by following the same steps, start by identifying the expected outcomes. I bet you'll find that the individuals who meet and exceed those outcomes get there in very different ways, based on their own unique blend of talents. Allow yourself some autonomy in finding your best path forward. Can you write down your unique strengths-based approach to a given task or challenge that is successful and empowering?
- Fixing weaknesses prevents failure, but building on strengths leads to success.
Investing in your weaknesses will likely help you improve. But if all your energy is dedicated to fixing what is wrong, you should expect that improvement to peak at or around a mediocre level. Embracing what you do well and challenging yourself to do it even better leads to the kind of success legends are made of. You'll get more out of what's right than you ever will from what's wrong. What percentage of your time do you spend working on your weaknesses vs. your strengths?
So, let's be even clearer here about natural strengths and talents. Let's say you have the strength referred to as Futuristic. You may not see how that affects your day-to-day work. You are always asking yourself, "Wouldn't it be great if …?" You are the kind of person who loves to peer over the horizon. The future fascinates you. As if it were projected on the wall, you see in detail what the future might hold, and this detailed picture keeps pulling you forward, into tomorrow. While the exact content of the picture will depend on your other strengths and interests -- you are certain to energize others by helping them see your visions of the future. Often our colleagues, students or employees need pictures to raise their sights and, thereby, their spirits. You can paint a picture for others -- one that they would not always see on their own. The inspiration of describing a better tomorrow can catapult someone into a whole new path filled with motivation.
As a teacher with Futuristic, I recently asked a student to find a box -- any ordinary box -- and put her best work in it from school, work or just notes about things she has accomplished or is proud to have done. I told her that someday in the future -- maybe five years from now -- she can open that box and look at all those "tokens" that paved the way for her future. She loved the idea, and now tucks away all the best of herself into that ordinary shoebox. All those tokens of hard work and success are building blocks for one day in her future when she will be a successful and happy adult.
It will not be easy, as our complex world in education asks more and more of teachers. Every day more and more is being written about teachers who are not engaged. Gallup's research shows that when people use their strengths at work, their likelihood to be engaged is significantly impacted. That is why it's important for teachers to be aware of their strengths and draw from the reserve of motivation such awareness can net. But awareness is just one small step. Take the time to create a deeper awareness of one's strengths and then apply those strengths, so that your brand of teaching becomes one that not only sustains you, but also has tremendous impact on your students.
We all know the teachers who made the most difference for us as individuals were the ones who really allowed us to run with our uniqueness. Those teachers celebrated our strengths and knew we were different from the rest of our classmates. They gave us opportunities to learn and grown and recognized us based on what we did best.
So, if we know that teachers made the most difference on us when they allowed us to soar with our strengths, it makes sense that they first started their roles not with their ideal perception of what a great teacher looks like, but with the authentic greatness they uniquely bring to the job. When you know your own strengths and allow them to soar, you encourage others to do the same. Imagine the difference we make in the world, from the classroom to the boardroom, when we ensure that every person, every day, learns and grows and understands the powerful potential that lies within.
Rosanne Liesveld's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Futuristic, Activator, Significance, Relator and Command.