Books that changed my life 5: Discover your Strengths

Number 5 in this series continues on the people-y theme, but this time closer to the world of work than the last one (7 Habits of Highly Effective People). "Now Discover Your Strengths" (NDYS) forced me to re-think completely how I viewed the whole area of personal development and training/coaching of people.

I had, like most of us I guess, grown up in companies where the focus was on identifying and fixing performance issues, or "opportunities for improvement" as they were called at P&G! For example, ‘John is rubbish at public speaking, so we’ll send him on a course called "Conquering your fear of presenting", then give him plenty of opportunity to implement what he learns.’ The problem with this approach is that you focus on peoples’ weaknesses and trying to fix them, rather than on their strengths.

In contrast, NDYS suggests that people have a certain set of "signature" strengths, and areas of weakness, both of which are unlikely to change fundamentally. Furthermore, the best thing is to focus on amplifying the strengths, and when it comes to the weaknesses using one of several solutions:
1. Find a role where this weakness is not an issue, as it is not relevant – don’t move John to sales to expose him to presenting, find a new role where he can work one-on-one where he’s good
2. Team the person up with someone who is strong in their area of weakness – if John does have to present, don’t make him do it alone, buddy him up with an ace presenter
3. Work on getting the weakness up to an OK, minimum level but nothing more – if you do send John on presentation training, make it clear he only needs to be OK, not perfect

The book is backed up by an online survey, the "Strengthfinder", that Gallup has used on hundreds of thousands of managers. You complete this and it suggests your 5 key strengths, with a detailed description of each. To give you an idea, mine came out as:
– "Analysis"
– "Focus" and setting goals
– "Command" and leading people
– "Achievement" and need to get things done
– "Significance" and standing out
=> These fit really well with being a brand consultant and writer, so I’m luckily in the right sort of job!

What I found really powerful about this is the way that your unique talents are celebrated and that it recognises no-one is perfect. Its OK to be crap at some things, and accept that at best you’ll be OK on these, especially when these weaknesses are the flip-side of your strengths. I wish I had found this book earlier in my career, as it would have made me a better manager. In retrospect, I was too demanding and focused too much on addressing issues, rather than on amplifying strengths.