Whenever we look at improving our lives, we usually start with what needs fixing, whether it’s our apartment that is too cramped and packed with our children’s toys, or our job that’s so dull we’re tempted to call in sick, or our boss who micromanages us. And when we shine the spotlight on our personal traits, we see procrastination, low self-esteem, selfishness, greed, people-pleasing and boastfulness… the list is endless. Then we tend to launch a mammoth campaign to try to conquer these weaknesses.
But there’s a new breed of coaches who believes we’ve got our thinking the wrong way round. If we want to improve our performance at work, have more fun with our partners and families, work better in a team and earn more money, the secret is to look at what’s right – not what’s wrong.
‘We can’t be all things to all people, so to become our best self, we can look at what we excel at and play to our strengths,’ explains Vicki Haverson, who is director of Strengths-Based Development for Sparks International in Dubai. ‘When you recognise your strengths and work with them, rather than the qualities that you don’t have, it’s like sprinkling magic dust on your life.
‘There is a direct link between energy and performance. If we are doing something we love and we’re good at, we’re on fire and highly productive, and we can’t wait to get started. But we take these strengths for granted. Just because they come easily to us, we think everyone is a good listener or is brilliant at organising functions or writing media releases and we overlook our special talents.
‘But when we’re not engaged, we dread going to work, we hate our job, we feel unfulfilled and frustrated. Sadly, 87 per cent of the workforce suffers this employment disengagement and it’s estimated each person loses two to three hours a day in productivity because of it.
‘Once we’re aware of our strengths, it’s like holding a mirror up to ourselves and seeing ourselves properly for the first time.’
But how do we find our strengths if they’re not blatantly obvious?
Vicki, who has lived in Dubai for five years, and whose background is in marketing business developments, says our strengths are usually the things that come naturally to us. In fact, they’re so natural, they’re often not even on our radar.
With careful observation and analysis, we can strip back our most fulfilling times and frustrating moments until we uncover the one thing that gave us energy or sapped our enthusiasm.
If, for example, we love shopping for exactly the right gift for our husband or friend’s birthday, or we love sitting in cafés and people watching, we might have the strength of Individualisation, which means we see everyone as different, and we are perceptive and astute. If we’re always the office agony aunt, or we cry at films and tragedies on the news, we probably have the strength of Empathy, which means we can feel other people’s pain and jubilation.
‘Look at the things you pick up quickly,’ suggests Vicki. You might find it easy to learn a new language or a musical instrument, for example.
‘For another clue, look at your To Do list and identify the things you like doing or the jobs you find easy. Sometimes there are jobs we would do just for fun, in our spare time.
‘Go back through your past and ask yourself where you have really made a difference. You may well see the same strength showing up time and time again.’
The system Vicki now uses in her coaching is the Gallup Strengths Centre (see box alongside) , which has devised a set of online questions to work out which of the 34 identified strengths we have.
So far, 13.5 million people have taken the test globally and the top five strengths – Achiever, Responsibility, Learner, Relator and Strategic – remain fairly constant.
Vicki says we normally use around eight of our strengths.
‘We’re all pretty much unique,’ says Vicki. ‘At present, our chance of having the same top five strengths in the same order as another person is 1 in 35 million, and we all do one thing better than 10,000 other people!
‘When I moved out to the Middle East I was working in the legal sector and I became de-energised,’ continues Vicki. ‘When I took the test, I found my number one strength is Maximiser, which means I like to concentrate on what’s right with people, and make good things better.
‘In the legal sector, there was too much focus on what was wrong with people within the organisation and what employees were not good at. That’s why I was being de-energised by it.
‘Within my family, I was always the one who planned the get-togethers, or I arranged holidays for me and my husband. When I discovered Arranger was my second-strongest strength, I understood why I found organising events so easy. It wasn’t that my family members are lazy or that they can’t be bothered. It’s just that I do the organising naturally.
‘Once you know your own strengths and understand other people have different strengths, you can put together a great team, get the best out of your workforce or even make the most out of social situations. I’m a Relator, so at gatherings I like to get to know one or two people really well. My husband is a WOO, which stands for Winning Others Over, so he’s in his element when he’s making lots of friends. So many things fall into place when you know your strengths!
Make the most of your talents…
This person likes to stay busy. They have a strong work ethic and they despise anything that gets in the way of getting things done. They love to measure their progress.
TIP Make sure you always have a list on the go so you can enjoy ticking things off. Keep success logs and journals so you can log your new clients and sales figures.
Having this strength means you do exactly what you said you would do, and you don’t give up until it’s done. You are very driven and can become obsessive.
TIP Try to achieve a balance – continue being helpful but learn how to say no to some requests so you don’t take too much on.
If you love the process of learning a language or studying for a qualification, you probably have the strength of Learner. You will constantly want to improve and you’ll delve more deeply into subjects than most people.
TIP Learn something new every year or work in an industry where things are constantly changing so you have to update your skills.
This person builds trust and creates long-lasting deep friendships. They’re very open and they are happiest when they’re with people they know well. They’re in touch with their friends regularly.
TIP Attend networking events – you will love connecting people and helping people to get to know each other.
People with the strength of Strategic excel at finding the most efficient route forward and they can see the bigger picture immediately. They anticipate obstacles and examine the pros and cons of their various options.
TIP Don’t just be satisfied with coming up with an answer to a challenge – take action and make sure things get done!
Naturally inquisitive, these people love to learn and constantly ask questions. They can spend hours on their laptop researching issues that interest them. They love to travel.
TIP Find a way of storing all the information and items you collect, and share them with other people – otherwise you risk ending up seriously cluttered!
These are the natural peacekeepers and they will look for common ground for both sides in a dispute. They don’t feel there is anything to gain from arguing and conflict.
TIP Be aware that some people may see you as weak and indecisive. Build up a network of people you can rely on.
You have the ability to put into words how everyone is feeling and you may walk into a room and be able to gauge the atmosphere immediately. You put yourself in other people’s shoes easily and are a good listener.
TIP It can be hard absorbing everyone else’s problems, so practise empathy on yourself and understand your own needs.
If you have this strength, you live in the moment and you love sudden requests and detours from what you had planned. You embrace change.
TIP Don’t look for jobs with a rigid structure or predictability or you will feel de-energised. Learn to respond to change even more quickly than you do already!
This person looks for excellence in everything he does. He loves home improvement, and if something is broken, he would prefer to buy a new one over getting it fixed.
TIP Study success and find a role where you can help other people to fulfil their potential, such as teaching, mentoring or coaching.
Vicki Haverson tells us how to go about finding our strengths…
Step 1 Take the Clifton StrengthsFinder test at www.gallupstrengthscenter.com.
Step 2 Review your StrengthsFinder report. Highlight the words you most connect with and review the action-planning guide that accompanies your report.
Step 3 Consider hiring a qualified strengths coach to help you gain further awareness and understanding of your strengths and how to apply them in real settings.
To find out more about Vicki, go to www.sparksinternationaltraining.com