Work from your Strengthsstrengths-vs-weaknesses

This was the resounding message from two recorded books from different genres I recently listened to during the six days on the road getting my youngest off to college, and this was the resounding take-home message for me from both:

Find and work from your strengths!

In other words, spend the most time and energy on the areas you love; develop your passion, master your strengths, and the your other areas will inadvertently grow.  Sounds simple, reasonable, and inspiring, right?

But wait! This concept is so different from the school and business world in which I was educated and trained.  

In general, in business reviews we are asked to build up our weaknesses.  Find something to improve.  Look at what needs changing.  This focus on our weaknesses is what makes us anxious about performance reviews.  It puts us on the defense and drains enthusiasm.  This doesn’t lead to a productive or desirable work environment for most people.  This may, at least in part, explain why so many work environments are suffering from low employee morale.  My road trip reading (okay, listening!) shed some interesting light on how this situation could be improved.

the-leader-in-youThe book, The Leader in You, by Dale Carnegie & Associates Inc.   gives many examples of great leaders and businesses who have utilized individual’s strengths and have thus provided fruitful environments where workers thrived.  As my husband Mark listened he recognized many techniques he learned to use behind the scenes to create a team while working from a position without influence.

In one of his last work reviews, Mark recalled a conversation with his boss talking about certain people in the department lacking certain skills.  He pointed out to his boss that this is not a problem.  Like in sports, every person on the team has a different skill set.  The linemen are big and strong so we cannot fault them for not being super fast.  It is not their job to be the fastest, their job is to block and protect. To have a great team, you need to put people in roles that focus on and cultivate their strengths.  Every person not having every skill is not a problem, as each team member’s strengths can balance out and lend support to another’s.  

the-sparkIn contrast, The Spark a Mother’s Story of Nurturing, Genius, And Autism by Kristine Barnett is a memoir of mother and her autistic son Jake.

Jake was labeled; she was told he was never going to read, and was placed in programs focusing mainly on building skills to help him fit in with social norms.  While this is a worthy goal, this mother did not feel that it built on Jake’s strengths or interests, and thus he would not develop to his potential.  Trusting her gut instincts, Kristine maintained her belief in her son and decided to take him out of the state assisted programs and instead, teach, love and grow her son with a focus on what he loved, allowing childhood fun and interests while preparing him to mainstream into kindergarten.  

As it turned out, Jake’s fascination with light and shadow was truly a gift – he had a high level of understanding of the physics, math and science behind it.  He not only was able to mainstream into kindergarten but actually advanced beyond, attending college courses at the age of eight.  He has gone on to solve open math problems and potentially develop a whole new way of looking at the sciences.  Through nurturing her son’s passions – focusing on his strengths – brilliance was uncovered and his societal lacks or weaknesses were overcome in the process as well. Not only did Kristine Barnett do this for her own child, but this experience helped bring out her own gift or strength.  She has shared her talent of “feeding the talents of others” with countless children, both autistic and typically developing.  

These books brought a question to mind; something we each can ask ourselves:

Where is MY focus?

Am I working from my strengths?  Learning to soar and finding enjoyment in life?  

Or am I actually growing my weaknesses (by focusing too much on them) and struggling to get through each day?  

If I focus through the context of my strengths, my weakness will rise as well.


Unsure of your strengths?  Ask yourself what makes your heart sing?  Kristine Barnett says to even go back to your childhood and look at what held your interest?  What was it you always wanted to do?  There are also tools such as Strengths Finders from Gallup.  Ask your family and friends.

Just imagine if every day you were doing what you loved?

“If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” – Marc Anthony

We have all seen the result of great sports teams who focus on each other’s strengths and work together for a common goal.  Find your strengths and build up your team.  Explains why we all need a good coach.

For a great short story emphasizing this idea of building on your strengths, read

Find your inner coach or cheerleader (and if this is not your strength, find someone whose strength it is!) and go for the gold.