I am one. Are you?

According to Marcus Buckingham, less than 2 out of 10 people get to play to their strengths.  Are you 1 of the 2 out of 10?  I am.  If you aren’t, don’t quit your day job. Transform it into something that allows you to play to your strengths most of the time. But…you have to transform your thinking first.

First, start by knowing who you are and offering that “self” to your organization.  You have to know what your strengths and your weaknesses are.  You can’t kid yourself if you want this to work.  Pay attention to how you feel when you are doing something.  That feeling will be your first indicator. You have to really assess the activities and concepts that make you feel strong and those that drain you.  If there is something that drains you, you will not be successful trying to make a career out of it.  For example, I will never be successful as an accountant.  Just the sight of a spreadsheet full of numbers makes me break out in a cold sweat.  I know I have no future as a financial analyst so it would be a waste of time and energy to pursue that as a career.

Since I’ve learned to pay attention to own my strengths, one of the most fulfilling parts of my job involve the collaborative process.  The difference between working independently and working with others in a strength-based model is stark.  Both ways of working come with challenges, but the strength-based teaming model is, by far, so much more rewarding.

I’ve been with the same core group of people for the last 11 years.  That’s a record for me.  My style of person is more prone to move from place to place.  I like to live in the moment and I get bored easily.  I am a nomad at heart.  What has kept me in the same community is the strength-based model we’ve put into practice.

I started with this group strictly as a software developer and brought conventional wisdom to the party.  Admittedly, it took me awhile to shed that way of thinking and see a new way of being.  I needed to think differently if I wanted to survive in this community.  The epiphany was that I need to be who I already was.  I needed to drop the common sense that I needed to be whatever I thought the team wanted and start being who I already was.

The second thing I needed to do was to change my perspective about what work is; the difference between job and career.  In my opinion, jobs are where people go to do stuff they hate in order to collect a check.  A career is a long-term commitment to a profession or a vocation with a goal of success and prosperity.  I’m going to claim that one cannot sustain a career that drains and weakens them.

Once I changed my perspective, committed to strengthening my strengths, and took risks to bring new offers to the team, I found myself as 1 of the 2 out of 10 people who get to play to my strengths most of the time.  I’ve been able to shift my career from being strictly a software developer to incorporating photography, media and graphic design, as well as coaching in the areas of strength-based teaming.

I love what I do.  I get to do really fun stuff a lot of the time in my “day-job.”  With a high level of autonomy, I get to design software applications that integrate our clients into our transaction process.  I shoot all of the photos for our organization’s web sites and marketing materials.  I work with two other people to put together presentation materials for client meetings.  Every year, I am a part of designing our trade show booth for our international conference in Las Vegas.  This is fun for me.

My team knows who I am. They know what to expect from me.  They know when they can count on me and maybe even more importantly, they know when they shouldn’t.  I am most effective “on demand.”  I am least effective on projects with long timelines.  I am fast when I am working on things that play to my strengths but I am terribly slow on things that don’t.  I love starting with new concepts and find it very difficult to stay within the older concepts.

Although I get to play to my strengths most of the time, it doesn’t always make my work a cake-walk.  It’s still work…not a hobby.  Most people don’t get paid for their hobbies.  Work comes with challenges, breakdowns, road blocks, shifting levels of dysfunction, and confrontation.  So how do you navigate and survive in those conditions?  By leveraging your strengths and playing to them most of time.

First, consider these 3 myths that Marcus Buckingham believes may be holding you back from playing to your strengths most of the time.

Myth #1: As you grow you change.
As you grow, you don’t change, you just become more of who you already are.  You are wired with a unique set of gifts, talents, skills, etc.

Myth #2: You will grow or learn the most where you are weakest.
The truth is, you may improve in those areas with some great effort, but you will likely be miserable in the process and less effective than someone else who enjoys working in those areas.  When you work and live in your areas of strength, you will find yourself to be more energized and therefore you will actively seek improvement.

Myth #3:  The team needs me to chip in and to do whatever it takes.
This is an example of conventional workplace thinking and I’ve found it to be False.  The team needs to know where they can count on you the most.  If the team is trying to solve a problem, the last thing they need is for someone who has no strength or talent in that area to chip in.  You’ll just bring a bad attitude and a significant level of incompetence.  As a team member, would you want me to bring misery and incompetence to the party?  As a kid, I would ask my parents what I could do to help out in certain situations.  Often, they would respond with… “Stay out of the way!”   Some people would say that’s a terrible thing to say, but in critical situations, the last thing you’ll want to do is to mop up behind someone else in the heat of solving a problem. Not to mention,  if you don’t have any skills or strengths in the area that needs the solution, you will likely walk away feeling drained and quite possibly defeated at the end of the process.

Myth number 3 is the one I find to be the most important to think through.  It is very common for organizations to say they want well-rounded people.  Marcus points out that the team will be well-rounded because the people are not.  They are sharp and together they make a well-rounded team.  So be sharp.  Know who you are and offer to the team (and the world).  Hone your skills in the areas you feel strongest and start putting those skills to work more often.  You’ll still have to do stuff that you would probably rather not do sometimes, but I think you’ll find that as you continue put your true strengths to work, you’ll find yourself being asked to bring more of them, leaving less time for that other stuff.

Watch the first two episodes (of six episodes) of Marcus Buckingham’s “Trombone Player Wanted” here:

Trombone Player Wanted Part 1

Trombone Player Wanted Part 2


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