Know your strengths and learn to play to them

You'll be amazed how playing to your strengths can give you fresh motivation and bring a spring to your step.



I have been in HR for many years now and along the way, I’ve found certain elements of the profession that inspire me and some that didn’t interest me anywhere near as much. As a ‘generalist’, I focused my energy on all aspects of the role. I sometimes struggled with areas that didn't motivate me or quite simply I wasn't as interested in or good at. My strengths were sidelined, and I certainly wasn't playing to them.

Finally, I acknowledge I was never going to excel at every part of my job and, instead, turned my attention to building on my strengths. This eventually led me to leave a role in a large business and specialise in coaching, leadership and team development, which was what I loved the most and where I’ve been at my best.

Making a proactive choice to start playing to my strengths brought me far more fulfilment then I could have imagined and led these area of my expertise to grow in value and recognition.

With myself as a living example, I now encourage all my clients to play to their strengths, wherever possible, offering the following advice:

Find your key strengths

When we’re doing the things we enjoy the most it’s often because we are playing to our strengths. Because we enjoy these areas and excel in them, we obtain more fulfilment out of our work. So ask yourself: 

"When am I in flow and most enjoying my work?"

If you’ve already spent some time discovering your purpose this will go hand-in-hand with identifying your strengths. If you want another perspective on your strengths, you could use a strength identification tool such as Gallup Strengthsfinder. Equally, a coach or some honest and trusted colleagues could help.

Address your “fatal flaws”

Of course, we shouldn’t completely ignore our weaknesses, but learning to distinguish between fatal flaws that can derail performance and less significant weaknesses can help keep you focused. For instance, a leader may need to articulate an inspiring vision, however, they may not need to be a whizz at Excel. In fact, the most successful leaders surround themselves with people who are good at what they’re not and can compensate for their weaknesses. So remember, you don’t have to excel in everything, but there will be some core areas that, whether you love them or not, you may have to master.

Show up as yourself

Often when we’re not feeling confident, we try to act the part, thinking that we can convince others that we know what we are doing. While this can work to some extent, it is never wholly convincing. People will sense that we are not being authentic, and this could undermine us.

However, when we play to our strengths we come across as confident and people instinctively trust and believe us more. Plus, we actually have fun!

Celebrate your mistakes

Believe it or not, celebrating mistakes can be part of playing to our strengths. While we may be encouraged to brush these under the carpet, deliberately celebrating a failure, and treating it as a lesson, develops a different attitude to the mistake. By seeing it as part of the growth process, we can stay in our stretch zone and achieve more.

I’ve been watching Evan Carmichael’s “10 Rules” videos on YouTube recently, featuring some of the world’s best known leaders and influencers. These have confirmed to me that successful people fail regularly. Michelle Obama, for instance, admits to feeling intimidated and unsure of herself at college but talks passionately about how she refused to let these doubts overcome her, even if that meant making mistakes along the way. The worse thing you can do is be too afraid to try.

Help others play to their strengths

In my view, it still isn’t common enough for colleagues to openly say what others' strengths are and what they appreciate about one another. I challenge you to change this among your peers. You’ll quickly see how energizing and motivating people find it to be told what they’re great at. This will help them capitalise on their abilities, making them stronger and boosting the whole organisation’s success.

So, if you don’t already play to your strengths, spend a week keeping this approach at front of mind. You could be surprised at the new level of confidence, clarity and success that emerges.