I am a huge fan of helping musicians and artists work with their strengths. That’s why I incorporate strengths work into my curriculum at the Yale School of Music as well as in many of my guest lectures at conservatories and arts leadership programs. What we do is discover and then learn how to develop strengths.
That’s what we did in my recent professional development workshop with Ensemble Connect where I helped the Fellows work with their strengths in order to develop an individual leadership style and learn to achieve success with greater ease.
The start of our inquiry was to discover strengths using Gallup’s Strengths-Based Leadership assessment, which lists 34 themes divided into 4 domains: executing, influencing, relationship-building and strategic thinking.
Once the Fellows took the assessment and learned what their strengths were, we then explored how to use and develop those strengths effectively.
Research from positive psychology shows that those who use their strengths feel better about what they do. People who do not use their strengths feel frustrated. Thus, using strengths is a great way to build confidence. So here are 5 steps to help you make the most of your strengths.
- Assess how well you use your strengths
- Develop your strengths
- Check your strengths in overdrive
- Balance strengths and weaknesses
- Redesign your week to make the best use of your strengths
Conduct a Personal Assessment of How You Use Your Strengths
Once you know your strengths, the first step in bringing those strengths into your life is to reflect on how you are using your strengths. Often, if you are dissatisfied with your professional role or your personal life, it could be a sign that you are not using your strengths enough or in the right way.
To start your assessment, review these questions and write down your answers:
How often are you using each of your strengths?
How well do you use each strength?
How satisfied are you with the way you are using your strengths?
Where are you currently using your strengths in the course of your work and your personal life?
What situations allow you to use your strengths?
What situations prevent you from using your strengths?
How can you change that?
Develop Your Underused Strengths
Next, it’s important to use your strengths enough.
If you have identified a strength that you do not use often enough, you can start your strengths program by making it a goal to use that strength more frequently.
For example, I have worked with clients who have great relationship-building skills but find themselves isolated in their professional roles. We examine how to find projects that involve working in teams or with other collaborators. In addition, we look for ways outside of the professional context to use people skills, such as joining a board or a committee of a local organization whose mission you care about and where your relationship skills will be valued.
Check Your Strengths in Overdrive
If you are good at something, it’s easy to overdo it. The problem is that using a strength too much can undercut your effectiveness. For example, at our Ensemble Connect training, many of the Fellows had the Achiever strength whereby you enjoy getting things done and are very motivated to check things off of your to-do lists. However, many of the Fellows found that they had a tendency to overachieve. That meant that they had oppressively long to-do lists and never felt that they completed their work. To counter this tendency, it helps to create a realistic, limited, strategic to-do list and focus on matters that are most important for that day. It also helps to include items in your personal life so that you have a more holistic life.
Another common strength among the Fellows was Learner, where you relish studying and learning a lot of new things. Many people with this strength find that they study and learn so much that they often do not take action. The work in managing the Learner strength is to make sure that along with all the learning, you also are able to execute on your projects and take action.
Balance Your Strengths and Weaknesses
Another aspect of managing strengths is to examine what might be holding you back and see what you can do about it. In other words, how do you manage your weaknesses?
Think about a sailboat: If you have a leak—your weakness–, you must fix the leak if you want the boat to sail. But if you focus only on fixing the leak, you won’t get anywhere!
Instead, it is the sails—your strengths- that give you the forward momentum:
So know what you are good at AND know what you need to work on in order to power the ship forward.
What can you do about weaknesses?
- Decide not to do a task and consider the consequences of not following through on that assignment.
- Delegate a task to someone who loves doing what you don’t excel at in exchange for something that you LOVE to do!
- Make a plan to improve your weakness: use another strength or learn from an expert.
For example, a few Fellows indicated that they loved coming up with ideas but were not as effective in following through. Luckily, they were able to partner with other Fellows who had strong executing strengths and were happy to partner together to make those great ideas come to life!
Redesign Your Week to Maximize the Use of Your Strengths
Now that you have examined the way you use your strengths, the last step is to see how you can redesign your week so that you can play to your strengths to your maximum advantage. Here were some ideas that the Fellows generated:
Need to think less and do more? Budget some time to implement your ideas and/or find partners who are happy to be the implementers.
Wish you could brainstorm more? Find an ideation partner and commit to hashing out ideas together.
Longing for some more collaboration? Figure out the type of people with whom you work best and reach out to create a partnership.
By taking charge of your strengths, you will find that getting things done is a lot easier and more effective.
Have fun playing to your strengths!