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Workplace Muscle: Increase engagement and performance by exercising your strengths

Using our strengths during the day helps us to be more productive and up to six times more engaged in our work

“It takes far more energy and work to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than it takes to improve from first-rate performance to excellence.” - Peter Drucker

Positive psychology has drawn an interesting parallel between levels of life balance satisfaction and the regular application of our personal strengths. According to decades of research collected by Gallup, using our strengths during the day helps us to be more productive and up to six times more engaged in our work.

Engaging our strengths means recognizing our talents—things we’re good at and the thoughts and actions that come naturally—and applying them to the task at hand. Beginning with something we’re already good at makes it easier to develop a skill or competency. Someone with an aptitude for structure and a love of numbers will have a shorter road to becoming a successful engineer than someone who enjoys writing more than math. A person who favors quiet contemplation over action and excitement would likely make a better research scientist than a fighter pilot.

Identifying and Developing Your Unique Work Strengths

Peter Drucker—known by many as the Father of Modern Management—once observed that most people don’t know what their strengths are. When asked, per Drucker, people stare blankly or answer with their subject knowledge, rather than their talents and strengths.

Our strengths are not only things that we do well, but they also energize us. So, when looking for your unique strengths, it can help to think not only about what activities or skills you’re good at, but also about how you feel when you do them.

Here are some thoughts on discovering your core strengths:

Watch for levels of immersion and excitement. Do you ever get easily caught up in a task to the point that you lose track of time? Often, when we enter this state, known as flow, it’s because we’re working with our natural aptitudes and talents. Think about times when you’ve experienced flow. What were you doing at the time? Think about the different tasks or actions you were taking and notice how you feel when you consider each. The ones that make you feel most excited are likely related to your strengths.

Think outside the box. At work, that box might be your position or job title. If you’re an accountant, one would hope that you’re strong in numbers, but what other, less obvious, strengths make you good at your work? Rather than trying to frame your strengths in the context of your job description, try to think in terms of the many, smaller tasks or responsibilities you take on every day. Then zero in on the ones that energize and fulfill you.

Take note of your successes. Look back on your achievements. Maybe that involves a time when a manager or colleague commended you on a job well done. Or, it could be a quieter moment when you finished an involved task or project and felt a sense of accomplishment. Once you’ve zeroed in on a couple of experiences, apply the excitement test. Did you think “That was awesome!” or “I’m so glad that’s over. That was terrible.” The more enthusiastically you remember the experience, the more likely it was that you were applying your core strengths to the task at hand.

Tell a creative story. Once you’ve honed in on a couple of your strengths, practice describing them creatively. Try to avoid conventional descriptions with clichéd words like “I’m a dynamic leader." Instead, go a little deeper, like “I was able to lead my team to complete the project on time and under budget by working with them to overcome concerns and roadblocks. By asking leading questions that guided the team to a workable solution, I helped everyone have a sense of ownership and purpose. I love being a facilitator.” With a descriptive story and a well-conceived word, like facilitator, it’s easier to communicate and apply your strengths.

Look for ways to flex those muscles. Now that you’ve got a handle on the things that you’re good at that also fulfill you, look for ways to bring more of them into your day.

At work: Volunteer for projects tasks that align with what you do well. And, consider taking some of your creative strength stories into your next performance review or meeting with your boss. They can provide an effective jumping point as you collaborate on ways to advance your career and help your company and colleagues.

In life: Make a list of the kinds of hobbies or activities that incorporate your strengths. Choose one and make it a part of your routine to more regularly enjoy the energy and accomplishment you can get from a sense of flow. Consider volunteering for an organization or individual who could benefit from your unique strengths. Does methodically executing a plan get you in your groove? Try a community housing charity. If compassionate listening is your thing, there may be a non-profit helpline out there that’s just waiting for you to enrich their callers’ lives.

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