You get a lot more engagement when people are working with their strengths, because they are doing something that energises them. When we’re energisd by something we add discretionary effort, we want to do more work, we want to contribute and all of these factors lead to an organisation flourishing.
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Therese Toohey, founder of facilitation and coaching agency TTCo, coaches executives and teams to build strengths, leadership skills and emotional intelligence. She says our strengths are defined as not only those tasks we are good at but, importantly, as the tasks that give us energy.
“When people are working with their strengths and talents, they’re-energised,” says Toohey. "Ensuring that employees are working with their strengths is a vital skill for a successful business leader," she adds
Toohey says it is important for leaders to take notice of people’s strengths and to shift jobs across teams to maximise them.
“So often we try to shoehorn people into particular job descriptions as they are written, rather than changing a job to work with a person’s strengths so people can bring energy to what they do,” reasons Toohey.
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Research has found that people display a range of behaviours when working with their strengths, including having more animated facial expressions, rising voice, strong posture, expressive gestures and use of metaphors.
Toohey says it’s important to pay close attention to staff to gauge their strengths and weaknesses.
“Listen to someone talk about what they do. If you see them light up, get animated, talk more quickly, they are talking about something they enjoy doing,” she says.
“If they seem flat, their shoulders drop, then generally it’s because they are talking about something they don’t enjoy. It just depletes their energy.”
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One of the advantages of improving strengths rather than weaknesses is that it is easier and more fun because people are engaged and energised.
“If you spend 60 hours improving your weakness you’ll get a bit of growth, but if you spend 60 hours improving a strength, you’ll achieve exponential improvements,” says Toohey.
However, this does not mean weaknesses should be completely ignored, and Toohey imparts it’s important to identify if any of your own weaknesses or a staff member’s weakness may put the business at risk.
“If a weakness could cause a risk, then you need to find a way of diminishing that risk, perhaps by developing a new skill or delegating someone to that task who is energised by it.”
Biswas-Diener describes it by metaphor: “Managing weaknesses will keep your ‘boat’ from sinking, and it is therefore important to address weaknesses before the metaphorical leak gets out of control. Strengths, by contrast, act more like the sails of a sailboat and are more responsible for pushing a person toward their goals.”