It seems obvious that you and I would play to our strengths. But, in my experience, we frequently don't.
So, here’s an exercise I’d like you to try: Think of a person you interact with frequently, whether personally or professionally.
If you were to name his or her superpower, what would it be? Is she unusually calm, adept at managing the myriad details of large projects, handy at fixing things, or able to compute in her head, and so on? Is he incredibly intelligent, able to motivate a team during the roughest time, and always positive?
Now that you’ve identified his or her superpower, pinpoint the advantages you enjoy with this person in your sphere of endeavor. Or, consider if there are any left tackles in your life, those whose strengths you take for granted because they’re deployed to protect your blindside.
Now, recall a compliment that you frequently receive and usually dismiss.
“It was nothing,” you reply, or, “I was just doing my job,” all the while wondering why no one ever compliments you for accomplishing something that was really difficult. Recently a man complained to me that he’s always praised with, “You are such a good guy.” Why? He’s sick of hearing it. But lurking behind the routine statement is an expression of positive emotion: I like being around you. I enjoy working with you. Challenges feel manageable when you’re on my team. I feel calm and confident with your support. The world turns more smoothly because you are part of it. This is a supreme compliment despite the pedestrian language, and no less extraordinary because this gentleman fields it frequently.
One of my talents is anticipating what others want or need. It’s a gift that helps me be a good piano accompanist to vocalists or instrumentalists. I can anticipate, so I expect others to be able to do the same. When they don’t magically read my mind, I’m tested. Will I be dismissive of that person and stop delegating? Or learn to explain something I do almost without thought?
Think about the people on your team: Do you recognize your superpowers? How about your boss’? Your peers?
Do the assignments you take on, or the responsibilities you request, or the service you are offering play to those superpowers? There’s a plethora of opportunities you can chase, but figuring out which ones to pursue becomes easier when you have taken stock of your distinctive strengths—what you do well, that others do not. As an individual, a team, or a company.
Play to these strengths deliberately, not just when you are in a bind.
This is something you can do that makes your natural gifts even more valuable. And next time you receive that boringly familiar compliment, return the sentiment by considering how the other person’s superpower accentuates your own, or even makes it possible for your superpower to come out and play.
This article was originally published to Whitney Johnson’s email list. It has been republished here with permission. If you want to sign up for her e-mail list, ping her at [email protected], and say “sign me up” and whatever else you'd like to share. Like one of your strengths.
Whitney Johnson is a former Institutional Investor-ranked equity analyst on Wall Street, who is hoping you will identify your strengths sooner in life than she did. She is the author of Disrupt Yourself: Putting the Power of Disruptive Innovation to Work and Dare, Dream, Do: Remarkable Things Happen When You Dare to Dream (2012). Follow her on twitter at @johnsonwhitney.More from this Author