Strengths-based Work

Today’s guest blog is from Charlotte Whitehead and explains why the strengths-based approach in work is gaining more and more traction and recognition. This approach is not just applicable in the corporate world, but also in entrepreneurial endeavors and your personal life.

The key to success – strengths-based work

What is ‘strengths development’?

The strengths-based approach to development is increasingly being adopted by businesses and organisations around the world because of the positive impact it has on employee engagement and productivity.

But what makes it so effective?

The primary reason is that instead of identifying and fixing weaknesses, the strengths-based approach focusses on recognizing and developing strengths while managing weaknesses. The aim is to help people do more of what they do best and in so doing, to make the most of our human capacities.

What are ‘strengths’?

Professor Donald Clifton, the educational psychologist who developed the CliftonStrengths assessment, spent decades studying the talents that make people good at what they do. His career was guided by the question: “What would happen if we studied what is right with people?” He defined talents as ‘naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behaviour that can be productively applied’, and he believed that talents are trait-like ‘raw materials’ that help shape our personality. According to him ‘strengths’ are an extension of talent and innate talent only becomes strength when practised and combined with acquired knowledge and skills. Therefore, he defined ‘strength’ as ‘the ability to consistently provide near-perfect performance in a specific task’. Although labeled CliftonStrengths, the psychometric assessment that arose from Clifton’s research actually measures themes (or categories) of talent. And it’s these talents that serve as the foundation for the development of strengths.

Why working from your strengths is easier?

Working from your strengths involves doing what comes naturally. Let’s take math as an example: you may be naturally good at working with numbers, or naturally bad at it. For me, anything that involves numerical problem-solving makes my brain freeze. In contrast, working with language, aka verbal reasoning, comes easily. That’s what working from our strengths is about. Our talents come easily to us because that’s how we’re wired. If, however, we’re asked to do something that doesn’t draw on our talents, we can feel out of our depth.

Here is a story that illustrates how a client applied her strengths in a not so obvious way:

Sarah, an introvert who hated public speaking, was asked to give a talk at a conference. Initially she was panicked by the idea. She felt she was being asked to do something that wasn’t aligned with her strengths profile. Her strengths included several strategic thinking themes and relationship building themes, but, on the face of it, no influencing themes that might be connected with public speaking. Given that her audience was going to be a group of academics, we discussed how she might use the strengths that she did have to communicate with them in the sort of thoughtful, informed and objective way they’d value, and at the same time draw on her relationship building strengths to tune in and connect with. By reflecting on and applying her strengths, Sarah was able to ground herself. She felt better prepared and more confident which in turn boosted her performance on the day. She reflected afterwards that, surprisingly (to her at least), her talk was one of the best during the event. And yet all she had done was to focus on using her strengths.

How you know if you’re working from your strengths?

Even if you don’t yet know what your talents/strengths are, you will for sure have been using them and will be able to identify times when you’ve performed at your best. These are likely to be occasions when you feel you’ve accomplished something you’re proud of and you found the experience satisfying. Whatever it was, it probably felt meaningful to you in some way, and other people may have shown their appreciation and admiration for what you achieved.

Here are five clues that tell you whether you’re using your strengths:

  • Yearning: being naturally drawn to an activity
  • Rapid learning: being able to pick up something new both quickly and easily
  • Flow: losing track of time and instinctively knowing what to do next
  • Glimpse of excellence: recognising you’ve managed to do something really well and thinking to yourself “How did I do that?!”
  • Satisfaction: enjoying certain activities so much that you want to do them again

How can you find out about your strengths?

There are a number of psychometric tools that measure talents and strengths, but the most well-known one is CliftonStrengths®.

Before taking any strengths assessment, it’s worth taking some time to identify a few examples of when you’ve accomplished something and reflect on commonalities you see across these activities, for example: organising, listening to people’s problems in a caring and sensitive way, taking charge in challenging situations, seeing patterns, having the confidence to do something that others avoided, etc. What words or phrases can you come up with to describe yourself?

This is a useful first step in discovering and articulating your strengths in your own words. You might then choose to take a strengths assessment in order to gain a more objective insight into what your strengths are.

The CliftonStrengths assessment is reasonably priced and easy to do. You can access it here.  The report you get will tell you what your top five strengths are. If you get the Full 34 Theme Sequence report, you’ll receive personalized theme insights, notes on what makes you stand out, ideas for action you can take to start developing your strengths, as well as a wealth of additional information.

Who can help you apply your strengths?

As with all psychometric assessments, you’ll get a lot more out of the report with someone certified in the tool who can help you make sense of it. This is likely to be a coach of some sort, e.g. a business, career, leadership/executive, life, relationship coach, who will guide through a three stage process of Naming, Claiming and Aiming your strengths. You should find a coach who has expertise in the area that you’re seeking to develop. I would recommend checking out the Directory of the Gallup Certified Strengths Coaches. They have all undergone in depth training in this particular tool.

The key thing to keep in mind is that discovering your strengths is not a one-off event. It’s a process that unfolds indefinitely and offers rich insights in all areas of your life. Once you’ve started on that journey and begun to see the benefits, it’s likely you won’t want to stop.

About Charlotte Whitehead

Charlotte lives in the UK and is a Gallup Certified Strengths® coach. In addition, she’s certified in the BP10® assessment (short for: Business Profile 10 assessment). BP10 measures and ranks what one does in an entrepreneurial business builder role. Furthermore, she’s a UK Registered Career Development Professional (aka Career Coach) who specialises in mid-career transition and development. If you would like to discuss your strengths with her, you can arrange a free initial chat to find out more.

Practice Makes Perfect…

Me after my 3rd Degree Black Belt Testing in 2016

I’m pretty sure most of you know this saying: Practice makes perfect. I’d like to argue that there is an important aspect missing to make this true. This important aspect is called reflecting.

To become a true master of any craft we must know the right technique. Without the right technique no amount of practice will lead to perfection. Let me explain.

I’ve been practicing Taekwondo for over 15 years and have learned a lot of techniques. Some I have mastered, but others I’m still struggling with. I may practice a move, a self-defense, or a kick, but it just doesn’t feel right. I realize something is amiss and eventually ask my Master for help. It’s often only a tiny tweak, but the moment I apply what I’ve just learned everything falls into place. The move that I had practiced so many times, that had never flowed, all of a sudden, feels right. It comes with ease, and I’m one step closer to perfection.

I would have never reached this point without reflecting on the problem, noticing that something is amiss and making some changes.  

The same is true in any other aspect of our lives and in our businesses. Practice alone doesn’t guarantee perfection, we have to take the time to reflect. Without reflection we may practice the wrong move over and over again, and instead of reaching perfection, we build a bad habit.

A Valuable Lesson

I have written about the difference between urgent, important and busy work in December. What I hadn’t thought of then is this wonderful brief story by Steven Covey titled ”Big Rock”. It’s about the important things in life, not just in our business.

Meir Kalmanson was inspired by the story and made it into a short film. Have a look and enjoy. It takes only three minutes, but these three minutes are well worth it.

March 8th – Proofreading Day

Have you ever heard that March 8th is Proofreading Day? I haven’t.

Now you may wonder why, for heaven’s sake, is this worth mentioning. For me it was obvious. Many of us write on a daily basis. We write emails, quotes, proposals, website copy, marketing material, books, news articles, guides, instructions, the list is endless. And each of these written pieces tells a story about us. No, I’m not referring to the content, I’m referring to typos, punctuation, and grammar. They tell stories, too.

I always look at a written piece like an extended business card. It doesn’t matter if it is a quick email, a newsletter, proposal, or anything else for that matter. It leaves the recipient with an impression of us and our business. And we want this impression to be a good one. So, next time before you hit the “send button,” have a final look and make sure you eliminate typos, etc.

That’s why Proofreading Day is worth mentioning.

And for those of you who have known this as a different holiday, happy International Women’s Day.

Stop Using Filler Words

I’m sure you’ve heard them in speeches, presentations, and conversations: filler words, words like “um, ah, so, like”. Some people use them infrequently, but others seem to start or end almost every sentence with one. If you fall into the first category, don’t worry. It won’t distract from your message and is most likely to be perceived as being considerate. If, however, you use them repetitively, it may diminish your credibility as mentioned in the Forbes article “Four Ways to Stop Saying ‘Um’ And Other Filler Words.” And losing the attention, even worse, losing credibility, is definitely something we don’t want to happen, either in personal conversations or, especially, in a business setting.

The tricky part is that we don’t even know that we are using these words, we say them unconsciously. So how can we get rid of them if we don’t know? 

As with all changes, the first step is awareness. Awareness of knowing if we use filler words and, if so, if we use them (too) often?

I learned about my “ahs” and “ums” after I had joined Toastmasters. Toastmasters is a place where one can … “practice public speaking skills, improve communication and build leadership skills.” I didn’t join because I wanted to get rid of the use of filler words (as I said, I wasn’t aware of using them either), but part of their program is, among other things, paying attention and eliminating them.  

You don’t need to become a member of Toastmasters or any other organization. A family member or friend can help you find out as well. I recently told my husband that he has a “favorite” word and, like everybody else, he wasn’t aware of it. If asking someone makes you feel uncomfortable, use a recording device, record yourself and listen to the recording afterward, a suggestion made by Rezvani and Hedges, the authors of the Forbes article mentioned above.

Now that you know, you can do something about it, if needed.

Start by finding out when you tend to use filler words. Do you use them only in certain situations, or have they become a habit which you add at the beginning or end of a sentence?

In my Toastmasters club we noticed that many of us use filler words when we don’t know how to transition from one part of our speech to the next. Instead of being quiet and taking a moment to gather our thoughts, we sprinkle in a little filler word. If this sounds like you, you could pre-plan for such transitions with phrases like: “Let’s move on to…” or “Another important consideration is…” or “Let’s transition to talking about….,” a recommendation made by Hedges and Rezvani. 

But being silent for a couple of seconds would work equally well, if not better. It’ll allow your counterpart or your audience to digest what you’ve said, especially if you talk or present something they are not familiar with.

Olivia Mitchell, a presentation trainer, recommends “chunking” your information. “Chunking is talking in short chunks of words with breaks in between the chunks.” Her reasoning is that instead of focusing on something you don’t want to do, you rather direct your thoughts to something you want to do. Also, by chunking you fall into a rhythm: burst of words – break – burst of words -break, and by doing so you eliminate your “um’s” or whichever other word you may use.

Preparation also plays a big role when it comes to giving a presentation, facing a difficult conversation, or preparing for an important meeting. Organizing our thoughts beforehand makes us less likely to ramble on and use filler words to bridge the gaps between thoughts.

As so often in life, many paths lead to Rome. So do methods or ways to eliminate bad habits or, as in our case, filler words. I learned to pay attention to filler words after I joined Toastmasters. Mitchell suggests chunking, quite a different approach.

If you also use filler words a little bit too often, try and find out which approach works best for you. If you know another way or method to get rid of these little buggers, share it in the comments below. 

To fewer “ums” and “ahs” and to better communication. See you next time,

A Productivity & Time Thief at Work

Stop splitting your attention – get more done in less time

  • Do you know what sneaky distractions are?
  • “Half-work?” What’s that?
  • Beating the culprit one task at a time

Whether you are experienced in working from home or you were thrown into it because of the pandemic, there is one thing we all have in common: distractions. We all encounter them; we all have to deal with them. Some people struggle to keep distractions at bay, some seem to manage them more easily.

What’s the difference between the two?

I’ll hazard a guess and say, the ones who struggle the most and fall prey to distractions are the ones who may not even know what distractions they are prone to give in to.

Before you tell me that it’s perfectly obvious that your kids are the biggest distraction, I won’t argue with you. Having kids around and trying to work is challenging, to say the least. But truth be told, that’s only partially true. Even if you had the perfect working conditions you might fall into a far sneakier trap, splitting your attention between various tasks. It’s a major productivity and time thief and is called “half-work.”(1)

I call “half-work” a sneaky distraction because it is by no means an obvious one like checking Facebook, searching for something non-work-related on the internet or having to deal with cranky kids. We may not even be aware of this drain in productivity and squandering of time.

Let me explain.

James Clear, author of the book Atomic Habits, coined the term “half-work.” He writes in his blog:

“In our age of constant distractions, it’s stupidly easy to split our attention between what we should be doing and what society bombards us with.”(2)

Instead of being fully engaged and focused on the work at hand, or any activity for that matter, we are prone to dividing our attention. Here are two examples to clarify what this means:

  • You start writing a report but stop randomly to check your phone for no reason or open up Facebook or Twitter. (3)
  • Your mind wanders to your email inbox while you’re on the phone with someone. (4)

Because we’re not fully engaged in and, therefore, not fully committed to and focused on what we are doing, it “takes twice as long to accomplish half as much.” (5)

The situation changes tremendously the moment we have a firm deadline. Think of the last day at work before going on vacation. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has experienced it, but we get an awful lot accomplished that last day. Why? Because we don’t divide our attention between tasks, we eliminate distractions, and we’re 100% focused on getting done what needs to get done.

“This complete elimination of distractions is the only way I (Clear) know to get into deep, focused work and avoid fragmented sessions where you’re merely doing half-work.”(6)

But working fully engaged, focused and committed isn’t always easy because we are so used to splitting our attention.

Some days I find it hard, and I have to remind myself to focus and finish the task at hand, only the task at hand and nothing else. To make it easier I turn off my phone, close my email app and set a timer for approximately 30-45 minutes. During this time I’m not allowed to do anything but work on the task I set for myself. I’m not even allowed to go to the bathroom or get a coffee. After these 30-45 minutes I’m allowed to take a short break, but quite often I just keep working and finish what I’ve started. I only take a short five-minute break when I feel stuck or nature is calling. If you take a break, don’t check emails or look at any electronic device! The temptation to “quickly” answer a few emails is simply too great, and you’re back at square one.

Thankfully, some days it’s really easy, and the reward is a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction and/or some spare time to go for a walk or play with my cat.

Just imagine what it would mean for you to focus and commit your attention to the work at hand instead of allowing your mind to wander?

Give it a try. Just make sure that you focus your full attention on the right work aka “important work.” If you need a refresher on what defines important work, jump back to my blog Urgent – Busy – Important Work and read it here and you’re well on your way to beating this sneaky time and productivity thief.

As a reward use the “extra” time to meet with a friend, physically distanced of course, play with your kids, exercise, go for a walk, read a book, you name it. Or use the momentum and dive right into your next important task.

Let me know what you think. There is always room for a note in the comments below. See you next time,

(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) James Clear, 3 Time Management Tips That Will Improve Your Health and Productivity

2021 – A New Year, New Opportunities, New Decisions

If you followed my Advent Calendar, you know that I shared some tips and food for thought for you and your business. The last one will be this blog: setting you and your business up for a successful 2021.

We all are happy that 2020 is almost over, and we can move on into a hopefully better year. There are things that are beyond our control, but there are also many things that will be up to us to make 2021 a good year. As you may know, I’m a big believer in planning. The reason being, without a plan you don’t know where to focus your energy and discern what is important. You may start projects because they appear interesting, only to find out that they are not the right move for your business at this point in time.

It takes some reflecting and strategizing to determine what your business needs right now, what projects to start, what projects to continue, and what projects to abort to reach your business goals. By the way, the same is also true for your personal goals.

Around Christmas and before the start of the new year is my “quiet time.” Most people and businesses take a break. It’s the perfect time for me to take stock and have a look back. I invite you to do the same.

Looking Back

The first step is looking back at what has happened the last twelve months, or whatever your chosen timeframe may be. What has happened, and what impact did it have on your business. Write it down.

Finding the Truth

Especially in cases where I haven’t achieved my goal(s), I dig deeper and ask myself WHY and WHAT happened. Be like Sherlock Holmes and find all the big and little things that have led to the current situation.

Please don’t fall into the trap of making excuses such as no time, no money… that’s not what we’re after. You may not have had the time, but there is often an underlying reason for that, the real reason. That’s what you’d like to uncover. You may not have had the money, write down why. The insights you’ll gain will guide your decisions for the next year or the time period you chose.

Maybe the cost for an assistant or a new team member is outside of your budget and you have to rely on the resources at your disposal. It means you’ll have to plan without having the additional help. Maybe a project went south despite a promising start. Figuring out why is essential for avoiding the same mistake(s). Maybe you haven’t reached the number of subscribers you had aimed for. Analyzing what happened will inform your next steps.

But it is equally important to look at the things that went well. Asking WHY in these cases will give you insights into what you should do more of. For example, you may understand what type of projects are a great fit for your company, you may find out which people you work with really well. You’ll learn what triggered people to subscribe to your new service.

Write it all down. The good and the bad.

Planning the Future

Now that you have a clear picture of where you are at with your business, you have to decide where you will go from here. Write down all the ideas, plans, and projects you have in mind.  After you are done, take a close look at them and ask yourself which ones truly align with your business purpose and goals. If all of them pass this test, you need to consider the one or two that will have the greatest impact on your business.

You don’t need to discard the other ideas, projects, or plans. But focusing on one or two major projects will ensure that you stay focused and get things moving forward. It also helps you avoid feeling overwhelmed–at least some of the time–because you have too many balls in the air. A good rule of thumb is to account for problems along the way. Often things appear simpler than they really are. And experience has shown me that everything usually takes longer than expected.

This is it for me for 2020. I’ll take some time off and hope to see you again in February 2021.

I wish you lots of success, and may your businesses flourish and grow.

Merry Christmas – Happy Holidays

What’s Christmas about for you? For me, under “normal” circumstances, it’s spending time with my family. Sadly though, this won’t happen this year. At least not as I had planned. But unusual times require unusual measures.

I’ll say it up front, it is for sure not my preferred way of spending Christmas, but it is way better than being miserable and lamenting about what isn’t possible.

We’ll have a video session with our son in New Zealand, light the Christmas tree candles and some other candles, and make it as Christmassy as possible. We’ll also “invite” my Mom for a Christmas coffee, her favorite afternoon break. We’ll meet some friends, in the US and Germany, for a “Happy Hour” and have our favorite drink together.

In short, I’m going to focus on what I can have and what gives me joy instead of the other way around.

Will there be sad moments? Of course. But reminding myself that there are a lot of positive things as well makes me feel so much better and Christmas so much brighter.

I wish you…