Why You Should Start Playing to Your Strengths

09 Feb

FAIL (Photo credit: amboo who?)

Here’s a leadership scenario for you:

Let’s say you’ve just given your school report card to your parents.  They see the following grades:

  • English     A
  • Social Studies   A
  • Biology   C
  • Algebra   F

Quick… where will they tell you need to spend your greatest effort next semester?

Playing to Strengths

According to leadership guru, Marcus Buckingham, this scenario was an actual experiment done by Gallup Polls.  Over 77% of the parents asked said the most focus should be on Algebra… the failing grade.

But Marcus disagrees.

While we can’t ignore failure, and we do need to have passible standards, what would happen if we spent the most time where we are strong?  Or, as Marcus puts it, “What happens when we play to our strengths?”

1.  Continued Development

If we spend time developing a strength, we are more likely to continue developing.  Why?  Because we love it!

In an earlier post, we discussed finding passions by asking what it is that we “Can’t not do?”  What are those things you keep coming back to, even when you try not to do them?

Why is that important to this discussion?  Because we get better at what we practice… and in this case, you can’t NOT practice!

This winning combination occurs:

  • You can’t stop doing it
  • You like it
  • You practice
  • … and unless you’ve completely missed the mark… you improve… continually!

2.  Life Giving

It’s not just about what you’re doing either.  It’s also good to consider “what you do” is doing back to you!

When you work to develop a weakness, how does it leave you feeling?  Fired up… enthused… or drained?  Think of that class you had back in school where your grade was the lowest.  How did you feel when it was time to do your homework for that class?

And how did you feel when it was time to work on your favorite class?

Developing strengths pours life back into us.  We can actually be restored… not drained.  And though we may get tired after working hard, even in our strengths, it’s a “good tired.”  It’s a sense of accomplishment, a feeling we’ve done something we were meant to do.

It’s a reinforcement of purpose and meaning.

The Obvious Objection

I’m guessing what you’re thinking: We can’t just play to strengths.  Things need to get done.  We need to be able to function in other areas just to survive.

And I say… you’re right!

We can’t do this all the time, but I’ll bet you can do more than you’re currently doing, even in the job or school situation you’re in right now!  (Watch the video below for more details on how that might happen).

We do need minimum standards of performance in order to function.  In the grades example above, we can’t let a student graduate without knowing how to balance their account, or how to manage finances.

But does everyone have to be an expert at finding “X” in the equation?  Or can they be passible at it and move on?

What if, in the example above, this student devoted all their time to Algebra?  We would probably see a drained, burned out, potential dropout from school.

But what would happen if we placed them in advanced courses in English and Social studies, while maintaining a passable standard in Math?  We may have set the stage for the next great diplomat of the 21st century; one who can communicate like no other… one who understands societies and their function… and all without being able to find “X.”

One disclaimer: this is not a diatribe against math.  Were the tables turned, I would encourage advanced courses in math to produce the next Einstein… and we can work on communication skills in other ways!

The Real World

What does this have to do with leadership?  Substitute “report card” for performance appraisal and you get the gist.  Helping others identify and work in strengths will increase their passion and commitment, and your organization gets the benefit of someone who is fired up to come to work… and is outstanding at what they do!

But there’s still the issue of what we do about weaknesses, yes?  How do we “cover” for those areas in the real world?  Well… you’ll have to come back next Saturday to hear about how to cover weaknesses.

In the meantime, happy strength-building!

Where do you agree or disagree?  Where have you seen examples of this concept at work?


The video below shows Marcus Buckingham explaining his ideas in greater depth.  It’s part 1 of 2, and it’s almost 15 minutes long… but I think it has the power to reframe your thinking… and your outlook on life.

So grab a cup of coffee, kick back, and push play.  And if you’re enamored and want to hear the rest, I’ve included a link to part 2 below this video (another life-changing 15 minutes).

Part 2 can be found HERE.


Posted by on February 9, 2013 in Leadership


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