‘Cross-train’ your strengths for workplace success
The common wisdom for succeeding work used to be “improve a weakness.” Today, however, some experts believe in “cross-training” to develop signature strength.
“Doing more of what you already do well only leads to incremental improvement,” says Bob Sherwin, Jr., chief operating officer at the strength-based leadership development consultancy Zenger Folkman in Orem, Utah.
To really stand out, you must develop skills that are complementary to your strength so that you are uniquely outstanding. Using the athletic analogy, a novice runner would benefit from building endurance and muscle memory by running. But an experienced runner needs more challenges to reach the next level. He or she must supplement the running regimen by building complementary skills through weight training, swimming, bicycling, etc.
Likewise, a technically savvy individual would benefit more from honing a complementary skill such as communication rather than gaining more technical expertise, explains Sherwin, who is also co-author of “How to Be Exceptional: Drive Leadership Success By Magnifying Your Strengths.” (McGraw-Hill, 2012)
To be sure, there are times when weaknesses must be addressed as a priority, particularly when they relate to what some call “fatal weaknesses” or those that could end your career; Sherwin says these include lack of personal ethics, accountability and self awareness.
The best way to define your signature strength is with a 360 assessment that involves feedback from people who know you professionally, Sherwin says.
If that is not possible, explain to your colleagues and supervisors that you are working on self development and ask them a few questions that might include:
• What leadership skills do you think are strengths for me?
• Is there anything I do that might be considered a fatal flaw?
• What leadership ability, if outstanding, would have the most significant impact on the productivity or effectiveness of the organization?
You can also supplement the informal 360 assessment with online self assessment. At the end, you want to identify not only your strength but also complementary skills – often soft skills – that you would want to develop. You should also identify traits and behaviors for which you have some passion.
Sherwin and his colleagues at Zenger Folkman work around 16 differentiating competencies that fall into five broader categories: character, personal capability, getting results, interpersonal skills and leading change.
The technical person who needs to develop communication skills, for instance, should determine if he or she speaks concisely, delivers effective presentations orally and in writing, and translates messages for clarity. A person who wants to improve his or her ability to take initiative should anticipate problems, emphasize speed, champion others, inspire and motivates others, establish stretch goals, etc.
“Instead of doing more of the same, enhance your skills and attributes with new ways of working and interacting that will make you more effective,” Sherwin says.
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