Playing To Our Strengths

I’m a huge hockey fan,which means I’ve been starving for some action! Not this week … the World Junior Hockey Championships are on and I’m up early every morning the Canadians play.  I love hockey largely because it is a fast paced team sport. But it is also a game of spectacular individual achievements. We tend to notice the offensive talents the most, but it takes more than just a good offence to win a game … a team needs strong goaltending, a great defensive effort and effective coaching as well. In short, it needs people who are strong in all aspects of the game. And it needs people in the right roles so they can play to their strengths.

Is this any different from business? Do we not need people to play many roles to have a successful business? And do we not need the people in these roles to be highly skilled? The question this really begs for me is … are skills the same as strengths? In a hockey game we might say we need more scoring skills.  But there is more than one way to score a goal.  One player’s strength might be his ability to control the puck, another the ability to grind it out in front of the net and a third might have great vision for open ice. To ask the guy who is good at grinding it out to control the puck may not be the best idea.  Let people do what they are strong at doing.

Marcus Buckingham, who refers to himself as the leader of the Strengths Movement  (, has a very interesting definition of strengths (and conversely weaknesses).  In his book “Go: Put Your Strengths To Work he defines strengths as “those activities that make you feel strong” when you do them.  Conversely a weakness is an activity that drains you when you do them. Given these definitions, doesn’t it make sense that we “play to our strengths”?  Why wouldn’t we want to spend our time doing things that energize us rather than those things that drain us.  When defining strengths this way it is important that we look at things more broadly.  For instance, if we find that we are energized after putting a PowerPoint deck together, but also energized after a brainstorming session to put together a contest, perhaps the strength at play is that we are creative.  And if we find ourselves drained after working on a spreadsheet, or setting rosters for our community soccer league perhaps our weakness is working with data or attention to detail.

The important thing here is to try to map out for ourselves what the broad category of our strength is.  For myself, I’ve determined that I am at my best when I am building something new, facilitating agreement or coaching/teaching.  When I do these things it is hard to get me away from them. Marcus Buckingham suggests that we track our activities for a week.  When we finish doing something and we are pumped up by it, write it on a green sticky note.  When we finish doing something and we are drained by it, write it on a red sticky note.  At the end of the week, spend some time sorting your green notes into like activities, then do the same with your red ones.  As you define themes, you will be identifying your true strengths and weaknesses.

Mr. Buckingham then goes on to say that this is only half the battle.  Now that you know what your strengths are the next hurdle is to convince your boss to let you act on them! Too many times, the things that your boss asks you to do fall into one of two categories (a) the way your boss likes things done (b) things your boss hates to do.  As leaders, let’s not be one of that type!  Let’s understand that the way to form a productive, high performance team is to understand our team’s strengths and then give them the tools and the latitude to do what they do best.  Sometimes that means letting people move out of the roles they are doing into some other part of the organization. We need to let people do that, because if we don’t they will eventually leave the organization to go where they are allowed to work to their strengths.  Other times, it means shifting responsibilities amongst teammates.  Just because one person finds something draining doesn’t mean the next person doesn’t want to do it!!  Who knows … before we know it we might end up having fun at work!!

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Ian Munro @

Ian Munro is a leadership and vitality coach with a primary passion for working with senior professionals who wish to improve their connection to and vitality in their career, or who wish to make a transition to a meaningful and rewarding retirement. His methods are focused on helping clients understand why they present as they do in day-to-day life, discover their authentic self and give themselves permission to build a meaningful and rewarding future, both professional and personal. Ian’s love for this work has developed naturally as he built his career as an executive and leader in the IT services industry, serving in many roles and facets of this industry over 25 years. As he reached the pinnacle of his career he began to search more deeply for meaning and alternate rewards from his own career and to begin to plan for his own “first retirement”.

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