I just read a wonderful book called Unique Ability: Creating The Life You Want by Catherine Nomura, Julia Waller and Shannon Waller. The book is about identifying what makes us each unique and then sharing that ability with the world. It is about discovering our unique gifts and then using those to create our livelihood and life’s work.
For me, reading this book reinforced what I’ve known and seen successfully demonstrated throughout my 16 year career as an HR coach and consultant; that is, when we work from our strengths and let our unique abilities shine through, we are most successful. By doing this, we thrive, and, in turn, those who work with us can also thrive. To reach our highest potential, we need to start from our strengths.
I often see company leaders (and even HR professionals) focused on helping employees with their “developmental opportunities.” They take a lot of time to identify what is wrong with the employees or what skills they are missing. They explore the areas where they are lacking and then hone in on getting the employees experiences or training so they can develop those “weak” areas.
As an HR professional, I understand why this is important. Companies need to be sure employees are skilled enough to do the jobs for which they were hired to do; however, it is much easier to hire people who already are strong in the areas required for the job and then work with them to leverage and build upon those strengths.
I have seen many people successfully develop or grow in an area where they were weak but that growth is often limited and may only last for a short period of time. Why? Because they are not starting from their strengths and it can be an uphill climb for any of us to develop in an area that does not come naturally or feel right to us.
For example, when my friend, the artist, asks for a recommendation on a course in creating Excel spreadsheets (because she needs to learn Excel to help out with a family business), I can accurately predict she will complete the course but highly doubt she’ll retain what she learns.
Why not? Because she is being pushed to do something against her grain. It is counter to her unique ability and it is almost certain that, even if she does learn a lot about spreadsheets, she won’t do it very well. Or, even worse, she will do it reluctantly. Yet, if you put her in a course on advanced photograph development, she will thrive, soar and excel because that is aligned with her unique gift.
When hiring employees, we should seek them out for their unique abilities. Find out what comes naturally to them and where they excel. There is a reason why some of us got outstanding grades in art class as children and others did not. There is a reason why some of us stood out in science class and became doctors and others did not. When we start from where we are strong and build upon that, we are already ahead of the game. We are using our strengths as a bouncing off place to excel even further.
Forcing someone to develop in an area where they are not strong, or, even worse, in an area that has no meaning to them will be like paddling upstream in a very strong current.
The whole idea with operating from our strengths is to enable our unique ability to shine through. Instead of fighting the current, we go with the current. We need to start from our strengths and watch how naturally we can reach our highest potential.
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