In the Effective Executive, Peter Drucker listed 3 things one should be aware of. One of them is on whether you know what your strengths are.
It's also a common interview question: "What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses?"
At first, I figured that was an easy question. It's even considered to be the "easier" question to answer. Of course, I knew what I was good at. Who doesn't, right.
It turns out, what I think my strengths are is not what others perceive to be my strengths.
First, most are quite relative.
To start with, what are strengths? They're supposed to be things I'm strong at right? In the most literal sense I am physically stronger than some people and not stronger than others. By my estimate, I'm stronger than most people. But that too is quite relative. When I'm in the office I'm probably the stronger than most but that number would change if I went to a powerlifting competition.
As such, my strength traits would be subject to such relativity. So, then it's best to ignore the mediocre ones where it could be a slight strength sometimes and a non-factor at others. It's not one that matters much. This isn't to be confused with a skill either. My fluency in Korean is a skill and an asset but I wouldn't necessary call it a "strength" because once I move countries it's irrelevant.... just an absolute of 0... no relativity there.
I used to think I was super quantitative. I thought it was a big strength of mine. You know, I got top marks in maths in high school so obvious right? I mean, I was considered the "modelling guy" at Deloitte. Highly quantitative. Then I worked with some actuarials, PhDs, and rocket scientists and well... turns out some people are way more quantitative than I am. So, this was quite situational but it definitely was not something I would be "doubling down" on.
So then what are my strengths? More importantly, what are the strengths that matter? I can have many strengths but some will cease to be so.. in fact, many will be repeatable by others and won’t be that unique to who I am.
Those that matter.
My strengths only matter if they can actually be of value to others. If I can contribute and do something much better than someone else can. Hence, my true strengths are those that are so obvious to me but not obvious to others.
They're the things that I don't have to think about. It's normal, like brushing your teeth or riding a bike. It's just so intuititve that it doesn't register to me as even being a strength because it makes me ask the question "how is this not obvious to other people?"
But guess what? We are not equal. We are not all the same. We all have different talents, strengths and weaknesses and that's what makes us unique individuals.
It's then about identifying what this unique strength is. How did I do this?
Someone please tell me what’s not obvious.
First, I kept a log. A journal of activities for close to 3 years.
Second, I asked other people. Asked for feedback. What do they think I'm great at?
Cross reference and look for the ones that surprise you. The ones that you thought were obvious. Ask a range of different people for feedback too. I asked high school friends, university friends, my parents, my colleagues from each job I've had because they've all interacted with me at different staged of my life. This would help weed out feedback on a specific skill like "oh you were great at accounting" (I never got this feedback). But with the data of different people you'll be able to see a picture. A kind of trend will emerge. It'll be weird because your parents might use an example of whenst you were young to pick out a trait that your high school friend picked out from a group project that your boss at work picked out from a coffee chat you had with him. Amongst all these answers there will be traits that continue to repeat... ones that repeat that make you respond with "how is this a strength? Isn't this obvious? This can't be a strength, does this mean I have no strength at all?"
Well guess what.. now you've found some strengths. These are what would separate you from the others and these are the things you should double down on. It's not about being a well-rounded person. If you're an amazing communicator and you are great at talking to people and making them feel at ease then double down on that. You are systematic and you love making elaborate plans? Double down on that. Find something where you get to talk to people non stop and build out effective systems.
But first, we'll need some to get some feedback.
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