Do you fear that bringing your true self to work would limit your career?
Given the explicit feedback or implicit signals female leaders often receive that our softer sides are best left at home, this fear is completely understandable. But how can we really expect to find a role that’s enjoyable and sustainable when we leave the best parts of ourselves behind every time we step into work?
The challenge is that your brain is wired with a negativity bias that makes you much better at spotting your weaknesses and feeling an evolutionary pull to fix them, than you are finding ways to build upon your strengths. This could be why when you observe your successful male colleagues, instead of valuing your differences you fill yourself with stories of self-doubt about whether you’re really good enough. And it’s why organisations and their leaders tend to give us feedback and invest their resources in trying to fix us, rather than capitalising on the diversity we bring.
Some studies even suggest that in most workplaces people spend around 80% of their time focused on fixing weaknesses, and only 20% of their time trying to build upon strengths. But as we continue to learn more about how people and organisations are wired to perform at their best, the recommendation is that we should be trying to reverse this equation and focus far more of our energy and efforts on doing what we each do best.
You see, it turns out that your strengths represent your patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving that when exercised excite, engage, and energise you, and help us to perform at your best. In fact, a growing body of researchover the last decade is finding that when it comes to our careers developing our strengths is good for:
1. Our wellbeing. Helping us to feel happier, less stressed, more energized, and satisfied with our lives.
2. Our performance. Helping us to feel more confident, to experience faster growth and development, and to find more meaning in our work
3. Our bottom-line. With people in strengths-focused teams reporting lower turnover, increased productivity, and higher levels of customer satisfaction.
Unfortunately, it appears that many of us are blind to our strengths. While you may have no problem listing off your weaknesses, the ability to name our top five strengths is something most of us struggle with. So when it comes to being more authentic at work a great place to start is by taking the free VIA Survey.
Created by 55 social scientists who spent three years scouring the world’s religions, philosophies, ancient history, and modern culture for universal, measurable, and buildable examples of humanity at its best. The character strengths they identified like perseverance, curiosity, teamwork, bravery, and love are all aligned to the values that you hold.
These are the things you’ll do whether anybody pays you or recognises you for them because you believe this is how you should show up in the world. And because they’re focused on the kind of experiences that engage and energise you, we’ve found they can be incorporated into any role, no matter what your job description says and without needing a word of permission from your boss.
But how are you going to use a strength like love at work without getting fired for it?
If you want to feel truly confident at work you need to use your strengths like the intelligent tools they are and start really tuning into the moments when you’re using your strengths well, and when you’re overplaying or underplaying what you do best. Try these three simple steps:
* Know when you’re using your strengths well and do more of it.Think back on some of your high-point moments—those times that are memorable and stand out—when you’ve felt really engaged, energized, and enjoying what you were doing at work. What exactly was happening in each of these moments? What were you doing? How did you feel? What makes this moment so memorable? And, most importantly, which of your strengths were you using (there may be more than one strength in play)?
* Know when you’re underplaying your strengths and how to dial them up. Think back on those times when you missed an opportunity at work because you lacked confidence, feared failure, or procrastinated for too long. What exactly was happening in each of these moments? What were you working on? How did it feel to hold yourself back? What might it have cost you or your team? And, most importantly, which of your strengths might you have been underplaying in these situations, which if dialed up could have got you a better outcome?
* Know when you’re overplaying your strengths and how to dial them down.Think back on those times when despite putting in your best efforts things seemed to keep misfiring, people didn’t appreciate what you were doing, and you may have almost burned yourself out. What exactly was happening in each of these moments? How did it feel to be working so hard and yet still be unable to deliver the results you wanted to or be appreciated for your efforts? What did this cost you personally and professionally? And which of your strengths might you have been overplaying in these situations that, if dialed back, could have helped you get a better outcome?
If you’re struggling to find your strengths in these moments, ask someone who knows you well to look at your survey results and share their answers to these questions. It can also be helpful to review any development feedback—formal or informal—you’ve been given in the past to see if you can spot where you’ve used your strengths well and where they may need balancing.
Don’t leave the best parts of yourself at home. If you truly want to feel more confident at work find at least one thing you can do today that draws on your strengths.