One simple change to your development plan

One simple change to your development plan

Focus on your strengths

Alicia Curtis
Written by: Alicia Curtis
Alicia Curtis

Want to shake up your professional development plan this year?  I've got a strategy that can play a huge role in reframing your professional development. 

Without even thinking, we are so conditioned to focus on your weaknesses and it makes sense for the most part.  We fill out professional development plans with strategies to overcome the areas we are not good at.  However extraordinary leaders are not created by having no weaknesses, they are created by having built mastery around their strength areas.  In fact, you have the most opportunity for growth in your areas of strength not your weaknesses. 

Pop quiz time!  What do you think?


Is a strength:

  • Something you used to get an A for in school or university?
  • Something you’re born with?
  • Something you can teach others?
  • Something you can learn and master?

Nearly! Marcus Buckingham describes a strength as something that makes you feel STRONG.  It’s partly something that your drawn to do, something that feels almost effortlessly simple to you and draws on your innate talents. 

Buckingham explores the three elements of all strengths.


Talents - These are your innate abilities.  Buckingham describes them as “naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling or behaviour”.

Skills - Skills are the action steps of any activity.  It’s a learned behaviour.

Knowledge - Knowledge is acquired too.  It involves the information that you learn.

If you combine all these three elements you get a strength!   It’s a great reminder - you can’t rely on natural aptitude (your talents) alone to build your strength, it must be combined with learned knowledge and skills.

The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work"

Emile Zola

Of course, there are some things that we are naturally good at, but don’t give you that sense of energy and enthusiasm and therefore we are not drawn to build our knowledge and skills in that area - this is not our strengths.

A strength must fulfil you, give you energy and gives you that sense of flow.   As Emile’s quote reflects, you must work at your natural talents to create them into an area of true strength for you.

Yes or No

Here’s an easy Yes or No quiz to get you thinking about harnessing your strengths and the strengths of others in your every day life.

  • I can name my top strengths easily Yes / No
  • I use my top strengths daily Yes / No
  • I encourage others to use their top strengths Yes / No
  • I work on my strengths as much if not more than my weaknesses Yes / No
  • I focus on building mastery in my areas of strength Yes / No
  • I continually look for ways to use my strengths more Yes / No
  • I work with mentors who contribute to my strengths Yes / No
  • I do not let the fear of my weaknesses get in the way of my success Yes / No
  • I build my self confidence in my strengths Yes / No

The more yes answers you have, the more you are heading down the pathway of discovering and utilising your strengths every day and around you.

If you got a few no answers - don’t stress!

We are taught to acknowledge our strengths and work hard on our weaknesses.  In fact, there is a stronger focus to fix your weaknesses rather than focus on your strengths. 

What is this was switched?  What if we lived in a world where we focused on mastering your strengths?

In another of Marcus Buckingham’s books Go Put your Strengths to Work, he says that 61% of people believe you will grow the most in your areas of greatest weakness. Buckingham himself calls this a myth.

“You will learn the most, grow the most, and develop the most in your areas of greatest strength” Buckingham says.

What are your preconceived thoughts about strengths and weaknesses?   Do you have the mindset of focusing mastering and harnessing your strengths or focusing on fixing your weaknesses?

Do you struggle through fixing your weaknesses?  Working on those areas that you find boring until you get it right?   If so, it’s time to ask whether that behaviour serves you or not? 

One exception

In John Zenger’s book, The Extraordinary Leader, it does acknowledge that this notion of focusing on strengths and leaving your weaknesses works UNLESS you have a fatal flaw.  A fatal flaw is a weakness that will impinge on your success and your use of your strengths.

In their research, they found that fatal flaws usually have three things in common:

  1. They are extremely obvious to everyone around you.
  2. They tend to be your inability to do something rather than your ability to do something.
  3. They tend to be areas of emotional intelligence rather than intellectual deficiencies.

Buckingham lists 5 ways to overcome your talent weaknesses:

  1. Get just a little better at them
  2. Design a support system to overcome the weakness
  3. Use your strongest strengths to overwhelm your weaknesses
  4. Find a partner who has a strength in your area of weakeness
  5. Just stop doing it (if you can).

So we can’t rest completely on our lorells about our weaknesses, as long as we manage them appropriately then we can focus on learning and development strategies on our strengths.

How do I focus on my strengths?

What are the simplest ways of identifying your strengths?  Check out three different methods for discovering your own strengths.

The first technique is personally reflecting and identifying your strengths.  The two other techniques are psychological tools you can use. 


1. Personal Assessment

No surveys, quizzes or research - just your own feelings and reflection.   But how do you do it?  Here are three ways to identify your own personal strengths:

  1. Journalling - take the time to write and reflect on the times in your life that you’ve felt most alive.  What activities make you feel strong, empowered and feel effortlessly simple to you? Write down the activities that you feel constantly drawn to.
  2. Ask the people around you - mentors, friends and family, ask them what they see in you.  They can highlight your good blind-spots!
  3. Examine your history, look for the themes and patterns in your life.  What keeps popping up as your strength areas? 


2. Strengths Finder

Strengths Finder lists 34 of the most common natural talents through their research.  Add to these talents, skills and knowledge and you have your strengths.

You can complete the Strengths Finder test online here or when you buy the book. It will take about 30 minutes to complete.  The book details the 34 talents and give ideas for action for each.  Heads up - this is a paid assessment.  

3. Virtues in Action Character Strengths Survey

Ok, let’s face it, there are many online tools out there to identify your strengths, but the Authentic Happiness website is coordinated by Dr Martin Seligman, who is one of the founders of positive psychology movement and also the Director of the Positive Psychology Centre at the University of Pennsylvania.

You will need to complete the (free) VIA (Virtues in Action) Character Strengths survey.  The VIA classification is the result of many years research about people’s strengths and how they use them to help others and live their best lives.   What they discovered was six universal virtues of which 24 character strengths stem from - get to know yours!


Get to know your Strengths 

I would recommend you try all three methodologies.  Do your personal assessment first, then do the Strengths Finder and Authentic Happiness tests. List your talents and strengths and consider which ones really resonate with you.Think about how you can use them more everyday and build your knowledge, experience and skills in these areas.

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