\"photoI have just returned from a wonderful weekend at home in Devon – which included a walk on Dartmoor with a couple of pals from our 2013 Kilimanjaro expedition and an old mate.  Four more different types you could not imagine, and the experience of planning and going on the walk got me thinking about the tremendous opportunity of playing to your strengths.

Tim was the brains of the operation – enjoys planning, loves maps, has a deep love of the moor and was keen to ensure that we were clear on where, what and how.

Grant was the free spirit – as long as we were together and enjoying the craic it did not matter.

Shaun brought brawn – wherever we were going he was going to be first up it, over it or on it.

Then there was me.  I can read a map and wanted a vague plan but was happy to change direction and course as we went.  Of course – when challenged to a race to the top I was up for that too!

On any expedition, the reality is that there must only be one compass and map wielder – contributions welcome and decisions made collectively, but ultimately the buck stops somewhere.  On our little trip it started with Tim, but soon transferred to me, maybe I just like to be in charge and lead from the front!  I was comfortable making decisions, happy with the responsibility and it enabled me to engage in the walk in a different way than just walking.  However, to effectively lead you need people who will follow and my friends were perfect, even when we left the comfort of the road for the tussocky, boggy non path that enabled us to cut off a large corner of the route.  There were mutterings and mild dissent, which rather escalated into hindsight driven wailing and gnashing of teeth after Grant fell in a bog!  Well he was wailing and we were wetting ourselves laughing!

Great team work and / or effective execution of any activity is better done when you play to strengths, but this is often not necessarily how we operate at work.  In order to play to strengths I believe that we need to overcome two fundamental cultural barriers.

  1. Our reluctance to blow our own trumpet and being confident, clear and comfortable about what we are good at (see my blog on Shameless Hornblowing)
  2. Our reluctance to admit what we are unable to do, what we are not good at, and (heaven forbid) what we need help at. Not asking for help seems to be a common character trait, in my experience, of men in a working environment, but by all means not exclusively.

If you do not recognise and celebrate your own strengths and push yourself forward to do the things you are good at, then it is much less likely that you will get the chance to play to your strengths. Playing to strengths creates a greater likelihood of success which breeds confidence and builds energy thereby creating a virtuous circle.  Not admitting you need help puts you in situations where you struggle to perform, potentially fail, engendering a lack of confidence, sapping energy and thereby creating a vicious circle.  I know which working environment I would rather bet on to deliver results!

So if you have 3 grades – an A* a B and an F – which do you focus on?  Typically the answer is often the F – get better at the thing you are worst at!  My view, and that shared by many others is to focus on the B.  Forget the F – you will always be rubbish at it, why bother? Find other people that love doing it. Embrace the A* you are already a genius, your work here is done.  By focussing on the B you are playing to a strength and building on it!

This topic is not just pertinent given my walk, but also front of mind with the strategic challenges I face with Kili Consulting.  I recently had an interesting and liberating insight from a coach on the Strategic Coach programme – “Richard – you were put on this planet to start things!” Mmmmm that made a lot of sense, I am famed for my ‘latest fad or idea’ and have plenty of redundant equipment in the garage and loft to prove it.  However, if I am truly going to make Kili a long term sustainable success I need to play to my strengths and find help and support to work on my F grade activities, be free to create ideas, generate energy and do what I do best!




2 responses to “Play to Strengths”

  1. Adventerous Anon avatar
    Adventerous Anon

    Once again, a thought provoking, insightful piece Mr Ferguson. But one thing jumped out at me. You state, very categorically, that ‘on any expedition, the reality is that there must only be one compass and map wielder’. Maybe with a small group/team that is very true. However increase the size of the group and with only one compass and map wielder you could be in big trouble. Picture the scene, its night, there’s a group of scouts walking the 3 peaks of Yorkshire. Some are fit, some have blisters and some are downright scared. In a situation like this you need an equally competent back marker. Someone who can support the stragglers whilst the lead party forges ahead. Put that into a business context and that’s where you need equally capable second-in-command, someone to focus on the BAU as the leader breaks new ground.

    Btw: nice picture boys, intrigued to know which of those fine fellows ended up in the bog!

    1. Richard avatar

      I think you make a great point about having a second in command ensuring that the team follows through, within the context of leadership breaking new ground!

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