What it means to focus on strengths is to know what you are good at, what you do that adds value, how you make a difference. It also means you know what you don’t do so well, what bores you, what wears you down – and you find other people that thrive on those things who you can partner with. We live in an increasingly open and collaborative world where that sort of thing is easier, maybe even increasingly expected. Somewhere between the stuff that comes naturally and the stuff that makes you miserable is some stuff representing areas where you can grow and stretch. Those are delicious places to spend time in, too.
Focusing on strengths helps you discover yourself. Knowing yourself – who you are, what you bring, and what you want to create in the world – these are key to being a great leader. While I like things to be easy and fun, I’ve found that I get the best sense of my strengths and who I am as a result of going through challenging experiences. Do you sense a story coming on? Yep, here we go…
At some point in my life I began to sense that some day I was going to write a book. I could feel the possibility of it, especially when I was furiously scribbling notes in my journal, with my pen barely keeping up with the ideas forming in my mind. Eventually, I did write a book: Mostly My Heart Sings, a book of poetry of comfort and hope published in 2012. I never would have imagined I would write a book of poetry. Of course, I never could have imagined that I would be diagnosed with breast cancer either. The experience of it created a storm, tossed me around, shook me up, threatened to change me.
It was my strengths that allowed the storm to pass and take me to a place of calm. It was my strengths that led me to wisdom and wholeness. With Strategic as my top strength, I naturally create alternative ways to proceed, and part of that involves using the right combination of words to convey my ideas or feelings. Poetry was my way through cancer. Writing about my feelings enabled me to process them and then decide what I wanted to do with them. There was something powerful about expression and the creative flow of my heartspeak onto paper.
A constant theme in my writing was moving from a place of darkness to a place of light. I suspect that must be the Maximizer in me – it was that part of me that insists on making the best of a situation. Maximizer kept me leaning into my natural ability to write as a way to heal. There’s an element of Responsibility in that, too. I wanted to be in place of integrity on this journey, and early on I made a commitment to fully experience my emotions. I have a long history of ignoring the ‘bad’ ones. I saw an opportunity to more deeply understand myself. Writing provided a safe place to explore the dark places, my deepest fears, sorrow, and sadness. I was truly surprised at how capturing my feelings on paper helped me move through my experience. I think it was because there is such an element of sharing in writing, which appeals to my Relator strength.
Paying attention to how I naturally responded to this challenging situation helped me be a better leader. Now I lead from a position of strength and abundance, not from a position of weakness or deficit. With my newfound self understanding – and a little self-love and grace – I’ve become more vulnerable, authentic, courageous, clear, and passionate. To me, that’s at the core of being an inspiring leader.
Understanding my strengths was such a gift, and my friendship with Maureen has blossomed. She even donated some of her awesome photography for my book (see it at montephotography). Partnerships built on identifying and valuing each other’s strengths and experiences are the most rewarding and long lasting.
I found my heart mostly singing by letting my strengths lead the way. Won’t you try it?
If you are interested in learning more about my journey, come on over to my Mostly My Heart Sings blog. For more about my ideas about leadership, visit my Leading With Intention blog. I also sit in gratitude over at This Abundantly Delicious Life.
Editor’s Note: Vicki Flaherty is a leadership expert and a dear friend. Her story is an inspiration for me. I encourage you to experience her greatness by following her blogs and connecting with her on LinkedIn. Please feel free to engage with her via the comments section! Maureen