Strengths and Talent are two different things. Strengths are what you do easily and regularly, without thinking about it. These usually come from talent. Yet we all have talent that isn’t necessarily manifesting as strength. It may come out in moments or episodes of brilliance, but isn’t reliably consistent yet. While a lot of my work is in the former, what I’m most interested in is the latter.
In some ways, strengths are the low-hanging fruit of my coaching work. Most people don’t truly realize what their strengths are, or why they’re so amazing. We’re all too close to have any perspective on it. Someone with a strength like being able to establish instant rapport and agreement with others doesn’t really acknowledge it as a strength, because it’s as instinctive as breathing for him or her, yet enviable, difficult and a mystery to another person watching. The groundbreaking work of Clifton and Buckingham in this realm has been a gamechanger for millions- so much so that I require groups and teams to take StrengthFinder as a prerequisite for any work I do with them. We have to at least surface, understand and leverage what we all do well without effort before we start working on how we can grow in new ways. Simply getting people to be more conscious of what they already do well as their unique and important contribution, and to confidently leverage it as such is groundbreaking for most people. That’s also telling about our society- that this initial work (which seems like it would be quick and easy) is huge all by itself for people. For adults, some of this is from becoming desensitized to our own strengths. Our instinct, common sense and lens through which we see the world becomes as invisible to us as the air we breathe, and we accept it as “normal” (and therefore not anything worthy of leveraging). Meanwhile, our personal set of strengths is unique from everyone around us (and could be genius to them). It also has a lot to do with our pre-occupation with what we’re not, and what we should be (“Yeah, but if only I were more X…”), rather than an ownership and confidence in what we are, and how we’re uniquely brilliant- and the value of either. The a-ha that people and teams have when they suddenly see their own talent-strength that’s been there all along under those layers is awesome and empowering.
I do love coaching strengths, yet secretly love and crave more, as all coaches do.
Great movies love to depict the classic inspirational story of the semi-retired coach or trainer who comes back into the game to develop a wild, raw undeveloped talent into something solid, something strong. Million Dollar Baby, The Karate Kid, Rocky, Any Given Sunday, Tin Cup, A League of Their Own, The Replacements, even Star Wars…
There’s something different there- much more intriguing, exciting and possible. This is why my favorite work is with youth vs. adults- it’s much more about working with the talent itself and honing while exploding it vs. working to clear away the layers of stuff on top of it.
Raw talent all by itself is a different thing- it’s trickier. It’s less predictable and a little rougher around the edges than a bona-fide strength. Talents can absolutely develop into strengths through deliberate or naturally occurring practice and investment- think Tiger Woods spending more practice time than those with half his talent, because he gets the deliberate path. How that talent gets developed is one of my favorite topics to think about, coach and experiment with. Different personalities need to approach it different ways. An awesome article today powerfully shows how even at the top- among the best of the best of the best in a particular field of talent, this happens differently.
But it starts with one thing, which is the most important part… realizing that you have the talent, then deciding that you want more and are ready to explode it into a strength. Maybe it’s just manifesting as an unsettledness now- pay attention to that feeling, and dig into it a little further. Then find the coach, the environment, the team, the training to shape it. You can do this, and you should, only because you know deep-down that you can, and if you don’t you’ll be forever haunted by “what if I had…”
There’s one more piece in the getting-your-own-talent puzzle, even though it deserves its own day and post. Personally, I always come back to the most basic piece in developing talent and reaching mastery in any arena- surround yourself with those who ask more of you than you do of yourself. That means people who challenge you to not just be happy with what you’ve always done, but pushing you to get better, go farther, dig deeper- all from a true commitment to what’s possible in you because they get your talent. Of course having a good coach or mentor is important, but it’s just as important to look at who else you’re surrounding yourself with.
Pay attention to your unsettledness, consider your own level of talent and mastery, check out who you’re surrounding yourself with, and start building your strength. It’s time.