Forget Making New Year’s Resolutions

The calendar flips to a new year, and along with this milestone comes a tradition practiced by many people: making New Year’s resolutions. Evidence of New Year’s resolutions can be traced back as far as 1671, with more specific mentions of the practice found as early as 1813. A notable characteristic of New Year’s resolutions then (and still today) is they seemed to excuse or acknowledge undesirable behavior in the run-up to a new year. New year’s resolutions offer a fresh start… at least in theory.

Resolutions Fall Short

If you have made New Year’s resolutions for 2017, you need to know that the odds are against success. A study on New Year’s resolutions found that only eight percent of people who make resolutions are successful in achieving them. Maybe the low success rate explains why only 45 percent of Americans usually make New resolutions.

So what are we trying to accomplish when making New Year’s resolutions? Google search data are revealing about what we long to be, do, or have. According to digital marketing firm iQuanti, the top New Year’s resolutions based on search queries include:

  • Getting healthy
  • Getting organized
  • Living life to the fullest
  • Learning new hobbies
  • Spending less/saving more.

The goals are worthy; that is not the problem. New Year’s resolutions fall short of their intended outcome so often because of the absence of a plan to reach the destination. We would not get in a car and drive from Memphis to Miami without directions. Yet, New Year’s resolutions without an action plan is the equivalent of blindly making that long distance drive.

Set Goals Instead

Replace New Year’s resolutions with personal goals. In the book Me: How to Sell Who You Are, What You Do, & Why You Matter to the World, Colby Jubenville and I discuss how setting goals is essential to managing your personal brand. Setting goals offers two significant payoffs. First, goals align action with purpose. Pursuing goals is a way to to spend your time in ways that are consistent with the big picture you see for yourself. Second, goals give focus to how to spend time and energy. It is easy to fall into a trap of working on projects not aligned with your goals. Setting goals and identifying actions needed to achieve them can minimize getting sucked into other people’s priorities.

Set personal goals with two criteria in mind:

  1. Goals for different life parts
  2. Goals with different time horizons.

Life Parts

Pursuing goals could get you to the destination you want, but will you be happy once you get there? Colby and I caution against putting too much emphasis on a single area. Instead, we advocate setting goals for six different life parts:

  • Career goals
  • Relationship goals
  • Wellness goals
  • Spiritual goals
  • Financial goals
  • “Bucket list” goals.

The idea is setting goals in multiple areas can help create balance in your life. None of us is one dimensional; our goals should reflect the various roles we concurrently take on. For example, it might do little good to reach career goals if the actions taken to get there ruin personal relationships or damage your health. Setting goals for different life parts serves as protection against self-sabotage.

Time Horizon

In addition to setting goals for different life parts, we need to set goals with differing lengths to achievement. Why? Not every accomplishment we pursue requires the same amount of time. Set goals that are:

  • Short range- 12 months or less
  • Mid range- one to three years to achievement
  • Long range- More than three years to achievement.

Also, use short-range and mid-range goals as stepping stones to reaching long-range goals. A long-range goal might be that end destination you envision but requires a lengthy journey to get there. The relationship between short-range, mid-range, and long-range goals is evident in the question “What is the best way to eat an elephant?” The answer is “one bite at a time.” You are more likely to achieve long-range goals set when broken down into smaller “bites.”

Do Something

Despite the preceding discussion on the limitations of New Year’s resolutions, it is OK to set goals or make resolutions. The point is do something that will spur personal growth. If you are among the eight percent that can see resolutions through to achievement, then go for it. Keep in mind that resolutions are essentially short-range goals. Complement them with more ambitious, longer range outcomes. And, set outcomes in multiple life parts; do not zero in on a single aspect of your life and ignore others.

Good luck pursuing your goals (or resolutions) in 2017!

Plan to Plant the Seeds of Personal Growth

The time between Christmas and New Year’s Day is my favorite stretch of a few days in the year. So many good things can happen- spend time with family, see friends, catch up on rest, and reflect on the year that is drawing to a close. One other priority for me during this time is to plan for the new year. What do I want to achieve? Are there changes I would like to make? How can I overcome obstacles in my way of a prosperous year ahead?

Chinese proverb

Planting Time

The Chinese proverb above crossed my path a few days ago. It could not have been more timely! If you use the new year as a time to plan a course toward realizing goals, this simple but powerful thought can be a reminder of the payoffs of using the present to start something new. Yes, twenty years ago (or twenty months ago or even twenty days ago) might have been better in that you could be further along toward what you want to be, do, or have. But, you cannot go back and plant- you can only control your actions now. Rather than lament about missed opportunities in the past, get off your butt (and Facebook) and take action. Please don’t be offended; I’m talking to myself. If the message applies to you, too, feel free to be impacted by it.

Weeds in the Plan

The new year is an ideal period for planting (i.e., laying out a growth plan). We must be careful about the environment in which we plant. Desired results might never be realized if weeds are present where we need to plant. What do these weeds look like? Some of the more common ones are:

  • Weeds of doubt. “I don’t know if I am disciplined enough to eat healthier to lose weight.”
  • Weeds of denial. “I don’t deserve the promotion to general manager- it will surely go to someone else.”
  • Weeds of disdain. “I can’t believe how lucky Steven is- money and success seem to fall into his lap.”

The “3Ds” of weeds are hazardous to our health. They can delay, if not discourage us to take the actions that will move you closer toward goal achievement. Doubt, denial, and disdain can be very persuasive in convincing us not to waste your time planting new seeds. In reality, the 3Ds sabotage growth plans by keeping us firmly entrenched in a comfort zone. Unfortunately, not much greatness occurs in comfort zones.

Plant and Grow

I plan to live this quote in 2017. Some people who read this might have been a young child 20 years ago. If you are like me and have far more than 20 years in your rear view mirror, the message is a call to action. Regardless of your current age, the time to plant is now. May 2017 yield great results because of your efforts to plant seeds for your success.

Make Time Work for You

time-430625_1280
Image Credit: Gerd Altmann

The most valuable and scarcest resource I manage is time. Unlike money, relationships, and other key resources, the amount of time available is fixed. The bad news is that it will not grow—you will not acquire more hours in the day. The good news is that time will not be taken away from you either… unless you allow it. So, the challenge for maximizing time is not making more of it (that can’t be done) but rather make the most of available time. Is time working for you or working on you?

The thought I am going to keep top-of-mind this week is attributed to poet Carl Sandburg. His analogy of time being like money is a comparison with which we can relate. We would not grant others authority to spend our paychecks; why should we enable others to decide how to spend our time? Time maximization (which I prefer to time management) is an area of my life that is a work-in-progress. However, two practices that make a noticeable difference for me are setting priorities using a to-do list and having a morning ritual.

103116-one-to-grow-on

Write It Down

The best chance I have of completing necessary tasks and follow-up actions is to write it down. The combination of being busy and getting older make relying on memory an increasingly ineffective project management system. Managing time occurs daily, but it begins by setting goals—what do you want to be, do, or have? Starting with the end in mind gives direction to how we spend our time.

My system for managing time using a to-do list is a two-step process. First, every Friday I spend 30 minutes or so writing down all of the major actions that must be done the following week—advancing a research project, preparing class meetings, scheduling meetings, and more. Mapping out the week before it begins gives me a feeling of being in control over my time. Even if I have a lot to do, there is a plan for getting it done. The plan is not always met or followed, but at least I have a starting point that orients how I spend time.

Second, the to-do list created before a new week begins is updated daily, adjusting priorities as needed. New tasks or obligations can pop up; allow some flexibility in your schedule to absorb unplanned additions. I have made the mistake of over-scheduling, not acknowledging realities like a surprise project from a boss or personal matter that needs attention. Give yourself room to breathe.

Start Your Way

Planning your day by writing down what needs to be done gives direction to your time. However, even the most carefully crafted to-do list can be derailed through no fault of your own. One way to guard against your time being spent by others is establishing a morning ritual. A great deal has been written about how successful people start their day. They can accomplish more in the first hour or two in the morning than most people get done in half a day.

The activities that make up a morning ritual vary from person to person. You set the agenda of what works to create momentum for your day. For some people, it is a time to knock out work when others will not bother them— reacting to emails and advancing work-related projects. Other people use their morning ritual for self-care. Reading, meditation/prayer, exercise, and personal creative projects are some of the interests pursued in a morning ritual that have nothing to do with work.

Two observations from my experience with a morning ritual are that consistency and preparation are keys to success. First, a morning ritual is most productive for me when I follow the same schedule. I recently came across the daily schedule Ben Franklin followed. He rose at 5:00 a.m. daily and set aside the first three hours for planning, reflection, eating, and study. Following a morning ritual becomes a habit, just as not following one is a habit. Second, the available time for the ritual is maximized when I plan the night before what to do the next morning. It would be easy for social media and other online content to consume the limited early morning time. A plan for how to spend that precious time window reduces the threat of such diversions.

Practice Time Security

We go to great lengths to protect our financial resources, but we often leave our time unguarded. I do not allow people to take funds from my bank account, yet I grant permission for others to make withdrawls from my time. I take Carl Sandburg’s quote on time as a call to strengthen time security. Make it harder for others to steal your time, including yourself. No one else has access to deciding how your time is spent like you. Be sure your time thief is not staring at you in the mirror.

Practice the Dance of Personal Growth

Wayne Dyer quote

In our quest for personal growth, we often lock in on the finish line. An unfortunate result is we can fail to realize the beauty, wonder, and joy around us. The “scenery” goes beyond observing physical objects. It  also includes learning the backstories of people, places, and things around us. The fruits of goal achievement can be rewarding. However, is it a hollow victory if we are so focused on results we miss out on some of the joys of the journey?

The quote by the late Dr. Wayne Dyer grabbed my attention. Dr. Dyer is one of my favorite thought leaders, so anything he said grabs my attention. This week’s One to Grow On quote is something I had not read by Dyer until recently. It stopped me in my tracks; I read it again and again to capture the message. It spoke to me. My goals and daily to-do lists are oriented to reaching a finish line, a certain place on the dance floor. They are essential for making progress toward the accomplishments I need and want to achieve. They also can hinder enjoyment of each step in the dance along the way.

Blinders

A realization that came over me as I reflected on Wayne Dyer’s quote was being goal-focused can be like wearing blinders. Goals orient us to look forward, even if it is just to make through today. Goal setting has positively changed my life, but I have not always enjoyed each step in the dance along the way. And, I know exactly who to blame: the guy in the mirror. I chose to put on blinders- “I don’t have time for that other stuff”- I often say to myself. That “other stuff” is called life, and I need to make more room for it. Thinning out that to-do list would be a great place to begin.

Enriched Growth

A mindset locked in on reaching a desired destination (goals) could be thought of as straight-line growth. You certainly can get where you want to go. And, you may get there faster with an obsessive focus on what you want to be, do, or have. But, that approach could be like setting a goal to visit a unique place like Paris, going to the Eiffel Tower, and leaving after five minutes because you have a full list of places to visit. Can you check off your list you visited the Eiffel Tower? Yes. Were you enriched by the experience? Probably not.

The quote by Wayne Dyer about enjoying each step in the dance is a call for us to pursue enriched growth. Instead of racing to cross off to-do list items, we must allow ourselves to slow down. Enriched growth comes from experiences and relationships. It adds an additional layer of benefit and meaning to knowledge gained or action taken.

Time to Dance

Reflecting on this quote is especially timely for me. I am attending a conference this week in a city I have never visited. I will see old acquaintances and make new ones. My to-do list will be as long as ever, but I need to build in one more item going forward: Be sure to enjoy each step of the dance.

The Value is in the Experience

Quote from Don Roy "Life is an experience, not a transaction."

I have been teaching in higher education for twenty years. It has been incredibly rewarding and truly a life changing experience. At the same time, it has frustrated me in some ways. The main source of frustration is a sense that many students miss out certain elements of value that attending college offers. Oh sure, they (usually) follow the list of prescribed courses that when completed will make them eligible to graduate. They check off their requirements like a to-do list. When all of the items on the list are checked off, they receive their diploma and move on.

The scenario I described plays out often at my university and virtually every other one. Many students lock in on completing the transaction that is a degree program and miss out on benefits that other elements of the college experience entails. I feel a sense of sadness for them. At the same time, their focus on the transaction opens my eyes to the fact I do the same thing in certain aspects of my work and life. Life is an experience, not a transaction. We must be open to having experiences while in the process of completing the transaction.

A Transaction Mindset

Completing transactions versus enjoying experiences is not an either-or proposition. Some aspects of our lives are suited for transaction consumption. For example, the process of fueling your car with gasoline has been reduced to a transaction. You pull up to the fueling station, make a payment (probably to a machine without having human interaction), pump the gas you bought, and leave the station. The added value that was once a staple of a full-service gas station now can be received elsewhere  (an oil change service or a tire store) if not a do-it-yourself task. We do not seek an experience from every action we take… nor do we need to.

When we have a transaction mindset, the focus is on goal completion- fill the gas tank, cash a check, or get through a day of classes. We’re so fixed on the outcome that we can miss out on other sources of value (benefits). One of the greatest missed opportunities is building deeper relationships with the people around you. A transaction focus can prevent us from getting to know more about the people around us. For example, I recently learned that a lady at my church  worked at my university for 29 years. I have known her for 16 years and spoken to her on many occasions, but I did not know this fact about her background. Her revelation served as a reminder that too many interactions with people are limited to transactions (e.g., greetings and small talk).

An Experience Mindset

Adopting a transaction mindset can help you accomplish what needs to be done. Unfortunately, it can occur at the expense of missing out on experiences that add perspective, bring joy, and become part of the stories of our life. Experiences add an extra layer of benefit, joy, or satisfaction to a task or transaction. In the world of brands, Starbucks and IKEA are renowned for the customer experience created. The transaction of buying coffee or shopping for furniture is transformed to a multi-sensory experience people will seek out and look forward to engaging.

In our daily lives, we do not need a Starbucks or IKEA to create experiences for us; they are there to be enjoyed if we will avail ourselves to them. I think back to my oldest son’s baseball team some twenty years ago. The team had to be the worst in terms of wins and losses for any sport team which our three sons ever played. One game was particularly brutal, with Chris’s team being on the wrong end of a 19-0 score. On the ride home, he blurted out from the back seat “that was a great game, wasn’t it?” My wife and I looked at each other with the same thought: Was he talking about the same game we just watched? He was because he found joy in the experience of playing baseball, regardless of the outcome of the game (transaction).

Move Beyond Transactions

This week, the goal is to not limit focus to transactions. Look for experiences that come with transactions to get more benefit and fulfillment from the daily steps taken in the journey.

Act “As If” to Shape Your Personal Brand

Norman Vincent Peale quote: "If you want a quality, act as if you already have it... and as you act and persevere in acting, so you tend to become."

When you were young, did you ever dream of being the star pitcher, rock band lead singer, or teen idol movie star (or maybe you still do)? Perhaps you did not imagine yourself in one of these roles, but you may have envisioned yourself on a public stage in some other role. As you get older, the focal point of your imagination may change to your ideal occupation or organization or even the type of person  you want to have as a life partner. These dreams of a future state are common. What is less common is making dreams reality by making the choice to act upon them.

It’s about Congruence

How do you prepare for accomplishment later? You must first have the mindset of someone who expects to accomplish. We often hear of athletes visualizing success- draining clutch free throws, blasting the game winning slapshot, or making the game saving tackle. Athletes that achieve those moments don’t just show up and do them; they practice countless hours and prepare mentally by envisioning success in crucial situations.

These achievement examples suggest that actions are congruent with expectations of our actions. Zig Ziglar was quoted as saying “you cannot perform in a manner that is inconsistent with how you feel about yourself.” In other words, you cannot make the game winning shot if you do not see yourself capable of succeeding in that pressure packed situation. Similarly, if you do not allow yourself to envision being an effective salesperson, you may lack the confidence to engage in a difficult negotiation or have the persistence to deal with a stubborn prospect. Act “as if” becomes a prerequisite for success rather than a whimsical idea.

It’s about Reality

Another quote associated with the notion of act in order to become is “fake it until you make it.” This statement possesses a certain amount of liberation- you do not have to be an expert or perfect in what you do before attempting to do it. And thank goodness that is the case! I have been a college professor for twenty years. Every time I go to class I realize that I know only a minute fraction of what one could know about being an effective professor. Yet, I am able to go into the classroom and do my job. After twenty years on the job I still am faking it because I will never know everything about my chosen profession.

However, we must be cautious not to use “fake it until you make it” as a free pass to be unprepared. An act “as if”  mindset grounds us in reality, encouraging us to adopt the practices and governing behaviors of someone in the role we aspire to have. Act “as if” has many implications for personal growth. We must answer questions including:

  • What is the most effective use of my time?
  • What books, magazines, websites, or blogs should I read?
  • Which organizations should I follow or join?
  • What skills must I develop or strengthen?

Act “as if” is not daydreaming. It focuses us on reality by directing our thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Act “As If” and Your Brand

Dr. Norman Vincent Peale’s quote on acting as if you already have a quality can serve you well in all three dimensions of your personal brand: Meaning, Makeup, and Message. If you want to be viewed as a person of integrity and unwavering values (Meaning elements), you do not wait for others to compliment you on showing these traits, you embody them in your daily actions. When you want to “speak the language” of your chosen field (a Makeup trait), you simply dive in to the works that people in your field consume- you do not need permission! If you feel ready to join the conversation about topics and trends in a field (brand Message), then join conversation. You will invariably make a misstep… and that is OK. After all, you are a human, not a machine. Humans act; machines run. Thus, take advantage of the freedom to act “as if” to position your brand to compete.

Why ‘Get a Job’ is Excellent Personal Branding Advice for Class of 2016

Jon Acuff quote

Late spring is an exciting time of year for many people as graduating college students experience a rite of passage into the next phase of their lives. The National Center for Education Statistics projects 1.8 million students will receive bachelor degrees during the 2015-2016 academic year. Throw in master and doctoral degree recipients, and an estimated 2.6 million people will  celebrate reaching an education milestone. Their graduation begs the inevitable question: What’s next? For the sake of personal brand development, the best answer to that question could very well be “get a job.” It’s time to move from the classroom to the front lines of your career, sharpening skills that are at the heart of the value you offer others.

Get Job Experience- Literally

A professional career is more like a winding road with unexpected turns than a straight line. Many people find themselves in a fulfilling career that is removed from their field of study in college. I make this point to bring out the importance of getting a job… any job to launch your career.

In his book Do Over, author and career expert Jon Acuff says the purpose of your first job is to learn how to have a job. Reflecting on my first professional job thirty years ago, I see that Acuff’s message is spot on. Your education exposes you to concepts and knowledge in the discipline of your major. But, when you take your first job you realize there are many situations and tasks that were never covered in Chapter Eight or on the final exam. How do you resolve conflict within an employee team? What is the best approach for soothing an irritated customer? Why do all project team members  not share your focus on meeting the deadline? You will not know the answers to those questions until you gain experience dealing with them. Heck, you may not even realize those questions exist until you face them on the job.

Skills Development and Your Personal Brand

Skills are a key component of the Makeup dimension of your personal brand. While certain abilities or competencies are obviously important to one’s professional success (e.g., a web developer’s knowledge of relevant programming languages), other skills are not necessarily taught formally like hard skills but are important, nonetheless.

Jon Acuff calls these abilities “invisible skills.” They tend to be skills applicable regardless of your position or industry. Examples include critical thinking, resolving interpersonal conflict, and empathy. These “soft skills” are more difficult to teach using formal methods than hard skills. Yet, soft skills are essential to effectively working with others.

Beat Your Competition

Enhancing invisible or soft skills in your brand Makeup is a prime way to set yourself apart from other early career professionals. Differentiating yourself through strengthening skills can accelerate advancement in an organization or make you more marketable if you look for opportunities elsewhere. Remember those 2.6 million graduates this year? They represent competition. So do the graduates from 2015, 2014,… not to depress you, but you have a lot of competition.

If you are a member of the Class of 2016, accept my congratulations. You did it… now get a job! Not for the same reasons your parents might have for you to be gainfully employed (although paychecks can come in handy), but for the sake of developing skills and ultimately, your brand.

The Fine Line between Determent and Determination

Tommy Lasorda quote on determination

This post represents the first time I have hit “publish” in nearly three months. It is the longest period of inactivity since I began blogging in 2007. I wish I could say I am returning from a planned hiatus, but that would be fiction. Looking back, I realize that feedback from a person I was talking with for the first time took the wind out of my blogging sails. The feedback itself was relatively minor and to the person’s credit, was spot on. It was not meant to shoot me down. However, it (along with work stress) led me to question for the first time why I bother blogging.

Determent

Merriam-Webster defines deter as “discourage; prevent from acting.” If you think about sources of determent in your life, it is likely that more of it comes from the former than the latter. It is possible someone or something forcibly prevents you from acting, but in more cases a sense of determent is psychological. We feel someone has imposed limitations on what can be done. Write a book? Do you know how hard it is to publish a book? Start your own business? Do you know that more than eighty percent of new businesses fail? I could go on, but you get the picture. The feedback or “advice” we receive from others may be sincere and well-intentioned, but such input can unwittingly discourage us from chasing our dreams and goals (i.e., deter us).

Determination

Determent is a belief that usually comes from within us, as do feelings of determination. As a college professor, a trait that I observe and admire in many students is being free of determent. Students are not bogged down by beliefs about what they cannot do or accomplish. I am not suggesting we live in a fantasy world in which we believe we can do or have anything. But, realistic thinking can become deterring thinking if we blindly accept limitations packaged as conventional wisdom.

Embracing a determination mindset requires being realistic, with that realism being an understanding that bumps in the road are inevitable. Sometimes, the bumps will be huge pot holes that make the ride on our success journey more than a bit uncomfortable. A bumpy ride on the road to personal growth should be accepted; being deterred by limitations others want to attach to you should not be accepted.

On the Possible

To get out of my blogging inactivity funk, I went in search of a quote that gave hope and energy. The quote by Tommy Lasorda on the role of determination grabbed my attention. As I reflected on Lasorda’s statement, it became clear to me I used someone’s candid feedback against my own growth efforts. The result was it stifled my determination and in turn, my potential to achieve what is possible. The unfortunate reality is the person was trying to help me, yet I twisted the feedback to have the effect of harming my personal brand. Moreover, I was too dejected to act on feedback that would undoubtedly benefit my brand.

After two months of brooding and inactivity, I have clarity that I must cultivate determination, not determent. Determination and determent originate from the same source: Me. It’s not the boss, the economy, or the competition that is impeding my progress; it’s the dude in the mirror. He and I are going to work together daily, driven by determination to make the difference between the impossible and possible.

Stand Guard against Sabotaging Your Personal Growth

2-8 One to Grow On

 Who or what is in control of your life? Is it the economy? Your boss? Co-workers? Competition? Parents? I’ll stop here because the list could go on, but you get the picture. Many people believe their personal growth is hindered by the world around them. Ironically, our chief nemesis is often none of the above but rather can be found by taking a look in the mirror.  The quote by Napoleon Hill, an author who was a pioneer in personal growth thought leadership, is a call to look inward for obstacles to personal growth.  It may be unsettling to think you would be the cause of your own downfall, but there are three ways that you unwittingly can drag yourself down.

Fear of Success

Sounds strange, but a lack of confidence in how to respond to experiencing growth is one way we conquer ourselves. This self-doubt may not even be verbally expressed, but it can keep us securely placed in a comfort zone. For example, if a salesperson is pursuing a client that would add significantly to his or her job responsibilities, concerns can set in on the ability to juggle the demands and respond to pressure that can arise. The best way to deal with the uncertainty of what success would bring is to, you guessed it, not engage in the activities that will bring success.

Fear of Failure

Taking risks is not a trait that everyone possesses. We play it safe to protect ourselves from danger. In the process, our fears are a double-edged sword that also force us to miss out on the benefits of risk-taking as well as keeping us safe. For example, I have been known to be reluctant to partake of rides at amusement parks. I’ll admit it- the reluctance is rooted in fear (of what exactly I cannot tell you… I don’t know). As a result, I am still alive, but I have missed out over the years in enjoying experiences because of fear.

I recognized a few years ago that fear of failure was conquering me in small ways like not enjoying amusement park rides. This same behavior was conquering me in bigger ways, too. When I stop writing for periods of time it is often because failure-based thoughts like “no one is interested in what I have to say” or “I am wasting my time.” Neither of these thoughts can become reality if I don’t write, at least that is the self-conquering belief that unintentionally harms me instead of protecting me.

Envy

The most dangerous cause of being conquered by self is feelings of envy about what is happening to others in your life. When we resent our neighbor’s promotion, our friend’s new house, or our sibling’s relationships, we are poisoning our own happiness. We choose not to be supportive and encouraging of the people in our lives, compromising the strength of those relationships. Even more damaging is the impact on self; envy harms self-image because we can believe we are not deserving of the very things that we envy others having.

Enough to Go Around

A friend has a favorite saying that “there is enough success to go around.” This statement is so true and when applied can be an effective deterrent to conquering self. Growth and success are not finite resources; there  is enough to go around. So, why do we spend time and energy trying to sabotage success opportunities in our life? Resolve that you will not be conquered by the one person who has the greatest opportunity to so it: The person in the mirror.

Know Thy Strengths

1-25 One to Grow On

When management expert Peter Drucker talked, people listened. The Austrian born Drucker continued teaching and writing up until his death in 2005 at age 95. People still listen today as his guidance continues to influence the development of organizations and business professionals. His quote on the role of strengths in one’s personal growth is representative of his work- profound yet straightforward in presentation. This quote is worth reflecting on to consider whether you are making the most of your strengths… or if you even know what they are.

What Are Strengths Anyway?

Identifying a personal strength simply means you have a trait, talent, or skill that you are able to use for good, whether that good benefits you or other people. Some of these strengths may be innate such as personality traits. If you are self-confident or compassionate, these traits can be used to your advantage. Other strengths may be learned through training and education, either formal education or self-directed learning. Some strengths developed this way are considered hard skills. For example, earning the designation of Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is the culmination of years of training and preparation for a rigorous CPA examination.

Other skills developed are considered soft skills as they are not as tangible or directly observed. Yet, it could be argued that soft skills are as important (if not more important) to personal and professional growth. For example, critical thinking and communication skills are highly valued by employers. While these skills can be sharpened through education and training, there is no test that certifies one as a proficient critical thinker or outstanding communicator. Yet, the addition of these soft skills are indispensable to professional development.

Finding the Answers

It may be easy to convince someone of the need to know their strengths and understand how strengths benefit them. The challenge can be in uncovering  strengths so that you know what they are. Otherwise, we can fall in the trap that Peter Drucker describes of not having a grasp on our strengths. So, where do we find answers to the question “what are my strengths?”

  • Ask others. Start with a source of information based on observation and experience, and that source is people around you with whom you interact. These people could be bosses, teachers, mentors, or close friends. Listening to people close to you to get their candid assessment of strengths could reveal qualities about yourself that you cannot see.

For example, I once was tasked with leading a work group to develop a strategic plan for our unit. Leadership is not skill I would have classified as a personal strength. Being an introvert, I work effectively on my own and enjoy contributing to a group or team. Leading a team would not be a role I would seek out. As the group’s work progressed, other members praised my leadership of the project. My initial reaction was “Who me? You must be mistaken.” I realized their feedback was genuine, that they saw strong leadership skills in me. Their feedback gave me confidence to take on leadership roles. Also, the feedback encouraged me to strengthen leadership skills through self-directed learning .

  • Take a test. Another excellent source of feedback for determining your strengths is to take a validated strengths assessment. Several such assessments exist and although most of them are not free,  paying to take a strengths assessment has the potential for an immeasurable return on investment in your growth and advancement. Among the strengths assessments I recommend you check out are Clifton StrengthsFinder, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Strong Interest Inventory, Kolbe A Index, and Harrison Career Suitability Assessment. Each one takes a different approach at measuring strengths, but they share the common thread of providing insight into your capabilities.

Don’t Be Wrong

Understanding personal strengths is too important to get wrong. In my observation of students on self-assessment of strengths is that many of them overestimate certain skills and do not realize other skills. One example of overestimating skills that I observe is when I have students rate their ability to engage in networking activity with others on a 1-10 scale. Most students rate themselves at seven or higher, meaning they are confident in their ability to network. However, most of them are not prepared to network effectively. It is no fault of their own; they lack experience and training in networking. Yet, many students believe they are equipped to be effective networkers.

Strengths do not equate with a lot in life you have been cast. You can make use of traits, talents, and abilities to develop strengths. But, if you have a weakness (e.g., oral communication), you are not saddled with a life sentence of ineffectiveness in this area… unless you choose to live out a life sentence. You can address weaknesses so that at the very least they are no longer liabilities. Even better, you can overcome a weakness and transform it into a strength. Leverage strengths and develop new ones by determining your strengths, separating strengths fact from strengths fiction.