I just read a book on finding your strengths. I kind of like this idea, of playing to my strengths; or of schools and businesses helping others play to their strengths. But as I read on I became increasingly uncomfortable with this idea. It plays out as a way of fencing people in to corners rather than helping them grow, and explore what they are interested in or brings them joy.
The author shares the tale of a great sales person who wants be a sales manager. When given the chance to manage she works hard but never becomes a great manager. He says that this sales person just isn’t a natural born sales manager and should have continued to be a sales rep.
Now, I don’t know about you but I’ve never been a natural born anything.
There was a semester in High School when I failed every class. I loathed school. If I followed this author’s logic I would have given up and never gone to college or grad school, because I certainly am not a natural born traditional school style learner. For me motivation was what got me through, not my natural born ability.
So I wonder what’s the whole story of our would be sales manager. Was her company supportive? Did they give her training and encouragement, in an appropriate learning style? Or, as many companies I have worked for, did they throw her in to the deep end of the pool to see if she would sink or swim? It’s not as simple as the test in this book makes it out to be, people and circumstances are complex and nuanced.
There is also a huge difference between strengths and skills. Skills aren’t just gifted by the heavens because you got a new job. With time and experience skills and strengths change. This book never suggests to retake the test at some future date, which implies that we are born with strengths that never change, that we never grow and evolve, how sad, how limiting the advice in this book turns out to be.
Motivation, engagement, support, conversations…. trump natural born ability in most careers and life adventures. Try as we may, not everything in life can be quantified and streamlined. I’m skilled at things I would never want to do all day long. If someone tried to pigeon hole me by those strengths I would disengage in a heart beat.
Being engaged, happy and productive goes beyond strengths, it requires playing an active role in crafting your job description rather than begin plugged into a hole.
When we let go of controlling and quantifying everything and offer support and encouragement, to ourselves and others, the door to possibility opens wide.