Are you conscious of your personal strengths and weaknesses? Although this question might cause us problems in job interviews, it's an important one. For one thing, it might help us to apply our talents towards areas that they're better suited. However, things don't usually work like this in today's workplace. Usually, we're put into a job role regardless of our strengths, and trained up in it by developing our weaknesses. Rounding off our weaknesses in this way is considered to be a good thing.
However well-intentioned, this approach can misallocate the natural talent in an organisation. If people were put into roles they were more suited for to begin with, they might be more likely to excel in them: with the addition of proper training too, of course.
So an awareness of personal strengths and weaknesses can be important to an organisation's effectiveness. But how can we develop this awareness? One way for us, as individuals, to pay special attention to ourselves over a period of time - what tasks give us energy rather than take it away from us? What do we look forward to? What do we get caught up in so much that we lose track of time? These are the questions that might help us to identify our strenghts. Another way is to take one of the many questionnaires out there. The three ones worth using would be Values In Action, StrengthsFinder and Realise2; although the latter two come with a price tag.
There are many benefits to becoming aware of - and applying - our strengths. Gallup's famous research study looked at 2 million workers and managers, and discovered that the highest performers are the ones that mould their work and their lives around their strengths. Perhaps then, our greatest potential lies in those areas in which we are able to employ our strengths, rather than develop our weaknesses. And their are benefits to the individual as well as the organisation. Some research suggests that people who start to use their strengths more on a daily basis start to get happier, and their well-being continues to increase over time. There might be something inherently satisfying, and natural, about using one's strengths.
It's important to understand that there is no unitary construct called talent, which as long as you have it, you'll be effective in any role or undertaking. Talent is multi-faceted; you can be talented in some areas and weak in others. By being aware of your own strengths, you can build a team around them, adding people whose own talents complement and add to the pool of talent that already exists. Of course, sometimes employers will see that a potential candidate is not suited for the role they are applying for, and will take them on so that they can get an understanding of the organisation and become familiar with its culture, before being moved to an area they are better able to use their particular strengths.
But for all the benefits that a strengths-focus could bring, weaknesses should not be ignored. Sometimes there is no way around them, and they must be developed. But in an ideal world, tasks involving weaknesses will be outsourced to people for whom they are strengths. In general though, the evidence is building that a focus on identifying and applying personal strengths can be beneficial to organisations and individuals. It may be that developing our strengths, rather than becoming 'rounded' is the way we'll reach our potential.
I am a positive psychology student at UEL. When I'm not studying for my course, I'm at my day job as a research assistant or I'm writing for my psychology blog on topics including strengths and weaknesses. Do get in touch if you want to discuss this or any other article further!