How Much Math Does An Entry Level Financial Analyst Use How to Leverage Your Strengths for Peak Performance

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How to Leverage Your Strengths for Peak Performance

Ask almost any business leader how to most effectively develop people and build teamwork and you’ll hear “leveraging employees’ strengths.” Yet when it comes to their own careers, many managers still focus most of their personal development efforts on shoring up areas of weakness.

Sometimes this is due to well-intentioned criticism from superiors. Other times, managers climbing the career ladder try to emulate those who have gone before.

While all managers need to hone their communication and people skills, learning these skills and adding knowledge is simple. Recognizing, developing and deliberately leveraging one’s strengths is more difficult.

Many programs are available to help the ambitious manager improve performance, but a review of typical business practices points to a common fallacy. Whether in individual development plans, performance reviews or 360 appraisals, efforts to help people change for the better often focus more on weaknesses than strengths.

From our earliest years we are programmed to believe that our greatest potential for growth is in our areas of greatest deficiency. Think about it. If your child received an A in English and a C in math, where would you focus your attention?

This is not necessarily wrong. In fact, everyone can and should develop basic competence in multiple important areas. The problem is that this philosophy can perpetuate a focus on weakness long after core competency has been achieved.

Social psychologists have found that focusing on strengths leads to higher performance, higher productivity, and greater satisfaction. In fact, honing your skills to their fullest potential can make your weaknesses irrelevant.

Today’s business environment offers many more opportunities for advancement than ever before. But to take advantage of these opportunities, you need to recognize your areas of greatest competence, work to develop them to their fullest, and then match your strengths with the right challenge and the right role.

To maximize your effectiveness, follow the lead of high-performing organizations. The most successful companies identify their core competencies and then work to develop them in order to maximize their potential. Functions that the organization does less well are outsourced, markets that do not fit core competencies are abandoned, and divisions that do not add to the company’s strengths or advance its purpose are sold or spun off .

Reaching the next level of performance involves identifying and improving your core competencies, your strengths, rather than trying to fix every weakness. Delegate all possible activities that don’t fit your strengths and focus only on areas of weakness that prevent you from doing what you do best.

First determine your strengths

Although it seems that most of us should be aware of our strengths, we often confuse them – what we do well – with traits (our personality characteristics) or work habits (the conditions in which we thrive). Many of us also take our strengths for granted. By doing what seems absolutely natural and logical to us, we fail to recognize that we are actually creating results far beyond what others could have expected.

Harvard psychologist and pioneer of the theory of multiple intelligences, Dr. Howard Gardner, points out that people have many more areas of intelligence – or abilities to produce useful results – than previously thought. While traditional IQ tests measure language and mathematical ability, we now know that other skills such as interpersonal intelligence – the ability to understand and relate well to others – and spatial intelligence – the ability to create or plan in multiple dimensions – can be of significant value. .

So how do you determine your greatest strengths?

One way is to examine your own past and present performance and try to discern a pattern of successful behavior. What do you find easier that may be more difficult for others: negotiating a tough contract, analyzing financial data, creating an advertising strategy, leading a team?

Or you can use feedback analysis as described by management guru Peter Drucker in his book Management Challenges for the 21st Century. Whenever you perform a key activity or make an important decision, write down your expectations. Then, a few months later, reexamine your expectations and the actual results you achieved.

Peers, family, and friends can also serve as resources to help you determine your strengths. In the January 2005 issue of the Harvard Business Review, management professors Laura Roberts and Gretchen Spreitzer and their colleagues propose a Reflected Best Self Exercise, in which you actively solicit feedback from those who know you well. However, it is critical to this exercise that the feedback is focused on describing the specific areas where you excelled, not the areas where you could use more work.

Match your strengths to your tasks

Once you know your strengths, you need to figure out how best to use them. Organizations used to manage the careers of their people, but today that responsibility is on each of us. It is your responsibility to know yourself and to determine where and how you would perform best.

Often the difference between success and failure is not learning additional skills, but figuring out how, given your strengths, you can adjust to the demands of your specific position.

This is especially important when the nature of your work changes. Jack was a star sales manager for an educational products company. His ability to build strong connections with his team and develop his people led to lower turnover and a significant increase in sales.

Jack also worked well with his colleagues, leading brainstorming sessions that resulted in a new integrated product and service offering, with significant profit margins for the company. Jack’s skills both in the office and in the field caught the attention of company executives who saw him as a natural leader. When the opportunity to advance his career presented itself, Jack jumped at it.

Jack had the advantage of following in the footsteps of Ellen, an admired veteran. Unlike Jack, Ellen had risen through the ranks of finance. He spent three weeks helping Jack transition to the new position before leaving to lead operations in Europe.

However, a few months into his new job as regional manager, Jack found himself increasingly frustrated with his job. His productivity was down and his old feeling of wanting to go to work every morning was gone.

As we worked with Jack, we began to see that his strengths were largely interpersonal and creative. She shined while working with her team, giving presentations and training her direct reports. But most of his work now involved written reports, formal strategy sessions, and routine management tasks that had little to do with Jack’s larger competencies.

After identifying his strengths, Jack began the work of redesigning his job to better fit his

capabilities He began spending more time in the field, visiting customers and prospects to learn firsthand about their needs.

He used his creative and natural team-building skills in meetings that brought together representatives from the sales and product design departments to brainstorm ways to better meet customer needs. He found an assistant who excelled at writing reports and organizing data and began delegating these tasks as much as possible.

With this new focus on his areas of greatest competence, Jack felt renewed satisfaction in his work. Their productivity and performance improved greatly. We all have strengths and weaknesses, and while many will encourage you to work on your weaknesses, the key to high performance is finding and focusing on what you do unusually well.

With this self-awareness, you can better determine how you can contribute, both now and in the next phase of your career.

Your greatest successes will come from placing yourself in a position where your strengths can find opportunities for their regular expression. And, as maximizing your strength becomes a habit, you’ll be in a better position to help those around you maximize their abilities, resulting in greater productivity and satisfaction for you, your team, and the your organization

© 2007 Dr. Robert Karlsberg and Dr. Jane Adler

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