I recently had a conversation with a friend who is doing amazing work and making a difference in the world. He’s particularly focused on helping the African-American community, from cradle to career. After many years of focus and hard work, he’s achieving all kinds of great results, including improved literacy and graduation rates. The unemployment rate in his community is extremely low and a model for other cities to follow. It’s exciting and awe-inspiring.
Yet, when I asked him what his strengths were, he didn’t want to share them with me. How could that be? Especially in light of everything else he had accomplished?
It was because of one trait he was missing. Curious, I asked him what that trait was.
“Empathy, Kim. It’s empathy. How in the world can I do my job and not have empathy?”
Nonetheless, I kept pressing him on his strengths. I discovered that one of his top talents is individualization.
According to the best-selling book by Tom Rath, StrengthsFinder 2.0, the trait of individualization means you:
• Focus on the special qualities and differences between individuals
• Embrace distinct styles, motivations, thought patterns, and ways of building relationships
• Tailor your approach to accommodate each individual’s needs
• Recognize that the group as a whole moves farther when you bring out the strengths of each individual team member
If you have individualization, that might be better than having empathy... depending on the situation. In fact, in my friend’s line of work as a community organizer, the trait of empathy might actually be a detractor. Why? Many of the people he’s helping admittedly aren’t feeling great when he first comes into contact with them. Many of them are hurting – a lot. So if he’s taking on their emotions as a result of his empathy, it’s going to weigh him down to the point of where he might not be able to accomplish everything he wants to get done.
So, as a result of his key strength of individualization, he can see the gifts that each person brings to the table and in turn aim to develop that further. He can position them so that each individual is set up for success. With this in mind, wouldn’t this be an incredibly valuable strength to have in the kind of work he was doing? A talent that’s even more valuable than empathy?
When I shared with him the power of individualization in his line of work, he could then fully appreciate it. Not only that; he could stop feeling so bad about the traits he didn't have and begin talking about the strengths he does have and work to leverage them more.
In reality, my friend is hardly alone. So many of us focus almost exclusively on our weaknesses instead of identifying and elevating our strengths.
Think about this in your own life: If you can focus on where your true talent lies and bring it out further, you can incorporate it into your daily life. You can “walk the walk, and talk the talk” in terms of speaking to your strengths and living up to them.
However, this about far more than getting a sort of semi-script down. Expressing your strengths gives you clarity, confidence, and courage: clarity on how you best interact with others, greater confidence on what you bring to the table, and courage to try something new – to do more than what you were doing in the past because you feel like you’re coming at the given challenge from a foundation of strength and power.
Everyone has unique talents, which I often refer to as their “secret sauce.” These talents can ignite their businesses and their lives to a whole new level, and that includes you too. So rather than focusing on the qualities you don’t possess, spend the vast majority of your time finding that set of strengths just beneath the surface, waiting to be discovered, nurtured, and unleashed.