We're given a lot of advice about how to perform our best at work. We're told that you have to be well-rounded in order to succeed or that you should constantly solicit negative feedback about yourself. However, many of these ideas are often founded on dogma which can be ineffective in actually helping us to improve our lives at work.
Extensive research suggests that there are three proven things you can do right now to win at work. By understanding these simple concepts, you'll be surprised at the ways you'll be able to improve and the unique contributions you'll be able to make.
1. Redefine strengths and weaknesses
When you ask for the definition of "strengths" and "weaknesses," you'll typically hear that strengths are what you are good at, and weaknesses are what you're bad at. You might also hear that you're the least qualified person to identify your own strengths and weaknesses.
Luckily, none of that is true.
Think about the skills you're good at, but really hate — things that, because you are a driven and responsible adult, you can do well, even though you don't enjoy them. In fact, you may even feel like they drain and drag you down.
You may be the best public speaker at your company, but if preparing for a presentation leaves you in a cold sweat and you're miserable while you're presenting to a large group, you shouldn't consider it strength, no matter how "good" at it people tell you that you are. If you hate something even though you're good at it, it's a weakness, not a strength. It weakens you, and nothing that impairs your ability to be better can ever be a strength.
Therefore, a strength is an activity that strengthens you. You often look forward to it and time seems to fly when you're actually doing it. And when you're done, you feel proud, satisfied, maybe even energized. Using this insight to reflect on your unique strengths is the first step to winning at work.
2. Don't seek out critical or negative feedback
We're often told that to grow in our careers, we need to seek out hard, unbiased truths about ourselves. But negative feedback is about as helpful as an anvil to the head. Rather than help you become the perfect, well-rounded employee, negative feedback triggers your brain into fight-or-flight mode. If you can imagine trying to learn calculus while running from a predator, that's your brain trying to improve yourself while processing negative feedback.
Instead, try to seek out "positive coaching attention." When your boss praises you, ask him or her to tell you exactly what worked about what you just did. Have your boss break it down to help you better understand your own contributions. It will help you take your unconscious actions and make them conscious habits. Then you can recreate those actions, refine them, and do them again.
Additionally, surround yourself with people who acknowledge when you do something right and help you step out of yourself. Seeing exactly how you have succeeded is the best way to grow in your career.
3. Take action and build on your strengths
People will tell you that the best way to grow at work is to focus on your weaknesses. That's not true. If you want to grow, you need to focus on skills and practices that are already strong. Those strengths, rather than your weaknesses, should guide your improvement.
In order to grow and improve, you need build on what you naturally do well.
Your brain will grow most where you already have a competitive advantage. New synaptic connections – the neural pathways that help us learn — grow where the most synaptic connections already exist. That's why brain scientists say that learning is like growing new buds on an existing branch. In order to grow and improve, you need build on what you naturally do well.
This doesn't mean you should ignore your weaknesses. If there are areas that need work, then sure, take a machete and hack your way through them. Just don't expect those weak areas to lead you to excellence. At the very most, you can go from really bad, to just not good.
Excellence isn't about fixing weaknesses. To truly win and stand out, find the unique things about yourself that are beautiful and powerful, and use them to craft your unique contribution.
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