Lead With Your Strengths

Want to build a successful career or business? Start with your strengths. We all come into this world with a unique set of talents, and over our lifetime with the addition of experience and learning we establish a foundation of knowledge, skill, and ability. The winning strategy is on maximising your strengths.

Harold Weinstein, Chief Operating Officer of Caliper Corporation, notes that “over the years our research has shown that there’s a strong correlation between performance and motivation. People who are working in roles that are consistent with their personality, values and interpersonal characteristics generally outperform those who are less well matched—by a ratio of two-to-one.”

Dr. Larry Richard, Herding Cats: The Lawyer Personality Revealed

When I begin working with a new client, one of the first steps is always to conduct a strengths inventory. A strength inventory is simply a detailed answer to the question: “What am I good at and what have I got going for me?” This can range from the twenty friends you are keeping in touch with from university, to your uncanny ability for remembering random bits of information and winning at Trivial Pursuit.

What are your strengths? If you sit down to do an inventory yourself you might soon discover that it is a challenging assignment. Many of us are more used to looking at our faults and failings then acknowledging our aptitudes. Here’s a list of questions to guide you in conducting your own strength inventory:

  • What comes easily to you? What stimulates your creativity? What do you believe your gifts are in life?
  • What are your top interpersonal skills? Are you a good listener? Are you unflinchingly honest? What personal qualities stand out?
  • What are your values? What is most important to you? It might be that you value personal integrity and honesty. Taking the time to explore and understand your values is a worthwhile exercise. It is often much easier to make decisions when we can turn to our values for guidance.
  • What are your professional and personal skills and accomplishments? Are you a good writer? Presenter? Are you detail-oriented or conversely a big picture thinker? Do you speak a second or third language? Do you play sports? Music? Are you on any teams?
  • Who do you know? What personal or business or cultural networks are you a member of our participant in? What community or professional associations do you take part in?
  • What are your pastimes? What do you do when you are not working? For example one real estate lawyer I work with is passionately interested in the real estate market and has made a healthy profit investing in real estate over the years. Her knowledge and passion for understanding real estate trends is a significant strength.

Another helpful tool to consider is the Strength Finder Assessment 2.0 (Rath, 2007). It’s a book and an on-line assessment tool that will rank your top five talents. The Strength Finder Assessment is a useful resource for teams and organizations to indentify to the strengths of their members and to ensure that each person is able to capitalise on their abilities.

Are you able to express your strengths at work? Job satisfaction increases when we are engaged in doing what we do best. When we are not operating in our “field of strength” we are six times (Rath, 2007) more likely to be disengaged at work. This also likely means we will be less creative, treat clients poorly, and achieve less then our colleagues. In other words it’s a sure fire way to ensure we will not be successful at our undertakings.

The same goes for business development. The first step for any business development planning process has got to be your strengths. What are you good at? At what activities can you excel? Instead of the current “here’s what you have to do, now do it” approach, the best business development coaching and training programs start with a focus on strength assessments for the lawyers and teach an approach customised to each individual’s unique talents.

What about weaknesses? The best strategy is to plan around them. For instance, if you aren’t good at details then develop a system to help you to manage your schedule. Look for opportunities to collaborate with people with different strengths and abilities then your own. The best teams are made up of people with a variety of talents and skill sets.

Next time you are planning or making a decision related to your career or embarking on a new project remember to take stock of your natural talents, abilities, and interests. Remember to lead with you strengths:

It is far more lucrative and fun to leverage your strengths instead of attempting to fix all the chinks in your armor. The choice is between multiplication of results using strengths or incremental improvement fixing weaknesses that will, at best, become mediocre.

Tim Ferriss, The Four Hour Work Week


  1. I love this philosophy! And you have given a fantastic checklist. On the other hand, we cannot always stay in our comfort zone. By pushing ourselves beyond it is how we grow and learn.

    Recognizing my weaknesses gives me something specific to work on. I was the shy person terrified of speaking in front of people or talking to those in any role of authority–I couldn’t even ask a question in front of a class or ask my teachers questions face-to-face because of my shyness.

    I worked on it gradually over the years, pushing myself increasingly beyond my limits, and now successfully teach and speak on a few different topics as part of what I do. I like to think I have turned a weakness into a strength. But, this does take effort and determination.

  2. Hi Connie!

    It’s funny you should mention that! As a coach, the one weaknessess I often suggest clients tackle – when they are ready of course – is public speaking. Presentation skills are so essential to leadership, team work, legal work, client development, and marketing to name just a few areas, that it is a huge advantage to develop a degree of skill. Congratulations for pushing yourself to “turn this weakness into a strength”!

  3. Hey Allison,
    The checklist is very helpful. I think to get hold of our pluses and minuses we can also use products like CareesSense at HireLabs, It has questions very much similar to the checklist,it also evaluates the results and we can find out our strengths and weaknesses!