Are you in your element?

Ever felt that instinctive, gut feeling that something is simply not your forte – but persisted with it anyway?

Turns out, my two-year-old is super-attuned to where his talents lie. His behaviour has been telling me for weeks that he's simply not a gymnast.

 Photo © Lars Plougmann

Photo © Lars Plougmann

We spend a tortuous 30 minutes at gym class going through the motions every week: he climbs a ladder, then runs off; bounces on a trampoline - because everyone's good at that! - and then runs off. Balance along a beam, not so much; he'll skip over to the group of kids from the previous class and talk to them instead. Walk up a crash-mat slope without putting your hands down? Why would you, when you can belly-flop onto it and then roll back down, grinning ear to ear!?

He's not strong on gym discipline just yet. He's two. But that aside, he'd so much rather just run, kick a ball, swim and dive underwater for weights, play chase with just about anyone, hide… And when he does, he's the picture of happiness and his talents shine. "He could swim for England!", another parent said to me last week.

I've been ignoring my son's instinct, and my own, since November, persisting with the sessions and focusing on the small 'wins'. But I finally cancelled his place this week. Time to listen to the message inherent in his behaviour, and work on discipline somewhere else.

We both looked relieved as we left the sports centre. "Shall we go swimming instead, Mum?"

When does it change?

I love the realisation that a two year old is so great at being authentic. No shoulds. No oughts. No responsibilities of course, but so good at saying 'this is me' and literally playing to their strengths.

I wonder when the switch flips, and we start trying to be good at everything as business people, losing that valuable awareness of our strengths and how they can be used to super-charge our performance? In your leadership or management role, do you feel that same sense of engagement a toddler gets when they're in their element?

Time for a quick self-audit

  1. Do you know your performance strengths?
  2. Are you tuned in to the tasks and activities that are most likely to light you up, energise you, and lead to high engagement?
  3. Have you considered what happens when you play to your strengths too much, or too little, or in a way that's not appropriate for your role or situation?
  4. Do you know in your gut that you're applying your strengths to the optimum in the way you approach your work?
  5. Are your strengths obvious to your colleagues?

'No's to most of the above are so common among business leaders, and particularly for those leaders who are new in post and have taken on a new project, or a new team, or a secondment.

How many 'no's came up for you?

Signs that you're in 'flow'

When you're using your strengths, you demonstrate 'flow': the state reached when you are so immersed in an activity that you cease to notice the passage of time and have deep, effortless involvement.

Outside of work, you'll be able to recognise yourself in flow. For some it's playing sport, for others writing, creating, organising. Time just goes, and you feel topped-up with energy afterwards.

In business, it can be harder to spot yourself in flow. The signs to look out for:

  • You feel energised, engaged, interested
  • Time passes without you noticing - because you're engrossed in the activity
  • You learn new information approaches really rapidly
  • You perform well, outshining others
  • You want to do more, even when you're tired or stressed

When you're in flow, you're using your strengths and doing more of what you are good at, rather than simply what you're able to do. Such a key distinction when as leaders we're capable of so many things.

Action step

I'll take it as read that you'll have considered your own strengths as you've been reading; and there are lots of ways we could inspire you to get into action as a result, to ensure you're playing 'full out' to your strengths at work.

But given my gym-class decision this week on behalf of my toddler, I'm actually going to challenge you to look to your team, the executives that you work alongside and lead, and to spot who in your business would shine with engagement and energy if they optimised their strengths.

Who has lost sight of what they're good at on a fundamental level?

Who's been lumbered with a 'capable' hat?

Who needs support to get re-engaged and up their performance?

Take a look at this 'Is this you?' description, and see who you recognise.

Over to you

Have you been ignoring an instinct that your strengths are being wasted? Are you stuck in 'capable' mode? Want some more guidance on how to play to your strengths? Come on over to Twitter and let us know

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