Keys to working at your best
I sometimes think that despite all of my personal flaws, there is one thing I have done right. Most of the work I have done has played to my strengths.
Mind you, it has been fairly easy to know my strengths as mine fall into quite a narrow range, unlike those very annoying people who have strengths across a wide variety of areas.
My report cards right through school talk about my good manners and my friendships with others. I also had quite a lot of empathy as a boy – my ‘rescuing’ of a few dead cats off the side of the road as a 6 year old is testament to this.
Relationships were especially important to me. No doubt the death of my father when I was 5 had something to do with this. I also had a smart mouth! My brother reminds me that I did not always use this strength for good.
My first speaking engagement was at the age of 12, where I spoke to my local Lions club after I won a regional essay competition on ‘How to Improve My Community’. I was awarded $40, which bought me a new pair of shoes for school.
So, it is no wonder that I gravitated to a career as a Relationship Counsellor and later, as a speaker, helping people to build strong teams and resolve difficulties in their relationships.
I was fortunate in that I had good people around me who saw strengths in me that I could not see at the time. My adopted father, Neil, encouraged me as a teenager to do volunteer work as a Youth Leader in church. This led on to volunteer work at a youth shelter before studying counselling at University.
In my first job as a graduate, working as a Drug Counsellor, my manager tried to redirect my smart mouth for good, by inviting me to join him in a speaking engagement at Brisbane Girls Grammar School. Apparently, I did OK and he made other opportunities available.
What work plays best to your strengths?
What strengths do you have? Do you find that there are some aspects of your work that you enjoy more than others? People who are happy at work tend to say that they enjoy at least 85% of what they do. There are, of course, elements that we simply need to put up with. But we need to keep these to a minimum, if possible.
It helps to identify what aspects of our work we do best and see if we can negotiate to do more of this type of work. For example, you might be a teacher who does their best work with grades from Prep to year two. Or you might work well with certain types of students, such as those with learning needs.
It might also be possible to find someone at work who loves to do the work we hate. If this is not possible, we make the best out of the role we have or take action to get ourselves into a role that plays more to our strengths.
When and where do you do your best work?
Someone told me a while back that you will tend to work well in those places where you feel a good energy and there are minimum interruptions. For me, when I am not travelling or presenting, that place is a local café which overlooks Mooloolaba Beach.
Timing is also important. I am best writing in the morning and making phone calls or having meetings in the afternoon.
Yes, I know that not everyone is in a position to pull up stakes and relocate their work to a local café. But I am wondering how you can use time and place to your advantage.
Some principals I know tell me they get more of the paperwork done before people arrive at school or, after they have left, when they have minimum interruptions.
Many high-performing teachers work at creating a classroom environment that not only nurtures learning for the students, but helps them to feel great as well.
Why do you do the work you do?
We know that motivation is not a problem when we feel engaged with a sense of purpose in the work we do.
It doesn’t matter what you do, you can find a meaningful purpose if you look hard enough. I recall conversations with …
- Cleaners in hospitals who say they help people to feel good, not only through their work, but their conversations with patients
- Road construction workers who say they help families to get around
- Aged care workers who help people to live independently
- Deputy principals who keep things running smoothly in their school
I see the purpose of my work as simply helping people to have better relationships. How can you describe the purpose of your work in ways that are motivating to you or your team members?
What action are you going to take?
Yes, I know we are not all in a position to do work we enjoy. Sometimes, we just have to earn a living. And it is easier to make changes when you are self-employed or have seniority in your workplace.
Some of us don’t even know what our strengths or interests are and may have to give some thought to this.
Others of us know, but wonder whether we can make a living from them. I don’t think anyone is going to pay me to talk about road cycling for example, though I do sometimes work some cycling stories into my presentations.
But there may be elements of your current work that you presently enjoy which you could maximise. Let your manager and team members know those parts of your work you particularly like to do or would like to do. This doesn’t guarantee change, of course, but if you don’t tell people what you like, they might never know.
We also know that great leaders spend more time encouraging people’s strengths, than they do in trying to correct performance problems. Even with very difficult team members, these individuals will tend to be less challenging when they are kept busy doing work they enjoy and are best at.
Ultimately, it all comes down to this last question. What action are you going to take?
It might simply be noticing how you do your best work.
It could be letting your manager know what you would like to do.
Is it getting yourself into another role that plays to your strengths?
You might also be the person who encourages the strengths you see in others.