Monday, March 12, 2012

Career Secret #2: Showcase Your Strengths

Moving your career ahead requires you to use your natural strengths in a way that produces solid results.  However, if you're like many of the people I have coached, you've lost sight of how much you know and the uniqueness you bring to any environment.   You might even pooh-pooh compliments and think you're arrogant if you know what you do really well.

But it's not arrogant to be aware of your strengths.  That's called confidence.  And confident, talented people rarely work more than 40 hours a week, nor do they need to suck up to anyone to get ahead.  Best of all, they love their work.  

If you're having a hard time identifying or remembering your strengths, ask respected peers (inside and outside of your organization) to give you feedback on what you do best. Ask your family and friends, too. And when they tell you, believe them!   

Once you have identified your natural strengths, consider applying these guidelines when deciding what to do first:

1)  Everyone should benefit from your idea...especially you

2)  Never identify a challenge that highlights a weakness of your boss

3)  Make sure your idea allows you to spotlight your unique strengths

4)  Adopt a 'can do' attitude...nothing is more engaging or more powerful

5)  Keep it simple

Here's an example of how this career secret worked for me:

Eight years ago, as a medical social worker, I was responsible for helping families and staff cope with difficult situations like traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries and near drownings.  Under these circumstances, tensions are high and everyone feels the stress. 

Our nursing staff - also stressed - was not dealing well with parents that were upset  Instead, they were melting down and getting defensive with families and other staff members.  This had been going on for years, but no one knew what to do about it, so the parents were blamed for their bad behavior and the situation kept getting worse. 

Ah-hah moment:  Upset parents didn't bother me at all, so I began paying attention to what I was doing differently than the nurses.  Then it hit me.  Nurses simply didn't know what to say when parents were upset.  They didn't have the right words at the right time.

My opportunity appeared.

Very quickly, I put together a simple, three step process that works whenever confrontation is needed, from dealing with upset parents to addressing an employee that is not performing.

1)  'I've noticed that'...(you seem upset lately/you're coming late for work every day/you're tearful whenever we meet/you're not completing your work on time)

2)  'I'm wondering if'...( you're getting enough sleep/you have challenges at home/you're depressed/you understand the assignment)

3)  'How can I support you to make things better?'

That's all there is to it.

I began training the nurses on this 3-step process, which they used with great success and shared with peers and leaders hospital wide.  Only weeks later, I was honored as the hospital's medical social worker of the year.  A month after that, I was asked to provide psychosocial support to a family in one of the highest profile cases our hospital has ever handled.

Within three months, I was directing a department of fifty.

And less than six months later, I was overseeing ten departments within the hospital.

Certainly, other things happened during this time to propel my career forward. But my rapid progression began with these three simple steps that, for me, were as natural as breathing.  I did nothing more than recognize a need, identify an area of my strength and offer a solution that helped everyone.

Unforeseen Challenge:    To grow and expand, you will need to let go of some details of your current role in order to pay attention to the big picture of your organization. If this seems impossible (I don't have time, I'm swamped already), let your boss know you would like new opportunities that will improve the department and allow you to grow professionally.  Then ask for help in managing the details of your job.  If you have a good relationship with your boss - Career Secret #1 - you'll get the opportunity.

You have the ability to change the environment of your organization - right now - and move ahead in ways that will surprise even you.  Identify your own strengths, trust your instincts and make no apologies for your ambition or your confidence.  Because once you discover how to make the most of your talents, everyone around you will benefit and you will have taken the next important step in igniting your career.

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  1. It really does sound easy but I will definitely need to work on the first step - identifying my strengths.
    I'm pretty sure I have them, I just have a hard time of naming them (recognizing them for that matter).
    It is obvious when I try and write my CV, I read other people's who have nothing much of note to write in them, but theirs end up sounding terrific, while mine looks pathetic.
    I'm really working hard on making my self-confidence work for me. :)

  2. Hello Ines - figuring out what we do really well can be surprisingly hard! We get so wrapped up on areas we need to work on that it's easy to forget that we already have some amazing talents just waiting to be used. Taking small steps to build our careers and lives is simple, but that doesn't mean it's easy. Be patient with yourself - your self-confidence is just catching up to your strengths. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. josephine is awsome



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