Want Greater Success? Focus on Your Strengths

Our daughter, leaning toward a career in surgery, asked me why I felt it was a good fit for her. “Because you’re a decisive leader, action-oriented, good with your hands and you can walk into a chaotic situation. You notice the details and immediately know what’s important,” I replied. She is someone to whom the requirements of leading a surgical team come naturally.

We each have natural strengths – many of which we don’t recognize. Our training as doctors undermines our ability to appreciate who we are and what we contribute. Taught to always ask ourselves, “How could I have done this better?” we focus more on our shortcomings than on what we did well, or the talents and strengths that already support our successes. The result is that we sign up for projects that don’t play to our strengths, resulting in a lot of effort, frustration and disappointing outcomes. Years ago, I accepted the invitation to co-lead a Cub Scout troop. Spending two hours with 14 seven-year-old boys after school was exhausting. The experience called mostly for crowd control, whereas my strengths lie in one-on-one interactions, teaching and developing people.

In The Big Leap, Gay Hendricks refers to our “Zone of Genius” as the “the set of activities you are uniquely suited to do; they draw upon your special gifts and strengths.” Hendricks advises that we focus only on activities that reflect our genius. As Deborah Munhoz (a physician coach and friend of mine) likes to say, “If you try to get good at everything, you’ll never be great at anything.”

So, how do we find our strengths? One way is to notice what seems to come easily. We can ask our friends what they value or admire about us. And we can recall our biggest successes. What abilities allowed us to be successful? Unfortunately, most of us incorrectly believe that our strengths are no big deal – that everyone can do this. So take a moment and look around – is that true? Most likely there are many people who do not share the strengths that you take for granted.

Once you understand your strengths, use your creativity to come up with even more ways to use them in your life. If you are a good speaker, arrange to give grand rounds on a subject that you’re passionate about. If you naturally bring order to your environment, ask family, friends and colleagues struggling with clutter if they would like your help. If you are analytical, volunteer for a board where the incisiveness of your mind may uncover and prevent potential problems. As we understand and intentionally use our strengths, our life feels more successful, fun and fulfilling.