Updated: Feb 27
It’s summer. It’s hot. Time to get the sunblock, bug spray, extra water, and find the shade. Everyone knows you need to take precautions to protect yourself when you’re going into less than optimal conditions, right?
But do you take precautions to protect your talents, time, and energy? Other than the occasional active shooter training, fire drill, or irate student, we don’t typically think of work as being unsafe. As a result, we leave some of our most valuable assets vulnerable. When we don’t protect our talent, time, and energy we can easily become frustrated, overwhelmed, and exhausted.
Note: In typical Anne fashion, I thought I could include all three – talents, time, and energy – in one blog. It was getting out of control, so I’m doing a three-part series instead.
PROTECTING YOUR TALENTS
Just like children, pets, plants, and relationships, your talents need to be fed and nurtured to stay healthy and grow. When you ignore any of these things, they don’t just sit quietly in a corner. They get moody and act out. Any time you feel stuck or frustrated – with a problem or a person – it’s usually because one of your talents isn’t getting what it needs and is acting out. Neglected talents then cause internal and external conflict that can bring frustration, anger, and even anxiety. So, what can you do? How do you feed and nurture your talents to keep them from acting out?
1. Understand How You Use Your Talents | The first step is knowing how you use your talents. When we talk about talents, we mean patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied. Your talents give you energy, enjoyment, and allow you to get “lost” in flow. Most people who take the CliftonStrengths talent assessment (formerly StrengthsFinder) stop after reading their report and printing a sign with their Top 5. But until you understand how your Top 5 impact your life, you’re missing the most powerful part of the process.
Reflect on how you use your talents: keep a journal; make a spreadsheet; pick a Strengths buddy. Start with two minutes a day. The important thing is to do it on a regular basis, ideally daily. As you pay more attention, you’ll start to recognize patterns. When you notice how using your talents productively, intentionally replicate those successes. When you notice your talents getting in your way, identify similar situations so you can proactively make adjustments.
Anne Example: I have Input, Strategic, and Adaptability. High-pressure decisions are no big deal. I can quickly assess a situation, make the best decision using the knowledge I’ve collected, and adapt to new information. Choosing paper towels on the other hand has brought me close to tears. Why? Since there’s no hurry – unlike a fire or student in crisis – my Input goes into hyper-drive collecting “relevant” information: price, brand, size of sheets, number of sheets, number of rolls, etc. Input loves it. Meanwhile, Strategic is pissed because it can’t make a decision. Adaptability is fine for a while but gets frustrated too. Only one of my talents is getting what it needs, so the rest aren’t happy. Now when I buy paper towels, I make sure Input is on a short leash so I don’t cry at Target.
2. Invest in Your Talents | What are you doing to help your talents grow and develop? We get bored and restless when we’re not challenged, so do your talents. Investing in your talents turns them into Strengths. To build your talents into Strengths, first, you have to understand how your talents show up for you (see #1). Then increase your knowledge, learn new skills, and practice using your talents in more productive ways.
Take exercise…whether you like to work out or not, you know that exercise improves your health. Many people don’t think about exercising unless something’s wrong – you hurt yourself or gain weight. Exercising on a regular basis keeps you in shape, which helps you avoid problems. It’s the same with talents. When they “workout” regularly, you become even more productive and when new situations arise, they’re prepared.
When you think about professional development opportunities, start thinking in terms of your talents. The latest book or trend might not be as useful as something specifically focused on developing your talents. Ask yourself, what skills or information would help your talents perform at a higher level? Choose those.
Alicia Example: I have Input and Arranger. I like to collect information that may be useful later. I get frustrated when there isn’t a system or plan to retrieve that information because we waste time creating a new answer or tracking down the original plan/information. My Arranger also lead me to want things and teams to be organized, but flexible. Unfortunately, these talents can quickly get out of control. Collect ALL THE THINGS, Activate ALL THE PEOPLE! I have had to learn how lean on others (yes, that’s a skill), use systems like Evernote, Trello, Microsoft Teams, Wunderlist, etc. to catalog and retrieve information. I also have to figure out which system is right for each situation. These are works in progress, but the exciting part of the Strengths journey is there’s always room for growth.
3. Communicate Your Needs | When you’re frustrated with other people, it may be that your needs aren’t being met. We all interact with the world through the lens of our talents, including you. This means that when two or more people work together, each person brings their own ideas and perceptions, looks at the task through their own lenses. Left on autopilot, this can cause miscommunication, disagreement, and conflict.
Anne Example: I have Ideation. At my old institution, several of us would enthusiastically start brainstorming. We would get frustrated when the Achievers would interrupt to talk about timelines and tasks before we were done. Pre-Strengths, we would all quietly seethe and roll our eyes. Once we knew our talents, we understood the problem. My Ideation was angry it wasn’t allowed to finish brainstorming. From Ideation’s perspective, why do something if it isn’t the best idea? The Achievers were irritated we were wasting time when we could be doing when since we already had an idea. Once we knew the problem, we could better communicate about what we each needed. I could ask for more time to finish brainstorming. They could let us know when we weren’t being efficient, especially on time-sensitive issues.
Overall, the best way to protect your talents is by understanding them are and what they need to stay happy and healthy. Knowing this gives allows you to communicate with others. That way when you’re frustrated you can assess what talents are being neglected, what needs to be adjusted, and you can talk to your teammates about an approach that honors everyone’s talent sets.
Be sure to check back soon for the second part of our Summer Safety series on protecting your energy. At Strengths University our goals are to educate, engage, and empower. We want people – especially those in education who are supervisors – to understand their talents, maximize their Strengths, and to stop the frustration, overwhelm, and exhaustion. We’re glad you’re on this journey with us.