We talk a lot about talents and strengths, but you may be thinking, “That’s interesting, but I’ve come pretty far in life without really digging into my talents and I’m too bleeping busy to start now.” Whether you’ve never taken the CliftonStrengths assessment or did and haven’t really dug into your results, today we’re going to talk about why understanding your talents matters.
When I first started our podcast, My Circus, My Monkeys, I did a pretty solid episode about talent basics. I’ve built on it in other episodes since then. But I wanted to take a few minutes to revisit why knowing and understanding your talents is so important. Now just to clarify for folks who either haven’t heard me talk about this before or it’s gotten lost somewhere in your brain, when I talk about talents and strengths, I am not using them interchangeably as we typically do.
When I say talent, I mean “a naturally recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied.” In other words, you have recurring thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that automatically show up without any effort on your part, and they can help you get things done – aka be productive.
When I say strength, I mean “the ability to consistently produce a positive outcome through near-perfect performance in a specific task.” In other words, your strengths are at play when you use your talents in a way that gets you an almost perfect outcome. Or as I like to say, “Nailed it!”
Now we often think of talents being connected to music, athletics, or art. Those are talents too, but not really what we’re talking about here. But I want to give you an example using those more commonly thought of talents to really bring this difference home.
Maybe you are talented at singing. You’ve got a lovely voice. When it’s “Happy Birthday” time, everyone notices how great you sound. Maybe you’re asked to sing at religious services or people tell you that you should be in a band. That’s talent. You have a great voice that CAN be productively applied to singing.
But famous singers don’t just have talent. They’ve honed their talent with years of practice, lessons, musical theory, and more. They understand how to use their talent – including its limits, like their range. They also take care of their voice. They practice enough to make sure it’s working well and don’t overuse it, so when they sing, they almost always have a “near-perfect performance.” That’s when talent becomes strength.
Hopefully that example gives you a better understanding of the difference between a talent and a strength. Now that we’ve got those basics out of the way, why is understanding our talents so important? To give us a little structure, I’m going to focus on three specific reasons why understanding your talents and strengths matter – productivity, energy, and relationships.
Increasing Your Productivity
Let’s start with productivity, shall we. What is productivity? At its core, productivity is getting things done that move you toward your goal or objective. The more effectively and efficiently you do something, the more quickly you can achieve that goal.
Right now, how would you describe your workload? You’re busy, right? Maybe too busy? Does it seem like your “to-do” list is never going to be “done-did?” That seems to be the case with most folks I’ve talked to these days. There’s too much work to do given how many hours you have in the day, week, month, and even year. You need to get things done. You need to be more productive, so you’re getting to your goals faster.
Now one of the nice things about your talents is that even if you don’t know specifically what they are, they automatically show up whenever you look at that to-do list. You have more than one, so imagine you have around 10 assistants in your head perusing your list and getting excited about doing certain things. Huzzah they say! We get to do a spreadsheet or talk to students about their feelings or come up with a new initiative!
Some of your talents might need to think through things first. Some might want to put things into action immediately. But either way, they’re getting to work for you. I’m 100% sure that those talents absolutely helped you get where you are today, without even knowing what they were or what they were up to behind the scenes. Thank you, talents.
Now remember our definitions from earlier. When your talents showed up in a way that gave you that near perfect performance, your talent was being productive. That’s a win. But what if your talents aren’t showing up as strengths? What if you’re thinking those naturally recurring patterns of thoughts, feeling those naturally recurring feelings, or automatically doing things – maybe lots of things, that aren’t getting you any closer to your goal?
Remember, your talents automatically kick in and start thinking, feeling, and doing. If you’re not paying attention, they might actually be getting in the way of you achieveing your goals. Instead of being your strength, they might be showing up as weaknesses. Weaknesses aren’t just things you’re not talented at. A weakness is “a shortage of misapplication of talent, skill, or knowledge that causes problems for you or others.” You might be over or under using a talent. You might not have the right skills or knowledge to support your talents so they can really be productive for you.
Here's an example. Say you’re really good at problem solving. You love identifying problems and then coming up with solutions. That’s great, right? I mean, how many problems have you solved that has made your life and the lives of those around you better? Maybe it’s even why you’re in the position you are in now.
Well, if your brain likes solving problems, what is it always going to be looking for? That’s right, problems. How many problems are you already juggling? Can you really handle any more? Can your team? You might very well be in the middle of solving one problem and another one pops onto your radar. Now what? Is it a problem that needs fixing now, or is your brain just excited about the prospect of solving another fun mystery? How much time and energy have you spent on problems that maybe weren’t worth solving? At least not worth solving in light of how many other things there are on everyone’s plates right now.
That talent left unchecked on autopilot might actually be keeping you from being productive. If you don’t know what your brain is doing behind the scenes, it’s absolutely going to give you more things on your to do list. Instead of helping you get things done, your talent just gave you a ton of other things to do. That’s why you need to understand your talents if you want to be more productive.
Maximizing Your Energy
Okay, so let’s talk about energy next. Energy is your most valuable resource. If you have a lot of energy, you’ll probably get a lot of things done and they’ll most likely be of high quality. If you have low energy, you probably won’t get much done and there’s a good change those things won’t even be done as well as if you’d been feeling energetic.
But even if you start out feeling pretty energetic, what you do throughout the day directly impacts your energy level. Some activities give you energy; others drain it right from you. Have you ever started out the day feeling great and then you have to talk to a certain person or do a specific task and suddenly you feel drained? Sometimes even thinking about doing that think makes you exhausted.
It’s that way for me and spreadsheets. If I know I have to do one, my brain immediately goes “ughhh.” It’s not happy. I might procrastinate to avoid it. But even when I finally sit down to do it, I feel like it’s just sucking the energy right out of me. It takes me forever, I’m not happy along the way, and when I finish, I feel exhausted.
Conversely, when I’m brainstorming and being creative, I feel energized. I’m excited about it, can’t wait to jump in, and when I finish, I’m bouncing around because it was a great experience for me. I feel energetic and fulfilled.
What’s the difference between the two of those two tasks? Ideation is my #1 talent. I love thinking of how to do things in new ways. I’ve been honing my Ideation talent for most of my life and when I use it, I do so easily and almost effortlessly. It’s in my Strengths Zone, so it’s one of the most effective uses of my energy. Collecting and analyzing data is not in my Strengths Zone. That means it takes me way more effort to do those things.
If I want to maximize my energy, both for my wellbeing and so I can be more productive, I need to know what falls in my Strengths Zone and what doesn’t. That way I can start to prioritize and delegate what I do, so I’m more often than not working in my Strengths Zone. And ideally so that the people around me are working in their Strengths Zones.
That meant when I was supervising, I’d give those pesky spreadsheets to the folks who loved doing spreadsheets. Sometimes when we hate doing something, it’s easy to assume everyone hates doing it too. But that’s not true. There’s someone somewhere who would love to do that thing that you hate.
One time I was on vacation, but just hanging in my on-campus apartment. My colleagues were in a meeting where they were trying to come up with new ideas for something-er-other, but were stuck. None of them had Ideation, so brainstorming required a ton of energy from them. They could have continued to sit there getting nowhere and wasting their time and energy, but instead they texted me asked if I wasn’t busy, could I spare 30 minutes to get them an idea they could run with. I was more than happy to do it since I didn’t have anything going on and LOVE brainstorming. It was a win-win energetically for everyone involved.
Strengthening Your Relationships
Okay, so finally let’s talk about why understanding your talents are important for your relationships. Have you ever had a disagreement with someone? You thought the best way to ___ was to do X. They thought the best way to do ___ was to do Y. Maybe those disagreements happened so often you started to avoid that person. You hated working on projects with that person. Maybe you even started to dislike that person.
Our talents aren’t just about our actions. Remember they include patterns of thought and feeling. That means they color the way we think about the world. Since everyone’s talent set is unique, that means we each have a different way of interpreting the world. Even though we may know this on some level, it doesn’t feel that way. We interpret a situation is in our minds and feel like we know the best way to do navigate it.
This can bring us into conflict with other people. Conflict isn’t bad. Sometimes it’s necessary to bring people to a better understanding of each other and the situation. But we often interpret it negatively. We feel combative toward the other person. We don’t understand why they aren’t thinking about things correctly. We’re usually focused on why we’re right and the other person’s wrong.
But when you know this stems from your talents, you can start to look for blind spots and biases in your thinking and behaviors. Instead of thinking in terms of who’s right, you can switch to an attitude of curiosity and understanding. Instead of getting stuck on proving your point, you’ll start to ask clarifying questions to better understand the other person’s perspectives and gain a broader understanding of the situation. You can start to look at those differences as an advantage, instead of something that’s getting in your way.
When we work from our biases, we damage our relationships with others. When we work from a place of curiosity and assume other’s positive intent, we can build and strengthen our relationships. We recognize that we need other people’s talents to help us get a broader understanding of both people and situations. As a bonus, stronger relationships will also contribute to your productivity and energy. But in order to make this switch, you need to know and understand your talents.
Okay, so we’ve gone through three reasons it matters – to be more productive, to maximize our and our team’s energy, and to improve our relationships. But just knowing this isn’t going to bring any change to your life. You’re still going to be busy, exhausted, and wasting time and energy arguing with folks without actually investing in understanding your talents.
Take the CliftonStrengths talent assessment. Start doing the things we’ve been talking about in this podcast, like doing a daily Strengths and/or energy log. If you want some help along your journey, we do individual coaching and go into depth about Strengths in all of our trainings. You can find out more at www.strengthsuniversity.org.
Your talents have gotten you this far, but think about how much further you could go if you invest in them so they are almost always showing up at Strengths. You’ll be more productive, have more energy, and have better relationships.
You can listen to My Circus, My Monkeys on our website https://www.strengthsuniversity.org/mycircus or through most of the major podcast hubs, like Apple, Spotify, Google, Amazon, TuneIn + Alexa, & Stitcher