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What Many Approaches to Strengths Get Wrong

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I love the huge variety of strengths-based approaches that are out there, but many of them get one key thing wrong.

They focus on the extremes of super-strengths and worst weaknesses, and make only passing mention (or worse, completely ignore) what sits in the middle of the spectrum. It’s as though they don’t realise that the tip of iceberg is just the beginning of the strengths-based approach – there’s so much more to explore.

I get why the other approaches focus so heavily on top strengths and biggest weaknesses – they’re quite visible, because their impact on your success and wellbeing is noticeable. But if you only focus on the extremes, and neglect what’s in the middle, you’re missing out on a huge area of opportunity – your Proficiency strengths.

What is a Proficiency strength?

The Cambridge dictionary defines ‘proficient’ as: “skilled and experienced”. So Proficiency strengths are things that you are good at doing – this is the performance aspect. In The Strengths Deck approach, we also consider your preference for using different capabilities. In order for something to fall into your Zone of Proficiency, it also needs to be something that you’re reasonably happy using.

If you really dislike using a capability, or absolutely adore it, it’s probably something for your Zone of Indifference or Genius, respectively. But if you’re pretty good at something, and find it relatively pleasant to do, it’s a Proficiency strength.

What’s so great about Proficiency strengths?

Your Proficiency strengths can be a key part of your success and wellbeing strategy, if you know how to use them. And this is where The Strengths Deck approach differs from many of the other strengths approaches out there. Where the other approaches focus only on your key strengths and weaknesses, The Strengths Deck approach helps you to use your Proficiency strengths to create a stable foundation for your life and work.

Most of us love using our Genius strengths – the things that we’re great at and that light us up when we’re using them. It’s easy to find ‘flow’ when you’re working with your Genius strengths, and you can end up working intensely and/or for long periods. And it’s not uncommon to have to rely on your Reputation strengths (high performance, but low preference), because they’re often part of what has led you to your current levels of success.

Over time, too much flow, or too high a reliance on your Reputation strengths can become physically and mentally draining. You need time and space to recover your energy.

But you probably can’t just stop doing everything and put your feet up – you still need to show up and get things done. That’s where your Proficiency strengths will really shine. Because you have moderately good performance and preference levels for them, they aren’t draining to use. You can still produce good work while you’re recharging your batteries.

And that means you can return more quickly to your flow state using your Genius strengths.

How to use your Proficiency strengths

Start by working out what things you are pretty good at, and are reasonably happy doing. For example, if you find it easy to play spreadsheets, and get a sense of satisfaction from running the numbers, or you find it straightforward and pleasing to work out the root causes of a problem, then Analytical(1) is probably a Proficiency strength for you.

Then, once you know what sits in your Zone of Proficiency, scan your life and work to see which ones you use most often. If you aren’t using them much at work, look for ways to incorporate them more into your daily tasks. That might mean volunteering for a special project, or having a chat to your boss about taking on a new task, or swapping tasks with a colleague. If you aren’t using them much outside work, look for opportunities with family, friends, or community groups.

Ideally, you’ll build a solid core of your work role, or your life, around your Proficiency strengths. That way, you’ll be able to perform well while enjoying what you’re doing, and ensuring that you have plenty of energy in reserve for when it’s time to launch into flow with your Genius strengths.

Using your Proficiency strengths to overcome your weaknesses

The extra-for-experts approach is to look at the things that are weaknesses for you (things that sit in your Zone of Indifference), and find ways to use your Proficiency (and Genius) strengths instead. Rather than trying to drag up your performance in something you don’t enjoy using, you’re tapping into things that you rate moderately to highly for performance and preference. That will give you a greater sense of enjoyment, and you’ll also find it easier to perform well.


Want to know more?

Are you interested in learning more about your strengths, and strategies that will help you create the life and work you’ve been dreaming of? Book your free, no-obligation discovery session directly into my calendar. We’ll talk about what you want to achieve, and how your strengths will get you there. And if we’re a good fit, we can begin working together so you can turn your dreams into reality.

Check out this page for the four things you need to know about The Strengths Deck. Read real customer testimonials here. And find out more about the benefits of the strengths-based approach here.


Strengths definitions

(1) Analytical: You love searching for patterns and causes and uncovering all the factors that might influence a situation.

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