Building From Strengths

Building From Strengths

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Self-realisation, for me, meant accepting my strengths – and using them. This was a life-changing revelation to me. For a long time, people didn’t accept my natural tendencies and abilities as strengths – least of all, myself.

From my school-days onwards, I was often criticised for finding the shortest route or quickest way to do something. ‘Hard workers’ and teachers considered this to be lazy of me. And my ability to persuade people to do things was seen as manipulative – it might be used for selfish aims.Throughout my life, these strengths were frequently seen as negative.

One of the greatest experiences of my life was reading The 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris. We had similar work backgrounds – both building a traditional company in a traditional way, throwing all our time and energy into work at the cost of our individual health. From that all too common requirement for an overwork ethic, Tim had transitioned into a new life, which was revolutionary and inspirational, to me. He had mastered how to maximise results for minimal time and effort – a four-hour working week! And here he was, describing how people could replicate this model and live stress-free, enjoying the rest of their week in leisure and pleasure. This isn’t laziness. It’s efficiency and effectiveness incarnate. In fact, it’s essential for thriving. His successful transition and his shared learning have helped many thousands of people to work less, and to lead happier lives.

Then, realisation dawned – my own existing strengths could be used to help people in interesting ways! It was an extreme moment of self-forgiveness: recognising that the power of my strengths could be used to improve the lives of many people.

Previously, I had spent a lot of time hating myself, deep down, because the world only saw the shadow side of my gifts – since they were constantly pointed out as my weaknesses. It was only when I owned my own strengths and built my life around them that I had access to what was possible in my life.

This isn’t a personal problem. It’s a systemic, cultural problem. In our education systems, our workplaces and our communities, we have weakness-obsessed cultures that look to address the failings or negative aspects of people, spending time and resources to bring them up to a certain standard or ‘norm’. So much of this is driven by the desire for people to fit in, or to conform. Look at traditional schools, where the focus on academic exploration – and even measures of intelligence – are actually very narrow. It is all about people and schools conforming – to achieving certain grades and university places – rather than looking at the pure essence of every child and helping them to discover and build on their true strengths.

Workplaces also focus on resolving weaknesses, rather than allowing people to use their strengths. Development plans and training look at building up what’s failing. But this results in creating a cult of the average and exposes organisations to systemic risk. We spend too much time and resources on individual development, rather than collective development. Collectively, it would be more beneficial to encourage diversity – and much less conformity – in the strengths and skills of people in an organisation. Yes, it might be harder to manage or work in such organisations, because of dissent and difference; but in the long term, these organisations are much more likely to survive – because they capitalise on the strengths and talents of all the people who work in them. Never mind ‘job satisfaction’ – there is real potential for job exhilaration and excitement. People can fly, and ideas take off – bringing greater joy and productivity into the workplace.

Having made my decision to use my strengths, I went on a multi-year exploration to discover how to help people make the best of their time. Most people say they struggle with this, yet they don’t really learn to address the issue. Through the lens of my exploration, I constantly look to identify what is the least someone can do, to make the biggest impact. Many of the early blog posts on this site share my learnings. In a world obsessed with ‘doing’, there’s a market for someone who can show you how to do more with less.

Consider the small steps towards incremental change, as well as the power of a moonshot vision and ambitious goals. In Guernsey, we want our tiny nation to be the best place in the world to live by 2020, and to achieve this, we leverage minimal resources to create a huge impact. My work to turn our small nation into a global outlier is all about making minimum effort for maximum gain, in effecting change. It takes much less time to transform a small government than a large one – but this model could be replicated, at scale.

Reflecting on Guernsey, much of our work is also about celebrating what is already great about where we live, rather than getting mired in what’s wrong. Too many communities waste so much time complaining about what’s not working or what they don’t have, rather than seeking to maximise what’s good and using their time to build on what already works.

Asset based community development is an emerging approach to community-building that looks at all the existing assets within a community and leverages them to create greater impact. And in spite of traditional education, there are emerging models of schooling that use a strengths-based approach and consistently deliver thriving adults, as a result.

For individuals, a good example of a change for the better is positive psychology. Traditional psychology, counselling and psychotherapy have often tended to focus on what is wrong. Positive psychology builds on the positive, for people to lead happier lives.

We are starting to realise that, in every dimension, the best results come from building on strengths, rather than focussing on weaknesses.

I’m not saying you should ignore your weaknesses, but they need to be put into context. There are more efficient gains to be made by exploring and building on your strengths. So much more of our individual and collective happiness can come from our capacity to see what is great in ourselves, and in what is around us. This is also at the heart of getting better outcomes.

If you don’t know what your gifts are, try using something like Strengthsfinder, for you or your organisation to discover them.

Ask yourself:

  • How much time do I spend working in my zone of strength?
  • How far do I empower those around me to operate in their zone of strength?
  • How can I transform my life, so I operate more from my zone of strength – either personally or professionally?
  • How can my community and/or organisation leverage its gifts for greater impact?

My own insight and progression in life came from a focus on self-acceptance and a dedication to building on my strengths. This is possible for a community, too.

To strength.


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  1. Very well put… and having been through something similar myself – an “adventure coach” persuaded me to emphasise my strengths rather than suppress my weaknesses – it’s reassuring to see that someone else had to go through the same process. A process which seems obvious in retrospect.

  2. Philip Surry says

    “Never mind ‘job satisfaction’ – there is real potential for job exhilaration and excitement. People can fly, and ideas take off – bringing greater joy and productivity into the workplace.”

    Every single employer and employee should know this quote

    Great article my friend


  3. “In Guernsey, we want our tiny nation to be the best place in the world to live by 2020.” How do you intend to determine whether you have achieved this? What are your benchmarks and can you apply and compare them to every single jurisdiction around the World? If you can’t, then your results will not be valid as you will not be comparing like for like. An aspect of happiness in the Channel Islands might, for example, be owning your own house, whilst for someone in a less developed country it might be simply knowing that you can put food on the table for yourself and your family every day. Ambition and outlook varies from person to person, backgrounds, upbringing, etc, etc. Also, If one of your determinants of success is found by actually asking people what they think by distributing questionnaires to the entire population of one jurisdiction (eg Guernsey) and ask them whether where they live is the best place to live in the World, then how does this make sense unless they are well-travelled and have experience of many different cultures, lifestyles, politics, etc, etc? Some people, through inexperience of different countries, might automatically say where they live is already the best place in the World because they only compare it to what they read in papers, on TV etc. Valid like for like comparisons are fundamental when attempting to develop a vision as ambitious as the one you mention.
    It’s a bold ambition to make Guernsey the best place in the World to live by 2020 and I wish all behind the effort the very best of luck. Guernsey, to my mind, is already one of the best places to live in the World, but, unless you have realistic, globally applicable and accurately researched and recorded benchmarks, then I honestly can’t see how you can say you have achieved your ambition (if ultimately you claim in 2020) that you have. And anyway, why is it so important for it to be the best, is it a competition?
    Any thoughts?

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