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4 Ways to Discover Your Strengths

4 Ways to Discover Your Strengths
image credit: AMC

Mad Men's Don Draper is exceptionally good at saving a deal gone sour. When a client dislikes an ad campaign, the fictional ad exec can weave the perfect tale to change their minds. His storytelling ability is a gift that no one else at his agency has. To become a successful business leader, identify your own strengths and talents and foster them.

Your strengths are ultimately the keys to your success. "When we do things we're already good at, our business acumen is quicker," says Todd Kashdan, a psychology professor at George Mason University and author of Curious? (William Morrow, 2009).

"When it comes to the best way to leverage your ability, it's (best) to go through your strengths." he says.

Using these four tips, you can learn to recognize your core strengths. Here's how:

1. Watch for signs of excitement. When you engage in an activity you are truly good at, your excitement is visible. Your pupils dilate, your chest is broader, your speech is fast and fluid, and your arms spread wider. "You can see someone feels alive and motivated when they're using a core strength," Kashdan says. 

Related: How to Train Your Creative Mind

Ask a close mentor when you appear most animated or observe yourself for a day. When do you feel most engaged? Most energized? "When people are using their strengths, they pop out of the backdrop," Kashdan says.

(If observation sounds tricky, you can also take an online survey, like the VIA Character Strengths Test to help you identify and rank your greatest strengths.)

2. Break away from job titles. To uncover your gifts, you need to explore new roles. "Think of your company as a laboratory," Kashdan says. Encourage flexible roles and see how it goes. "If people are excited about trying something else and you have some evidence that they could be good, then experiment with it," he says.

For example, one executive wanted a more creative, innovative workplace but wasn't the man to do it himself. Kashdan helped him identify a maverick on his staff -- someone creative and unconcerned with others' opinions -- then put that person in charge of innovation. By assigning roles based on strengths, rather than job titles, they were able to create a stronger team.

3. Notice what you do differently than everyone else. In a situation where you are truly using your strengths, you will stand out from a crowd. Your approach will be unique. To name your strengths, you want to identify those moments and articulate how you are different.

Related: 5 Ways to Rekindle the Passion for Your Business

Kashdan recalls one executive at an early morning meeting who told an animated story about letting his kids run free at a crowded aquarium. "His focus was not on safety but on promotion," Kashdan says, highlighting a support for autonomy that would help him manage independent workers.

4. Describe your strengths creatively. When naming your strengths, avoid what Kashdan calls "wastebasket terms," meaning overused words like 'passionate' or 'dedicated.' Instead, come up with a unique term that captures your specific strength.

"By coming up with an exciting word, you avoid all the typical connotations," Kashdan says. He uses terms like storyteller, autonomy supporter, investigator, energy incubator, and battery. That specificity helps leaders apply their gifts. "Once you can put a word to your strengths, it becomes much more embedded in your everyday life," he says.  

Related: 3 Creative Ways to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

Nadia Goodman is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, NY. She is a former editor at YouBeauty.com, where she wrote about the psychology of health and beauty. She earned a B.A. in English from Northwestern University and an M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University. Visit her website, nadiagoodman.com.

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