Career Management:
Developing Your Super-Strengths

See also: Improving Your Career Confidence

In career development, we often focus on improving our weaknesses. However, this is likely to be the wrong approach. As management guru Peter Drucker explained, you cannot build a career on your weaknesses. Instead, you need to identify and build on your strengths, and particularly your super-strengths.

Strengths are things that you are good at. Super-strengths are things that you are really great at, those skills and attributes that help you to stand out from the crowd. They are the first of five areas for career development identified by authors Helen Tupper and Sarah Ellis in their book The Squiggly Career. This page explains how to identify and then build on your super-strengths in your career.

Strengths and Super-Strengths vs Weaknesses

Our page on Identifying Areas for Personal Development highlights the importance of knowing your strengths as well as your weaknesses. It suggests that you should identify multiple strengths, and at most four or five weaknesses to work on.

However, many people dispute this approach. Management guru Peter Drucker states that you cannot build a career on weaknesses. Instead, you should spend 80% of your personal development time building on your strengths, and just 20% working on key weaknesses that prevent you from becoming really great.

Helen Tupper and Sarah Ellis go even further than this. They suggest that you should focus on your super-strengths, the things that you are really great at. These are why you were hired, and how you generate value for your organisation. Knowing your super-strengths will help you to identify opportunities where you can add most value, and will therefore be most appreciated. Being able to use your super-strengths is also what makes you happy to do your job—and in a world where we are likely to be working for 50 years or more, that really matters.

Identifying Super-Strengths

Tupper and Ellis suggest a four-stage process for discovering your super-strengths.

1. Brainstorming

Your first step should be to identify what you think of as your key strengths. There are various exercises that you can use for this. For example, see how many you can identify in just one minute.

Alternatively, or additionally, write down your three or four key weaknesses, and then turn them into strengths by looking for the opposite.

  • For example, if you find it hard to see things through to the end, this is often because you are distracted by new ideas—but that probably means that you are really good at coming up with new ideas.

This works because we tend to be better at seeing our faults than our strengths. It is therefore helpful to consider our faults as a way of identifying our strong points.

If you pick each skill apart as much as possible into its constituent parts, then by the end of this process, you should have a list of perhaps 20 skills.

2. Finding Your Natural Talents

We all have things that we are naturally good at: our natural talents.

These aren’t just things like being musical, or being able to draw, though we may have those as well. Other natural talents include things like empathy, being able to relate well to others, or organisational skills.

Start by trying to identify your own natural talents.

However, be aware that this can be difficult, because natural talents often become just part of who we are, rather than something that we consider consciously. Tupper and Ellis therefore suggest asking other people to help. They suggest an exercise where you ask three people (a family member, a friend and a colleague) to each give you three words that they think best describe you. You can then use these words to help you to identify your natural talents. For example:

  • Are there similarities between the three? This suggests a real strength.

  • Are there important differences? This suggests that you are not bringing the whole of you to one part of your life. This is especially true if your colleagues see a very different ‘you’ to the one seen by your friends and family.

  • Do these words match your own views? Interestingly, sometimes we suppress our own natural talents because we feel that they make us less professional, or less ‘serious’. An important part of identifying super-strengths is being able to bring your whole self to work.

At the end of this process, you should be able to identify a list of five or six key natural talents that you possess.

3. Identifying Your Learned Skills

As well as natural talents, we also have skills that we have learned or developed through the course of our lives.

These may be ‘hard skills’, such as expertise in marketing, finance or management. They may also be ‘soft skills’ such as communication skills or other interpersonal skills.

Divide these into ‘what’, or specific expertise and knowledge, and ‘how’, or behaviours.

Top Tip! Use your CV or LinkedIn profile for ideas

It is very easy to focus on only the skills, behaviours and expertise that you use in your current job. Tupper and Ellis suggest using your CV or LinkedIn profile to identify all your learned skills from both present and previous jobs, experience, or volunteering.

4. Bringing It All Together: Identifying Super-Strengths

The final area is to bring all the information together, and identify your super-strengths.

Tupper and Ellis suggest that there are four issues to consider that will help you to identify whether a particular strength is a super-strength. These are:

  • Success: If you are using a super-strength, it will be helping you to succeed. Ask yourself if you can come up with at least two specific examples of when you have used this strength to help you succeed in the last six months. Also ask yourself if this strength contributed to the moments in your career that you consider most successful.

  • Frequency: You should be using your super-strengths as often as possible. Ask yourself if you have used this particular one in the last week, and also if you used it in previous roles as well as your current one.

  • Visibility: Your super-strengths should be visible to others, as well as you. If you asked your colleagues, would they agree that this was a super-strength?

  • Happiness: Using your super-strengths should make you happy, engaged and fulfilled. Does using this ability have this effect on you?

From the list of strengths, both learned and natural talents, pick out five or six that seem most important to you. Score each one against each of these four areas, on a scale from 1 to 10. This will give you a total score out of 40 for each quality.

WARNING! High scores do not necessarily equal super-strengths!

Interpreting your scores is not as simple as high score = super-strength.

It’s a good start, but you also need to look at how each score is made up. The most important quality is happiness, because using your super-strengths needs to make you happy.

You can develop the others, but you can’t become happier about using a particular quality.

Once you know which strengths make you happy, you can then start to turn them into super-strengths (if they are not already at that point).

To do so, think of ways that you could increase the scores that you got in the other three areas (success, frequency and visibility).

That is, how could you use this strength to be more successful, more often, and in a more visible way?

TOP TIP! You may need to consider a job change

It is entirely possible that you may be unable to find ways to increase the amount that you use a particular strength in your current job.

If so, you may need to consider changing jobs. However, you could also consider some job crafting or job enrichment, where (with your manager’s agreement), you adapt your job to make it better fit your strengths and skills.

You can also look for opportunities outside work to develop your skills, such as volunteering.

A Matter of Choice

It is important to remember that you choose your super-strengths. This is not a passive process of acceptance; it is an active choice about what makes you happy.

Using your super-strengths more should make you happier and more engaged at work—and that should mean that you make a stronger contribution to the organisation. This is very much a win–win process, and therefore one that your manager should be happy to support.