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Recognizing Strengths

March 5, 2014

“Never apologize for talent. Talent is a gift!” – Madame Morrible, Wicked 

In the Broadway hit Wicked, Madame Morrible, the professor who becomes a mentor to both of the heroines, comments that one of her many talents is discovering and encouraging talent. While this line always elicits a chuckle from the audience, there is truth in what she says – namely, that not everyone has the ability to spot talent either in themselves or in others. Seeing and encouraging the strengths of others inspires confidence while also fostering understanding. After all, there are many ways to attain the same goal. Just because a colleague, friend, or relative chooses an approach different from your own doesn’t mean they lack understanding – chances are, their strengths are merely different from your own.  

So how can you look for strengths in yourself and others? Here are a few ideas:

  • Promotion or prevention? Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson breaks down motivating factors into two categories: promotion and prevention. She says that people are either positively motivated by the desire to excel, or they are motivated to avoid negative consequences like losing what they’ve worked to attain. A promotion individual seeks to maximize gains and avoid missed opportunities; a prevention individual seeks to minimize losses. One isn’t better than the other – in fact, each brings its own values to any organization, and the two are needed to balance each other out. Better understanding what motivates you and others will help foster understanding and perspective, especially when working with people motivated by the other end of the spectrum.
  • Look at hearts – not just smarts. Often when people are highly gifted in one area, they are also deficient in another, like a talented artist who struggles in academics or a highly organized, hard-working individual who has a hard time connecting emotionally with others. Rather than focusing on what’s lacking, it’s important to look deeper and to find what strengths are there. You can’t teach talent or ambition. Everyone has talents and strengths – sometimes it’s just a matter of taking the time to seek them out.
  • Appreciate instinctive skills. An instinctive skill is a skill or action that an individual does or takes without any preparation or training – and which can be executed successfully upon repetition. Often these skills have more to do with overall talent than with the specific skill itself, like a natural athlete having the quick reflexes and spatial understanding to excel at a sport he or she has never played before. What comes naturally to you? Any skill can be honed and strengthened with practice and training, but having that natural ability to begin with makes it an easier journey on the road to success.

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