One of my favorite stories about playing to your strengths happened during the first year I coached college basketball. I was coaching the Junior Varsity team at Westmont College. We had 8 guys on the team but our two best players were only allowed to play the first half so they could be utilized on the varsity team who played after us. Oddly enough, our team was almost always behind at half time. But virtually every game we came back and won. I think we only had a couple of losses all season.
5 of our 6 remaining players were decent but played very well together. They had great chemistry. The 6th player was not very good at all. In fact, I only played him when someone fouled out or needed a breather. I’ll call this young man Gary. Our point guard, Jeff, was our best player. During a critical come back during one of these games, Jeff stole the ball and started a 3 on 2 fast break scoring opportunity. On the right side of the floor was a very good shooter and on the left was Gary, our not very good player. Jeff, seeing that our very good shooter was covered, passed the ball to a wide open Gary, who proceeded to let the ball go right through his hands, resulting in a turnover.
I called Jeff over to the bench and asked him why he threw the ball to Gary. Jeff said, “Coach, he was open.” My reply was, “Jeff, there’s a difference between passing to the open man and the right man!” “Coach,” replied Jeff, “I totally understand. It won’t happen again.”
There are two great points here. One, playing to our strengths meant we needed to work harder to get the ball to the right guy. And the team did a great job of doing this the rest of the year. The other interesting point was a failure by Gary to understand his weaknesses. Gary was frustrated that his teammates rarely threw him the ball. “Coach,” Gary said in exasperation one day, “I’m open all the time.” I never had the heart to tell him but I wanted to say, “Gary, there is a reason you are open…the other team wants you to shoot!”
We all have things we are good at, even gifted at doing. And we all have weaknesses.
As I get older, I don’t know if I am listening to my body better or if it is just speaking louder. Probably a little bit of both. I try to keep learning more about myself; my strengths, gifts, quirks, weaknesses, like and dislikes.
For instance, I am not a good morning person. For years I carried around guilt that I wasn’t up at 5 a.m. working out at the gym, dashing home to make coffee and breakfast for everyone and in the office by 7 o’clock.
My goal for many years was to never get up unless the first number on my alarm clock was a “9”. And I feel physically ill when I work out in the morning. I can only work out in the afternoon or evening.
But from 10am until about midnight, I am pretty tough! This worked perfectly when I coached basketball and I have made it work in business, too.
If you are an evening person, my best advice is don’t feel guilty! I felt remorse for most of my life because I don’t function well in the a.m.
So in order to play to my strength, I don’t fight to wake up and get in bumper to bumper traffic. Rather, I sleep until about 8am on most days. I roll out of bed and go downstairs to the office I have set up at my home and put out any “work fires” that may have come up overnight. I make sure I have all of the latest technologies to make me effective wherever I am. I have an Iphone, an Ipad, two laptops and two PC’s. I have mobile apps along with Logmein.com applications that allow me to remotely access my computer.
When I do finally get into the office, I am highly productive because I am in my sweet spot of energy and focus.
My kids are older now so being home at 5pm is not a must. I coordinate my schedule and at least two nights a week work until 8pm before heading home. There are zero traffic jams at this hour, saving me considerable travel time and limiting my brain damage.
Here’s a tip if you want people to think you are a morning person…when sending an email, click on the Options tab and find the function that will allow you to delay delivery of the email to whatever time you want. I type a lot of emails at 9pm at night and then delay delivery until 7:30 a.m. the next day. Ha!
So if I were a morning person, playing to my strength in this area would mean front loading my tasks. I would make sure I beat traffic by leaving extra early. I would schedule any out of office meetings towards the end of your day so that I could go home afterwards.
Do you like to talk with people or are you more of a loner?
Did you score higher on the math or verbal section of the SAT?
Do you love being on the computer or do you dread sitting at the keyboard?
Are you a risk taker or do you tend to be conservative?
Do you work well with others?
Do you prefer to be on a team or do you prefer calling the shots?
Are you a self starter or do you need a lot of direction?
Can you laugh at yourself or are you super sensitive?
These are just some of the questions you need to determine. In fact, follow this 5 step approach and you will achieve more and feel better about yourself. Don’t be the person waving your hands for someone to throw you a ball you can’t catch. Be the person who knows they don’t catch well and find other ways to contribute and stay in the game.
5 Step Approach
Step I. Define your strengths and weakness. Make a list of your most obvious characteristics. Then ask a friend or family member to make a list for you.
Step II. Realize that God made us all different and that we all have special gifts. No guilt!
Step III. Think about unique ways to put your strengths to work for you.
Step IV. Think about ways to either improve your weakness or better yet avoid them!
Step V. Figure out some of these things for the most important people in your life. Co-workers, boss, spouse, children, parents, neighbors, etc.