Hood Article

Your Superpower

Finding your fire

Whether you’re looking to turbo-charge your career or find a better work-life balance, our coach and columnist Kirsty McWilliam can help. This month, she shares her tips for identifying and harnessing your individual inner superpower…

Do you love what you do? I set up Coaching Direct in 2008, I worked as an accountant. I don’t actually remember when I decided to become an accountant, but it had always been what I was going to do when I left school, the subject of a very clear career path that I did not stray from at any point. I also don’t remember any conversation around whether I would actually be any good at this chosen path- I simply performed well in all my exams and it was job done.

As grateful as I am now for my accountancy background, had I looked at not only what I was good at, but at what sparked my energy and excitement, it could well have been a very different story. Because what we are good at does not always equate to what makes us happy. And while we could be getting exemplary performance reviews each year, when we know deep down we are not at our best, it is easy to become exhausted by the daily grind. Our strengths are so much more than what we are good at. They are linked to our performance, our energy and how often we use them, and while we all have realised strengths, which we know and use often, we also have unrealised strengths, of which we are unaware. Think of your potential talent that is unrealised – harness that and you really will feel like you have superpowers!

A good way to spot strengths, in yourself or in others, it to notice when you are at your most focused, animated, passionate and relaxed. When are you quick to learn? When you are in your flow, time passes easily. When you review your to-do-list, which items gets done first without any hesitation? These are the things that energise you – your top strengths. Spotting unrealised strengths can be harder, but a good start is to try out new things. How do they feel? Does a new activity make you buzz? On the opposite side of this, when are you drained, anxious and agitated? Which parts of your to-do-list keep getting put off to last? These can be our weaknesses (we all have them) or our learned strengths, and while we may not be able to eliminate these parts of our lives completely, we can look at how often we use them. Using these drains our energy – no wonder were tired – so ensuring we balance them with use of our strengths can be very beneficial.

I work with lots of different people but the one common thread I see is they struggle to articulate their strengths. Would you believe there are over 60 strengths ranging from pride to adherence? I was not surprised to find that adherence is one of my “learned strengths”, so even though I have taught myself to be good at it (think back to my audit days in accountancy), I delay most box ticking exercises and look to delegate from filling at every turn as it literally drains the life out of me. An easy way to identify a learned strength? Procrastination…

Given we can learn those that don’t come naturally, you might ask why we even bother with strengths? Over the past 20 years, various research projects, mainly by Alex Linley, have shown that individuals who harness their strengths have higher levels of happiness, confidence, self-regard and energy. Further studies have demonstrated a positive impact on mental wellbeing, as well as engagement in both life and work. In further good news, our strengths can change over time, if we recognise them and increase their use. Think of all that untapped potential in you…

So, how to harness it. If you make to-do-lists, next time you create one notice what you do first, then link that task to a strength and figure out how to use that more. On the other side, work out what you are putting off and either do it, dump it or delegate it to someone who has that strength.