Strength in Community

Sean Dreilinger / Flickr

Sometime back in Classical Greece someone carved “know thyself” on my least favourite god, Apollo’s, temple at Delphi. No one really knows who wrote it, but a quick twitblog of the interscape will tell you that Socrates (or maybe Plato) took credit for the idea. And Alexander Pope wrote a poem about it a few years later. The point is, before you look outward and certainly before you strive out on a life path – career, family, adventures in foreign lands, kidlets, part-altering-operations – you need to look inside and, well, get a sense of yourself.

Melissa McCrae is an Associate Director at Simon Fraser University’s Career Management Centre. She is also just downright lovely as well as a bit of a genius. To say the least, Kirk Hill has good – nay, great - people on his team at the Career Management Centre. Melissa walked our team through a self-assessment tool called StrengthsQuest, which is based on and linked to StrengthsFinder. Regardless of what you think of self-assessment – one of my colleagues addressed the paradox of “self-assessment tools telling people what they value by asking them what they value” – there was something incredibly powerful that we all took away from Melissa’s presentation. In business, as in life, we constantly focus on what we’re not good at and try to improve it. So much so that some people even find themselves reflecting on how they made it so far in their career doing something they, first, were never great at and, second, don’t really like doing. And it’s because we don’t focus enough on what we’re really, really, really good at. Get this: recent findings show that in job interviews, people rarely showcase their top two strengths – that’s right, the two best things about them. Needless to say, we – individually and collectively – need to focus more on what we’re good at, because doing so is how we’ll increase things like happiness, healthiness and efficiency.

Now. Let’s do what we do and make this about community.

First, people as individuals. Find out what you’re good at. More importantly, when you’ve discovered your strengths, think about ways you can apply them that will make you really, really happy and like a contributing member to your community. Now. This doesn’t have to have anything to do with work (although combining strengths and work is a supercool idea just because we spend so much of our time/life working), it’s more about knowing where you kick butt and then focusing on continually using said skills to kick said butt. Specialize and develop where you’re awesome. And how do you find out what you’re good at? Well, here are some questions to consider:

  • What comes naturally to you?
  • What compliments do you continually receive?
  • Does it confuse you when people say  “good job” or “wow, that was amazing” when you just do something? If so, why?
  • What do other people struggle with (ie. public speaking or attention to detail) that you just don’t understand or ‘get’?
  • What kind of person do you want to see when you look in the mirror?

Another great exercise is to find a few people (friends, family, colleagues, nemeses) who know you well and ask them to use three words to describe you. After all, to paraphrase a Kenyan proverb, “you are the way that others see you.” Cobra Commander calls me “leader” and “visionary” and “so happy and positive it’s disgusting.”

Once you have thought about what you’re good at, start thinking about how to apply it to your community. Here are some tips on how to get started:

  • What strength(s) are you excited to share with other people?
  • Tell a story about your favourite strengths.
  • What do you enjoy doing?
  • What do you get paid to do?
  • What do you struggle with?
  • Where can my strengths and skills make the best impact in my community?

If these questions are getting you excited about learning more about self-assessment, inner knowledge and personal reflection, well, from Confucius to Robin Sharma there are a lot of introspective resources out there. Twitblog on the up-and-coming search engine, Google, for things like “self-assessment” or “reflection” or “know thyself” or “strengthsfinder” for ideas more information on strength-finding of the non-performance-enhancing-drug-variety.

Second, people as community. Here is a great example. As it happens, there are a lot of crappy things about Houston, Texas. A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend Social Signal’s open house and hear from Randy Twaddle, a Principal with tTweak Renewables and one of the founders of HIWI, better known as Houston, It’s Worth It. Like I said, there are a few things – flying cockroaches, flooding, property taxes, no zoning laws, Republicans, refineries – about Houston that are certainly community-based weaknesses; however, Randy and his team at HIWI also recognized a lot of strengths in the city. So, without dwelling much on Houston’s weaknesses, HIWI focused on friendliness, arts and culture, food, and – shazaam – community as strong and defining traits of the city. You see where this is going; it is no surprise that the “Houston, It’s Worth It” campaign has garnered a heckuvalot of public interest as well as major tourist dollars for the city. But, more importantly, it’s galvanized a community and made people proud about where they live. Being proud about living in a town where a street can, theoretically, have a bar, a shopping mall, an oil refinery, a school, a hog-rendering facility, a church, and a sushi restaurant, well, that’s another discussion for another time…

So, get to know yourself. Following such introspective reflection, take what you’re good at and use said skills, values and interests to build good things. Get to know your community. And figure out where your personal strengths can play a positive role – both where you work and play.  Let’s face it. Here in Vancouver we’ve got nothing like the uphill battle of our Houstonian friends (if anything, we have to fend people off). Needless to say, I hope you’re excited to see what we can do!

Thanks again, Melissa McCrae. Like I told you on the phone, you got my mind, heart and body moving after your presentation. And it’s a beautiful thing.

In strength,

John