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Posted: January 17, 2014

A New Year’s business challenge

Get to know yourself better

Mary Kaiser

In addition to running my own business, and being a mom, wife and daughter, I am also an avid tennis player.  Tennis has become a great analogy for the work I do with companies and the opportunity I have to help business owners, executives and teams grow. 

When I first started playing tennis regularly, I was asked to partner with a woman to form a doubles team.  At that time, I didn’t consider how well we’d play together as a team, but rather accepted the invitation on a whim.  Looking back over 10 years of playing the sport, I lucked out.  I have a partner that compliments my playing style and brings out the best in me.  And, I’ve gotten to know myself more -- the parts of the game where I excel -- and the areas in which my partner shines. We work well together and come at the mental game of tennis from the same perspective. 

Now on the tennis court, I’m often amazed at how many people play together and don’t really have a sense of their strengths or their mental game and what they need from a partner.  And, as I work inside businesses, I’m surprised at how often people are unaware of their strengths and how their energy may or may not be a fit with those they work with.  I watch companies hire people for their resumes and then fire them because they didn’t fit the culture. 

I have a tremendous opportunity, in business and in tennis, to help people know themselves and have more awareness of how their strengths and style impact those around them.  As a captain of my team, I watch people for both their fundamental skills and their ability to stay mentally focused.  I watch what happens to them if they start losing or if they easily win game after game.  Then, I try to help match them with a partner who has a complementary style and game.

The same holds true in my work as a coach and consultant. I help business owners, executives and teams recognize their strengths and then help them find ways to best leverage them.  I help companies identify employees who are compatible and will bring the necessary skills to the organization. 

So, as the New Year kicks off, give yourself a little challenge.  Get more acquainted with you! The more you know and understand yourself – the more you can give and get from your work and your personal life.  Here are three practical ideas to help you understand more about your individual strengths and improve your performance as a business owner, manager and/or individual.

1. Take a strengths assessment. 
There are several assessments out there that help people identify their natural talents and how to leverage them in all facets of life. I offer a comprehensive assessment that is a strengths interview for the majority of my clients.  It takes about 45 minutes and provides information on your strengths and areas to develop or leverage.  Strengthsfinder 2.0 is an online resource which offers a similar assessment and delivers a report that shares your top five strengths. 

2. Solicit feedback from others
Try a form of 360 feedback.  Ask family, friends, colleagues and co-workers to give you their input in person or via email. Rather than asking for people to identify your strengths and weaknesses, ask people to describe the situations or roles where they’ve seen you perform best or where you’ve struggled.  This will give you a great snapshot of yourself and help highlight areas for personal growth and development.

3. Be observant
Ask yourself a few questions and observe yourself in action for a few days. What do I enjoy spending time on?  What do I shy away from? What work do I gravitate towards each day?  Who do I work well with?  Keep track and start identifying some patterns.

As a next step, do the same for others you work or live with. Notice what others are good at or gravitate towards.  Understanding yourself is half of the equation. Now look around and see how others around you are wired. This will give you a great insight into who you are and how to develop stronger, more productive relationships.

As Marcus Buckinham said, “Many of us feel stress and get overwhelmed not because we’re taking on too much, but because we’re taking on too little of what really strengthens us.” How true.  So challenge yourself this year to get to know what really strengthens you.  I promise you’ll be amazed at what and who you find.

Mary Kaiser is the founder of Start with Strengths, a Colorado-based professional consulting and coaching firm. Her experience includes over 25 years of growing leaders and teams for businesses across the country. Reach her at mary@startwithstrengths.com or connect at www.startwithstrengths.com.

Enjoy this article? Sign up to get ColoradoBiz Exclusives. The opinions expressed in this article are solely that of the author and do not represent ColoradoBiz magazine. Comments on articles will be removed if they include personal attacks.

Readers Respond

Great article! The tennis analogy really made the ideas in the article come alive. It makes sense to be deliberate and create a supportive environment instead of looking around and wondering how did I get stuck in a culture that feels alienating. Mary, I like your suggestions and look forward to focusing on my strengths. Or at least finding one or two. By Eileen McMahon on 2014 01 21
Great article! Insightful and spot on, especially around some of the reasons we can experience stress in our lives. Good to keep in mind as we tackle a new year. By Agni Kitsios on 2014 01 20
Excellent article. Your tennis analogy was spot on and very applicable to other areas of life. I find people, myself included, focus on overcoming their weaknesses instead of utilizing their inherent strengths - strengths which might propel them further toward their goals. I wonder why this is the case? Is it something we are taught by our culture, at home, in school, in the work place? It would be interesting to see what possibilities might present themselves if we could shift our focus from correcting weaknesses to a focus of capitalizing on strengths. It might result in powerful change. By Sue Mills on 2014 01 20
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