All of us would like to know the secret to great leadership. Well, here’s the secret: it depends. It depends on what you are good at, what you are terrible at, and what you decide to leverage -- those Hidden Skills that are in the middle.
In our experience working with hundreds of leaders, we have identified 28 skills that are necessary to achieve professional success. What we have also found is that for each person, these 28 skills fall into three buckets: Natural Strengths, Weaknesses, and Hidden Strengths.
1. Natural Strengths (the top 20 percent): the abilities you default to because they come easily.
2. Weaknesses (the bottom 10 percent): the things you are simply not good at and will probably never be good at.
3. Hidden Strengths (the middle 70 percent): the things you neither excel nor fail at.
Despite being the largest pool, the skills in the middle are often overlooked by people who are too busy relying on their strengths or working on improving their weaknesses; that’s why we call them “hidden.” In reality, with focus and practice, Hidden Strengths are your most powerful tool for ongoing professional development.
Why Hidden Strengths?
The subject of strengths in both popular and business culture has been a positive force helping raise the bar on personal and professional development. In Now, Discover Your Strengths, the book that ostensibly started the strengths movement, Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton define a strength as a combination of the following:
1. Your talents (natural traits or propensities).
2. The knowledge required (both content/classroom related and experiential).
3. The skills (or steps) you need to actually do it.
When these three components -- talents, knowledge, and skills -- come together naturally, we call it a Natural Strength. What is the likelihood of this occurring? The answer is about 20 percent as in your top 20 percent of skills.
Understanding what you are naturally good at is very valuable in finding the right job or career path. The more overlap there is between what you are required to do and what you are inherently good at, the easier your life will be.
Understanding your Natural Strengths and Weaknesses is most relevant for determining job fit. Where Hidden Strengths come into play is in the ongoing evolution of your career. For the vast majority of us, the skills we are hired for or are naturally good at in a given role will not be the skills we will need to progress. So how do we remain agile and ensure continued professional development? The answer here is by developing the rich pool of Hidden Strengths in our middle 70 percent.
Developing Hidden Strengths is fairly straightforward. Anybody can do it! First, it requires identifying which of your skills fall in the middle 70 percent range. You can find a Hidden Strengths Self-Assessment to help you with this first step at HiddenStrengths.com. Second, you must identify which of your Hidden Strengths you want to focus on (there will be many to choose from!), depending on your professional goals. Third, with practice and focus, you can begin to develop those Hidden Strengths and move them from the middle 70 percent to the top of your skill set.
In synch with a dynamic workplace.
If agility leads to success in today’s business environment, then rigidity and overreliance on current strengths must be avoided at all costs. It would be so much easier if we could just stick with what we do well today for the rest of our lives. But research shows us that to be effective, leaders must constantly adapt to their changing environments. In fact, those who lack the insight, ability and willingness to evolve will find that their environment provides the most damning feedback in the form of career stagnation or ejection from their roles.
The modern workplace is one where your ideals and aspirations for the perfect job, perfect fit, perfect boss and perfect culture collide with the real challenges of poor leadership, tight resources, compressed deadlines and the need for you to stretch your professional abilities every day. Identifying and developing your Hidden Strengths involve a realistic you-driven approach to meeting those challenges. It is about proactively developing the necessary knowledge and skills to achieve your goals, taking control of your career, and showing the world you have what it takes to evolve and thrive in today’s workplace.
The Hidden Strengths methodology, composed of four principles, provides an important framework for unleashing your Hidden Strengths and ensuring your ongoing professional development:
1. Leverage your traits, and develop your skills. Being effective in the workplace requires a combination of underlying traits and skills. You are born with certain traits or talents, and they are not particularly malleable. On the other hand, skills are an adaptation to your environment.
2. The middle is the source for your development. Hidden Strengths in the middle of your skill spectrum represent the largest pool for development, as well as the most room for growth.
3. Practice, practice, practice. Many studies show that deliberate practice is closely related to the attained level of performance of many types of experts, such as musicians, chess players, and athletes. The same goes for leadership skills. Consistent focus and practice are what transform Hidden Strengths into Learned Strengths.
4. Always be working on your Hidden Strengths. Your leadership story should be one of striving for new heights and staying ahead of the curve. Continuously developing your Hidden Strengths also helps you to stretch your brainpower. Research has demonstrated that pushing yourself to develop new skills stimulates new neural pathways, causing new brain circuitry to be developed that allows for more complex and adaptive thinking.
If there’s only one thing you take from this concept, we hope it is this: You are so much more than what comes naturally to you. Within you lies a gold mine of Hidden Strengths just waiting to be unleashed.