There is a growing list of people that come to mind when I hear the word transition. It seems to be open season for “life and job transitions” right now. Whether it’s accepting their first, full-time position or retirement (or somewhere in between), there’s something about transitions that can be disorienting and liberating all at the same time.
Whether you’ve just moved and are pastoring a different church or whether you’re adjusting to new leaders around the table, it’s all transition. And if you are not in a season of transition, keep reading, this applies to you, too.
During times of transition, it’s important to understand how you naturally do things. Actually, it’s always important to understand how you naturally do things. The scenery around you may change, but the essence, the core of who you are doesn’t change.
What You Do or How You Do It?
You are fearfully and wonderfully made, dear reader. The Psalmist was onto something when those words were penned for Psalm 139.
The reality is, what you do isn’t as important as how you naturally go about doing it. And no, I’m not splitting hairs. There’s a difference between what you do and how you do it. A teacher may teach. A pastor may preach. An artist may create.
But how a teacher teaches and a pastor preaches can vary widely. How an artist creates a masterpiece varies widely. And, no, I’m not talking about the difference between computer-generated art, acrylics, and watercolors.
I’m talking about their naturally recurring thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. I’m pointing to their talents.
So, if find yourself sitting around a table with a whole group of new faces and personalities, I have one question for you. If you love someone who is in the midst of one of these transitions, the question is for you, too. If you’re not in transition, yes, it applies to you as well.
Here’s the question: “What are you great at?”
If you just replied, “Dang it, Sara, really?” Stay with me, please.
Why do I ask, “What are you great at?”
Engaged people use their greatest talents and skills every day. And that starts with knowing what makes you amazing. Read those two sentences again.
In the midst of transitions, it can be hard to stay engaged in a new place. You might compare things to the past, and juxtapose personalities, people, and processes. Additionally, our emotions and personalities are often intensified in times of transition. Thank the stress hormones for firing in your brain for that intensity. It can be hard to focus, let alone stay present and engaged.
If you’re thinking, “That comparison game is true even when you’re not in transition.” You’re right. That’s why I invited you to keep reading. It’s just more apparent in times of transition.
For some, the greatest challenge you’ll face in answering the question, “What are you great at?” is you. Yes, you’ve got that right, the person you see when you look in the mirror might be your greatest obstacle.
Somewhere along the way, you, like many, were taught not to talk about how good you are with a particular skillset. “Don’t brag,” Mom may have urged. “Who died and made you Queen (or King) for the day?” your brother mused.
Yet anyone who has ever been on a job interview – at any point in their life – has some variation of this question come their way, “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”
You didn’t like the question then and you may still not like it.
But here’s why I’m asking you to answer it. It’s different than boasting, bragging, or being arrogant. What I’m asking you to do is raise your self-awareness so you can focus on how you naturally go about doing things.
You see, for many of us, naming our talents is a challenge.
A Conversation about Greatness
Even those of us who are trained in helping others know and leverage their talents can get tripped up with one simple question: “What are you great at?”
Such was the case last week as I joined over thirty other Gallup-Certified Strengths Coaches for a conversation about the Communication talent from the 34 CliftonStrengths (formerly StrengthsFinder). This talent is all about having a way with words. The words can be written or verbal, but generally, come easy. At the end of our time together, we were asked to engage in an exercise.
I’m going to ask you to do it, too.
An Exercise in Greatness
Here’s what follows. This is a 3-minute exercise to do by yourself or with any team or workgroup. It’s designed to raise awareness of what you’re great at so you can intentionally focus on using your natural talents every day. Thanks to Maika Leibbrandt for walking us through this exercise.
If you’re sitting at a computer, open your favorite word processing application. Microsoft Word, Pages, or Google Docs will do the trick even if you’re on a tablet. Once you have that open, come back here and keep reading.
- Did you open a new document? No? You can do this in your imagination, too. But, don’t do what you did with the first thing I asked of you, ok? Actually, do the task. (I’ll step down from my soapbox now.)
- Here are the three constraints to answering the question.
- You can only write one line of text on the document.
- The text size must be legible.
- You have 60 seconds to complete the sentence. Yes, set a timer on your phone for 1 minute. This isn’t meant to occupy your entire morning/afternoon/evening. Nor is it meant to be an exercise in self-absorption.
Are you ready? On your google doc or in your imagination, take 60 seconds and type your answer on one line to this question: “What are you great at?”
Now that your minute is up, if it wasn’t as easy as you thought it might be, that’s ok.
- Did you get something down? Even if it’s a run-on sentence that became a paragraph that doesn’t make sense, it’s ok. What’s the essence of what you’ve written?
Let’s try it again.
- This time, you only have half of one line to complete the statement. Look for the nugget of truth in what you wrote down on your first attempt.
- You have one minute again.
- Set that timer on your phone or microwave.
- Take 60 seconds and type your answer to the following question using only a half of line of type. “What are you great at?”
- Say what you’re great at out loud.
- Click “save” in your brain.
- This is something you know about yourself. Naming what you’re great at is hard work. And you did it!
Different Talents, Same Work
How’d you do? What are you great at? Yes, I’m really asking. Let me know in the comments below. Then, celebrate what makes someone else great.
Here’s a sample of what others had to say when I did this exercise with the group of coaches.
I’m great at…
- Seeing what makes people tick and showing them where they can go.
- Solving problems and helping others.
- Purposeful strategic thinking.
- Generating ideas and making connections.
- Being there where you really need me.
- I’m still thinking… (Yes, for some people it may take longer than a minute. That’s ok. Don’t let that be an excuse to not do it. But, don’t spend hours on it either. It’s meant to be a quick exercise.)
- Bringing energy and fun to a room.
- Connecting people through their ideas.
- Arranging concepts and ideas.
- Making people feel comfortable and at peace.
- Determining risk averse, intentional, confident decisions.
- Helping others see their greatest potential.
The Power of Knowing What You’re Great At
That’s a partial list of people who all use the same tool CliftonStrengths, who all coach, and who are all great at approaching similar work in a different way.
That’s the power of HOW. That’s the power of knowing what you’re great at. When I look at that list, I can imagine what some of their dominant CliftonStrengths might be. I can also see coaching scenarios where they’ll shine.
Do you see what I just did?
You can connect how you naturally go about doing things to the same task, responsibility, and hobby as someone else. Conversely, you can also connect the same talent to a wide variety of tasks, responsibilities, and hobbies. Your talents don’t tell you what to do, they point to how you do it.
If you’re in a time of transition or love someone who is, apply what you’re great at to the tasks and responsibilities before you every single day. Yes, every day. If you’re not in a time of transition, apply what you’re great at to the tasks and responsibilities before you every single day. Yes, every day.
Because naming our talents is just as much about self-awareness as it is about engagement. People who use their talents every day are more productive, engaged, and happier.
As I often say to people I coach with their CliftonStrengths, “Imagine what would happen if we had a happier, more engaged and more productive community.” I think we just might transform lives and families, not to mention the church and workforce.
Need More Time?
If you’re still having trouble considering what you’re great at, ask your spouse or a best friend.
Or, consider these questions:
- What do you usually do faster, better and/or easier than other people?
- What do your partners and teammates tend to ask you for?
- When you have a really great day, what contribution did you make?
- When you lay your head down at night, what are you proudest of accomplishing?
- What has someone else appreciated about you that you thought was no big deal?
When you understand the ingredients that make up your best contribution, you’ll be more engaged with the people and work you are asked to do.
If you’re a leader, consider asking your team to do this exercise and name what they’re great at.
I can’t think of a better way for a leader to lead than helping people claim what makes them great. Then, you can help them use their talents every day to accomplish their responsibilities, in their way.
If you’re a part of a local church, you can connect your talents, i.e., what you’re great at, to disciple-making. Find out how with a Free PDF.