Newsletter #456 – Practical Strength Building

The importance of discovering and building on our strengths is not something new. Peter Drucker wrote about this 45 years ago and the ideahas grown in popularity ever since. Most of us know how strengths can be discovered. In addition to 360 evaluations and “discover your strengths” inventories (including the free Signature Strengths Survey at, other people can share what they see as our strengths and with some reflection most of us can make a relatively accurate list of our own strengths.

Once we know our strengths, however, how do we build them? The adage “practice makes perfect” is not always true. A good pianist or other practitioner may practice consistently but this may not lead to better performance. This is because the player practices both the good and bad techniques unless a teacher or coach is there to fine tune what is good and point out the bad that needs to be eliminated. A research study titled “Making Yourself Indispensable”(Harvard Business Review, October, 2011) revealed other, well-documented ways to improve on our strengths.

Start by making a list of your strengths. Include the major strengths that almost anybody can see, but also include other related “complimentary strengths.” Pick one strength that you want to build but also choose one or two complementary strengths that might enhance the first.  For example, assume that your greatest strength is to develop others, but you are also strong in communicating and in setting goals. Perhaps with the help of a coach or teacher, you can find ways to improve at building the core strength (developing others).  In addition, take specific steps to improve the complementary strengths (communicating better and finding ways to set better goals). When you grow in all of these areas, you build all three, and the two complementary strengths lift up and improve the core strength that you chose to build. The HBR authors liken this to “cross training” for runners. Lifting weights and building endurance both enable the athlete to run faster.

How have you discovered and built your strengths to make them more proficient? Please share your comments.


  1. One of the ways I have built my strengths is to identify parts of my job or life that really reasonate with me (I call it ‘breathing pure oxygen’) and then try to encorporate that into other areas. For example, I am a teacher (not by profession but by skill) and instead of trying to fight this, I look for ways to turn what I’m doing/presenting/sharing into a teachable format.


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