January 3, 2013 in True Strength, Strengths & Weaknesses, My thoughts

Do what you’re best at

In ‘The Kingfisher Coaching Manifesto‘, I wrote:

‘Each and every day, do what you’re best at. Play to your strengths and value other people for theirs. Everyone shines given the right lighting.’

When I wrote those words down for the first time, I worried that I was just stating the very obvious; it is hardly rocket science to do things that you’re good at and to look for the best in other people. And yet, I’ve used strengths-based approaches with hundreds of people in many organisations across differing sectors and I never cease to be surprised at what an eye-opener it is for the vast majority of people.

I do think it is obvious to do what you’re best at (and people usually ‘get it’ intuitively), but you can get thrown off track by processes that have the wrong focus; performance reviews that focus primarily on the negatives, development discussions that focus on developing weaknesses, and talent management processes that seek well-rounded individuals.

To use a sporting analogy, how does a football team get the best out of their top goal-scoring striker? I can’t really imagine performance reviews discussing how few goals they saved with their hands, development discussions focusing primarily on defence skills and a talent discussion that insists a successful striker must have played in every position in the team for a year! The team gets the best out of a naturally-gifted striker by playing them as a striker, and focusing their development on how to be an even better striker in the future.

There is much research to support the sporting analogy. Studies show significant benefits from focusing on strengths, the most obvious of which is improved performance and engagement at work, whilst the Positive Psychology movement focuses on the benefits of happiness and resilience. My own journey (after first encountering strengths-based approaches 8 years ago) is entirely consistent with this, as are the changes I’ve seen in many clients.

So, my question to you is this: Are you playing to your strengths, doing what you’re best at?

‘Each and every day, do what you’re best at. Play to your strengths and value other people for theirs. Everyone shines given the right lighting.’

In my next blog post I’ll be looking at the exceptions to this, some occasions when it is right to play to your weaknesses, and future blog posts will explore both strengths-based teams and strengths-based organisations.


Featured image, credit: mzacha


  1. March 16, 2013 at 6:41 pm


    Thanks for writing this Ian. I like it, particularly ‘Everyone shines given the right lighting’ and your point about performance reviews. I have a questions for you please – how do you think this plays out against the need or want to put yourself outside your comfort zone and stretch yourself? Cheers – Doug

    1. March 18, 2013 at 9:49 am

      Ian Pettigrew

      Hi Doug, thanks for the comment. It is a really good question about how playing to your strengths plays our against stretching ourselves outside of our comfort zone and my answer is that I firmly believe that they don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

      I believe that we have many, many opportunities to stretch ourselves and play outside of our comfort zone. Some of those will play to our innate strengths and some of them wont. When I work with people, there’s often an innate talent that comes across loud and clear in so many of the ways that they operate and yet, they may not be totally aware of it and haven’t even scratched the surface of developing that talent into a strength and then applying that strength and putting it into practice. Of all the stretch opportunities open to us, I believe that the ones that play to an innate strength are by far the most rewarding.

      My own experience is totally consistent with this: I have no shortage of challenges that are stretching me to be even better at what I’m best at, and I avoid challenges that don’t play to my strengths.

      Thanks again for the question, Doug. I think you’ve also given me the topic for my next blog post and an idea for some podcast interviews!

  2. January 8, 2013 at 11:32 am

    Bev Holden

    Great post Ian! I love the quote from your manifesto in particular. I should be doing something else right now but have allowed you to distract me….. briefly.

    Stating the obvious is under-rated in my opinion. We should all do it more often as its usually the obvious that’s most helpful and brings clarity to our thinking. We should start a campaign ;0)

    I’m looking forward to reading more of your thoughts around the topic.

    1. January 9, 2013 at 5:40 pm

      Ian Pettigrew

      Hi Bev, Thanks! Your comment is much appreciated and I’ll look forward to joining you in the #statetheobvious campaign!

  3. January 3, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    Denise Brooks

    This is great Ian, and something I’ve unconsciously been focusing on of late. Recently I did an exercise to crystalize my biz/personal values that I’ll commit to living by. Bringing these values to life requires that I unswervingly hold onto my strengths and talents without compromise.

    1. January 3, 2013 at 4:44 pm

      Ian Pettigrew

      Hi Denise, I’m pleased that you liked it and I hope it is helpful. You’re right, your values are another key element and that is something I’ll be blogging about (but not until I’ve finished the initial series on strengths!)

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