Work In Your Strengths Zone To Make Work Enjoyable
How often you work in your strengths zone has a lot to do with living your best life. Here at Lead Through Strengths, we believe that choosing easy doesn't equate to choosing lazy. It means choosing efficiency and getting more of what works for you and what you enjoy focusing on.
This may sound too good to be true. But what if the gap between you and your own strengths zone is actually shorter than you think?
In this episode, Lisa Cummings and co-host TyAnn Osborn will walk you through some of the ways to get there. Read on and listen as they share stories and lessons that shaped their "work in your strengths zone" concept. Another spirited, inspiring and important discussion that you wouldn't want to miss.
Here’s a full transcript of their conversation:
Lisa: You're listening to Lead Through Strengths, where you'll learn to apply your greatest strengths at work. I'm your host, Lisa Cummings, and you know, I'm always telling you — it's hard to find something more energizing than using your natural talents every day at work.
Well, something that's just about as energizing is when I get to hang out with my other host here in the room, TyAnn Osborn.
Lisa: So today's episode is all about using your strengths to make things easier, to make life easier. It's about doing more work in your strengths zone. There's actually a very high return on effort from using your strengths to get things done. However, many of us do things the hard way.
TyAnn: So true. Why do we do that?
Lisa: Maybe we don't know we are.
Lisa: I know that I've done it in my career or out of habit...
TyAnn: Me too.
Lisa: … where as a younger performer, and I wanted to prove myself, I would work the longest hours, I would, you know, you have the stuff to learn so you have to go through the learning curve part.
Lisa: But then you get in the habit of doing everything through brute force. And there comes some time when it doesn't matter if you work 72 hours a day. That isn't the thing that is going to get you to the next level. If you work in your strengths zone, you're way more likely to crush your performance goals. You have to figure out how to not do it through your hours...
TyAnn: Right. Absolutely. I think you have to really keep an eye on:
What's the end goal here?
What problem am I trying to solve?
Am I trying to solve for “I need to work a lot of hours," or am I trying to solve for actually getting an end product done?
But you know, this kind of reminds me of when we were in school and we were learning math, because I don't know if your math teacher was like this, but mine was where anytime you learned a new concept, you would learn it the hard way where you had to do it all by hand and write it all out.
And then the next day when you came in, the teacher would say, “Okay, and here's the formula." Or, “Here's the shortcut.”
And then invariably, you're like, “Why didn't you teach me that the first time?”
And then there was always some answer about, “Well, you might be out without a calculator one day and…” — which no one's ever out without a calculator now.
So anyway, but it's just one of those “We can get to the same place, and you can get there the hard way or you can get there the easy way.”
And it's interesting that as adults or are in our corporate world, we tend to think that the easy way, that there's something wrong with it. And it's funny how many times someone will kind of fight me on this concept, or say like —
“That's cheating. I have to do everything the hard way."
Or, you know, "Go uphill both ways, little brother on my back, in the snow with no shoes, or else it doesn't count.”
Like, where do we get that message?
Lisa: It does make people feel awkward. There was a time when I was talking about strengths, making you feel like work is easier, that you could enjoy it, that you could be energized by it, that it makes you feel excellent with less effort. All of the E's you get when you work in your strengths zone.
TyAnn: Right. Ease, enjoyment and effort.
Lisa: Yes. And they're like, “So, making work easy?” It was this kind of cheating response, like, “So, where the goal is to make everything easy?” As if it's a shortcut that brings low quality.
TyAnn: Isn't that funny that it can only be work if it feels like it's awful or hard, or like I have to trudge off to the salt mine every day and...
No, that that's not how it's supposed to be. And frankly, if it feels that way, I would say maybe we ought to take a pause and look at what's going on because it doesn't have to be that way.
But this is a concept you and I talk about all the time. And I use this almost daily in my conversations with clients and other people and even kids. It doesn't have to be that hard. And you're making it too hard.
And so here's where I think having like a spirit guide or a trusted person you can talk to can really help because when you're the one making it hard, it's almost impossible to see that you're the one making it so hard.
TyAnn: It can be really hard to get yourself out of that.
TyAnn: Yeah. Because it makes sense to you at the time.
Lisa: You even did it to me as an accidental coaching one time. I remember I was like, “But I need to do more of this because I want this on my resume. I need this credibility.”
And then you said, “It's already on your resume. And it will still be on your resume if you don't do it anymore.”
And I had this moment where I was like, “Oh right, it's draining me. There are other ways to build this career…”
Easy Doesn’t Mean Lazy
Lisa: And I don't have to continue that one. Somehow, I got convinced.
And I also think with people like Gary Vaynerchuk, and there's a lot of messaging about hustle, and I'm not saying that hard work isn't good. And I'm not saying that there isn't a time in your career or when you're new to something like in startup mode for something, a lot of times, it is a glut of effort at the beginning.
So I don't poo poo the idea of hustle because I don't want that to mean, “Well, then I believe in lazy." But I think that's part of the problem.
It is easy doesn't equal lazy. But for some reason, we tell ourselves it does. What seems to be missing is the idea that finding work in your strengths zone can really step your game up.
TyAnn: Yeah, I think that's baggage associated with that. Or yeah, that if it's not a struggle, it doesn't count, or something like that. I think that's kind of an American thing, too. I don't know where that comes from. But I would just say, let's revisit that. I don't think that is the way it has to be.
Lisa: Mm hmm.
TyAnn: I don't think you have to work 28 hours a day.
Lisa: How do you know when you're making it hard? So let's say I hire you as a coach, and I'm like, I'm totally overwhelmed. I'm working late into the night, I'm not seeing my family. It's just too much. And you're going to be assuming that I'm probably making something tougher than it needs to be.
Lisa: How do we even uncover what it is?
TyAnn: I would say, the first thing you've done well is you've brought somebody else to help. So, spirit guide!
Again, you don't have to hire somebody. But do ask for help, because being overwhelmed, and then just trying to muscle through — here's what I know to be true:
More of what's not working is going to get you more of what's not working.
Lisa: Oooooh. Tough truth.
TyAnn: And I put that on a t-shirt.
And so, and that's often what our natural response is — when something's not going well, like, “I'm just going to double down." Well, guess what? That's going to get you twice as much of what's not working.
So good on you that you could recognize “I need help.”
But after we don't know where we need help, so here's what I have people do. Just where's the crunchy? Where's the frustrating part?
So here's a true story. I was working with an executive at a high-tech computer manufacturing place that we both worked at one time. And she was very frazzled, very frustrated, and you could just see it. She exuded this kind of hot mess energy, you know what I mean? Have you ever met somebody like that, just sort of, it was sort of repellent, honestly. It was sort of like, “I don't want that to get on me.”
And you can imagine how that made her team feel and how that made her clients feel. And so I was asking her, like, “What is going on?”
And the first thing she said to me was so funny. She said, “I can't get to work early enough.”
And I thought, “Oh, maybe we're just looking at ’I work all the time.' Something like that."
“So tell me more about that.” Which by the way is one of my favorite questions. “Tell me more about that.” Because never assume you know what they're going to say. I have to tell myself this all the time.
"Tell me more about that."
And she said, “Whenever I get to work in the morning, people are waiting for me in the parking lot. So they pounce on me when I drive in. I can't even get in the building and set my bag down before people are all over me and everyone is wanting a piece of me like there's nothing... I can't even get in the door and I've given myself away.”
And then I, “Oh my gosh, wow." Whoa, I can write a whole book about that. There's so much there.
And so we talked about that. And then I just asked her, “What would make your life better?”
And she said, “I would just like to walk in the door and put my bag down and get a cup of coffee and have a few minutes to look at my calendar, plan my day, and then start.”
And I said, “Okay, why don't we do that?”
And so it was a little bit like that kind of doing it the hard way. Her solution was, “I'll just get to work earlier." And so literally, she had backed her work up to where she was showing up at 6 am. But then people kept showing up at 6 am. So whatever time she got there, that's what time they got there. Like, you're gonna start having a cut, you know, in the parking lot. This is crazy.
"Why don't you just set a boundary and tell people what you need? And all you need is an hour or 30 minutes or whatever. So that's not unreasonable. Just tell people.”
And she couldn't see it. But, so it was so easy for me and so “Aha” for her.
So again, she was doing things the hard way. And like I was, “Just make it easy. Let's just set a real easy boundary.”
Totally changed her life.
Lisa: Hmm. It's amazing one thing — this might be one of your magic powers, because you did it for me, you did it for her... There are a lot of these conversations where you just need another person to help you see how simple it can be to shift into work in your strengths zone.
TyAnn: You've done that back to me too. So I appreciate that.
You’ll Never Know What’s Possible Until You Try To Work In Your Strengths Zone
Lisa: You also have this other great, favorite question. So besides, “Tell me more about that,” one that I think that you've asked very well on this theory of seeing where you've made a barrier between getting to the life that you want and the one that you're in, where you're just like, “I'm making it all too hard and can't do it all," your question of:
“What would you do if you were brave?”
Now it gets, you have to get in reflection mode to really answer the question.
TyAnn: Yeah, don't you love that question?
Lisa: Yes. Because even for her situation, this isn't like... A lot of times when we're talking about this brave question, it's more like the “I'm self-actualizing and I'm trying to come up with ‘what would I do with my life if I were brave?’”
Lisa: That's deep and it takes a lot of reflection, and there are probably five great answers to it. But what about her scenario, if you just said, “What would your solution be if you were brave?”
TyAnn: Yeah. And what's fascinating is, you know, we've talked before about fear, and I think she was afraid to set a boundary, because it was so easy when I asked what would make your life better. She's like, “I just want to put my purse down. I would like to have a cup of coffee. I would like to look at my calendar.”
Okay, well, that all seemed super easy. None of that is crazy at all. She wasn't asking for a personal driver and, you know, a corner office or anything crazy. She was just asking basically for boundaries.
And okay. Well, what was holding her back from doing that? Fear. Fear that if she told somebody no, what would happen? She would be seen as a bad leader. She would be seen as a manager who didn't really care, that a good manager gives everything to their team. And you know, whatever, all these things, all the “shoulds” she should be doing.
And so I love that question. I wish I could take credit for it. I'm sure I heard it somewhere, though. But the “What would you do if you were brave?” because often again, your body knows the right answer, but your brain won't let won't let you go there because of fear that holds us back.
So what would you do if you were brave? You're like, "You know what, I wouldn't even do this project.”
“Okay, well, why not?”
“Because it doesn't matter. This isn't really what we should be doing anyway. This thing is a waste of time. Our customers don't even want this. What would I really do? I would explore this other thing.”
“Okay, well, how come we don't do that then?”
“Ah, well, because we tried that once and it got shot down.”
Or, “Well, you know, we're so far down the path now that we've expended all this time and energy. So I can't. I can't say no." Or whatever it is.
And so we don't even let ourselves go there. That's a great question.
Lisa: Yeah, it is. And you may not always use the answer, like, that's another really great practical example: "I would scrap the whole project."
Well, we go back to this concept of where your personal preferences and your business priorities are that it may or may not align. But if you don't ask yourself the question, you can't discover the action that you could take to explore it.
And even if the business decides, “no, that project is going to continue," what if by expressing it and thinking through it in a way that is mature and well-thought-through.
Who knows, maybe you end up having a conversation with your leader about that project and they go, “You know, but Jane's been dying to work on a project like that. So if you want to just get reassigned, if this thing's dragging you down, I'd love to get you over on this one.”
Lisa: That's a possible outcome.
TyAnn: There's always possibilities, right? And I think sometimes we're afraid. Again, fear underlies all this stuff. We're afraid of what the answer might be.
By the way, the answer might be, “You know, we just got, we just got to finish.” Which by the way, is always going to be the answer if you never ask.
Lisa: Oh, this is like the ultimate sales question. If you don't ask, the answer is no.
How Can It Make Things Easier For You? For The Team? For The Business?
Lisa: So, you can always ask. Now, there are high-risk requests and high-risk things to put out there. But I think if you've thought through a process like this, like:
What am I making too hard?
Think about business terms.
If I'm going to justify something in business terms, what would resonate with my leaders? What if work in my strengths zone actually translates into more revenue or more productivity (which it likely does).
Well, being efficient. Getting a high return on our energy or effort or spend.
TyAnn: Yeah, absolutely.
Lisa: So if you can find a way to express that, you're more likely to get this new path.
Is this something that can help us scale?
Is this something that really drives internal productivity?
Could we decrease noise in the system?
Could we increase market penetration?
Could we increase customer retention?
And there's all kinds of things out there that could be helpful to you. And again, the answer is always going to be “no” if you don't ask or if you don't think about it.
But I think this is actually a really fun, creative question too that I've seen some teams use as, you know, in a team meeting, not every time but maybe once a month. Ask as a team:
What would we do if we were brave as a group?
And see what comes up. And you know, usually, there's a big silence at first because it's always hard to be the first one to be like, “I think we should ditch that project,” Or you know what. But once you kind of get the ball rolling, it's fascinating. And it's a really cool creative thinking activity.
Lisa: Yeah, it really is. And you could take that thinking activity and layer in strengths very literally as well, where you could say:
How would you apply one of your strengths if you were brave this week?
TyAnn: I love that. Be brave and work in your strengths zone.
Lisa: That's like, real practical.
TyAnn: I love that. That would be great.
Lisa: And then I might say, “Oh, well, I would reach out to that colleague in Latin America, who is on a team and does a similar role. And I've been wanting to get to know him but I just haven't taken the initiative and felt a little awkward... Okay, I'll just… I'll do that and make that thing happen.”
TyAnn: You know, it's interesting, and I'll bring up the Relator theme. And that one's a fairly common one, we see that a lot in team Top 5s. It's one of Gallup’s Top 5 for their overall database, and that is a particular theme that tends to get shoved aside because it's not an urgent theme, right? You’re usually not graded on your performance review for how your Relator skills are today. But that one tends to show up high in terms of personal needs, in terms of satisfaction for you. So that could be one of those things that —
“You know what, it's not my job description to reach out to the guy Latin America, but that would actually kind of really be satisfying for me, and that would really help me build that relationship. And yeah, it's gonna take a little time and frankly, might feel a little bit awkward at first, but that's what I would do if I were brave.”
Lisa: Yeah. And what a great way to circle back to this concept of, “Okay, you're making things too hard.”
So I can imagine a scenario where that Latin America team you've been trying to pass your work off and say, “Hey look, we've localized it.”
And they're like, “No, you're not localizing anything. You've made some poor translations into Spanish, and it's awful.”
And they think you're terrible to work with. And the team is resisting everything you hand off to them. And meanwhile, you have this nice little talent theme, Relator, sitting there waiting in the wings for you to say, “Okay, what would make my life easier? Where am I making it too hard? Where I’m making it too hard is I'm trying to shove the way everyone else has already done it, and I'm not stopping to say, 'I have tools in my tool bag right here.'”
Lisa: My Top 5.
TyAnn: You’re trying to lead with execution as opposed to a relationship theme when that's your jam. So lean into that.
TyAnn: And you can even, you know, blame it on us, blame it on the podcast. You can say, “Hey, I was listening to Ty and Lisa, and they said, you can kind of lean into one of your themes so I'm going to try that even though it feels a little weird.”
You can use that. And that's a really good intro. And you can be like, “Okay, it didn't work so well.”
Lisa: You're probably going to be at least back to where you were before. It rarely goes bad where you should at least ask or try. Just use it.
TyAnn: You should give it a try. Again, first thing that can happen is you're back to where you were.
When Work And Life Gets Hard, Lean Into Your Strengths
TyAnn: And again, you know, you get better at things you practice. And so just, I would keep trying, but I would just say if something feels hard in life, or crunchy, or you really just feel like, “Man, why is this so hard?”
And you hear that oftentimes on teams. I say that, like, “This shouldn't be this hard. Why is it this hard to get a decision made? Why is it this hard to get this thing approved?”
That's a really good time to kind of stop and think, “Yeah, what is going on here?”
And there is another way to come at this thing, where we can lean into our ease, enjoyment and you know, effort on, and have it just better spent. So that's a really good verbal clue to pick up on.
Lisa: It is. Every time I talk to Ty, I think of song lyrics. So now I'm thinking of this Cake song, I think it's Short Skirt/Long Jacket, where they say “she uses a machete to cut through red tape.” And I'm thinking about your talent themes as your machete.
Lisa: And now you've got some red tape. You've got like, “I can't get it. Why is it taking so long to get this approved? Why is there all of this bureaucracy?” Yeah.
TyAnn: There you go.
Lisa: Start getting your strengths out. Start looking for ways to work in your strengths zone.
TyAnn: When you talk about it, your easy button all the time, you have one lying around here somewhere, I mean, that's it. That's your way forward. And so if life feels hard, if projects feel hard, if communication fails, or whatever it is, go back to your strengths and like, “Okay, there's got to be a better way to do this. It doesn't have to be so hard.”
There's no medal for hard. There's no giant report card in the sky, that it's going to be like, “Gosh, Lisa did everything the hard way. Well done.”
That’s not how life works. Because if you spend all of your energy on things that don't matter, getting things done the hard way, you're not going to have energy for the stuff that does matter. And we're never going to get the best of you out in the world because all of your goodness has been sucked up on junk.
TyAnn: Makes sense?
Lisa: I mean, it's the end.
TyAnn: That's it.
Lisa: If you want the best of you, bring yourself the things that bring you ease, energy, and enjoyment. Remember to ask yourself that question: What would you do if you were brave?
And we'll leave you for now. If you feel like you're getting sucked into the junk — I don't know, I just totally botched your saying right there — but that this is the way to rethink it.
Ask those curious questions, and ask yourself, “Why not me and why not now?” And give them a try.
Alright, with that, we'll see you next time. Bye for now.
These Additional Resources Should Inspire You To Work In Your Strengths Zone
We hope you enjoyed this episode with Lisa and TyAnn. Indeed, life can be draining when you don’t work in your strengths zone or not doing the things that you love. In the episode Can Working In Your Weakness Zone Lead To Burnout?, Lisa uses a plant that turned yellow as a metaphor for the poor attention to strengths. This important episode will especially help managers to detect the telltale signs of burnout in a team, and to discern their root causes, in order to address them ASAP.
That comes with a caveat though, because life is not perfect, and in reality, work comes with some tasks we love and some tasks that live in the draining weakness zone. In the Strengths Are Not An Excuse To Avoid Weakness Zone At Work episode, Lisa points out that you can’t use your strengths as a reason to have bad performance or low accountability — by neglecting something you don’t like doing. There are results that still need to be achieved, but your talents can help you get them in a strengths-focused way.
Carmie is a professional writer and editor at Lead Through Strengths. Having spent 8 happy years with a nonprofit child organization as a storyteller and sponsorship relations team manager, she continues collaborating with others across the globe for the joy of human development and connection. Her days are powered by coffee, curiosities, cameras (film and digital), music, notebooks, and a cat. Where books are home, she’s home. She calls her Top 5 StrengthsFinder Talents “CLIPS” (Connectedness, Learner, Intellection, Positivity, and Strategic)–you know, those tiny objects that hold connected things together. She’d like to think she’s one.