I asked Greg, a good friend who has built up a thriving business, is a wonderful dad and husband and a contributor to his community, to tell me the story how he got to where he is today.
“It certainly wasn’t school,” he said. “I was one of those dumb kids. The teachers told me so. And my class mates. Everyone.
“The truth was I had no academic ability,” he continued matter-of-factly. “I’d read something but try as I might I couldn’t get it. I never had the answer. They kept telling me I was dumb and I believed them.”
My heart sank at the thought of it.
“I was also small, weak and totally un-sporty,” he said. “My ego was broken.
“I cared what people thought of me and wanted to compensate for my failures. Fortunately, I was good at communicating and made friends easily. I deliberately set out to get in with the smart, sporty, popular people. Especially the big, cool guys. They protected me.”
“How did you become the person you are today?” I asked again.
“It’s only the past ten years I’ve thought about that. How did I become me? I didn’t used to think I was unique or special. Everyone seemed the same.
“Now at fifty I’m discovering all about myself. Strengths Access* put it in a box for me and wrapped it up.
“It’s helped me identify the combination of strengths and talents unique to me. For example, I already knew I am good at relating to others but now I realise I have this ability to understand someone’s thought process. They feel comfortable with me because I get inside them. It is a gift few people have.
“I’m also good at motivating people, building relationships and aligning teams. Only a small percentage of the population can do what I do. Now I know I am special. I feel more whole as a person.
“It’s also allowed me to accept my weaknesses. I’m now ok with my academic history. Being ‘dumb’ doesn’t matter anymore.”
I leaned back in wonder. Here is an accomplished man who for most of his life thought he was rubbish. But that was just a story, fabricated more than forty years ago by people in authority telling him a lot of crap about himself. Unfortunately, he believed it.
I think many of us, including me, have had similar experiences.
This story helped Greg survive in some ways but soon became limiting. Anything positive he did, like creating friendships, he dismissed as a mere tactic to escape the burden of being ‘dumb’.
By discovering his natural strengths and talents, however, he has been given an entirely new story about himself. He realises he is an effective communicator. He has the gift of winning others over. He can lead teams of people. Ultimately Greg knows who he is and what gives him joy in life. He is at peace about the past and can now concentrate on making his unique contribution to the world.
“I’m very clear what I will and will not do. It’s a small thing but I used to write job descriptions for people we wanted to hire. I thought that was what the boss supposed to do. I am the one paying the money so I should be clear who I want to hire, right? But I’m no good at that sort of thing. It’s bad for me, bad for the business and bad for the people we’re interviewing. It wastes so much of my time doing something I’m no good at. I’ve given someone else the job.
“I also hate cold calling. I found a great guy in the Philippines who sounds completely American. He is bright as anything. He makes initial contact with potential clients, finds out if there is any interest and if so, I’m handed a warm lead! I end up closing a lot more business than before.
“Now I’m spending most of my time with clients. They’re the ones paying the big money for our people. I need to understand what their needs are and get my organisation to deliver. Everyone wins.”
Watch for more articles about people developing their strengths. Please get in touch to talk about strengths based mentoring.
*The best strengths inventory I know of is the Gallup Strengths Access. Millions of people have used it: https://www.gallupstrengthscenter.com/Purchase/en-US/Index
Disclaimer: I receive no payments or benefits of any kind from Gallup for recommending their products. I want everyone to discover their strengths!