Discovering Your Strengths and Reaping the Benefits - ABA YLD 101 Practice Series

By Artika Tyner

The time has come to interview for your next job or prepare for your annual performance review and you are wondering: What do I have to offer? How can I showcase my talent and accomplishments? Through the development of your strengths, you can reach your career goals and achieve success.

Each of us has the ability to put our strengths into action, but the challenge often is figuring out how to focus on our strengths.  By focusing on your strength development, you can establish your expertise, build self-confidence and recognize your value.

Some of the common mistakes that young lawyers make are focusing primarily on improving areas of weakness and seeking proficiency in a multitude of skill sets. These mistakes may cause you to doubt your ability to become a successful lawyer and lead to lack of job satisfaction. This is a reality for many people, attorneys alike, since research shows that globally only 20 percent of employees working believe their strengths are used on a daily basis. The other 80 percent of the people are performing job duties, but not utilizing their strengths which translate into a loss of resources, talent and creativity for these individuals and society as whole.  However, discovering your strengths can create a fulfilling experience in the practice of law since your greatest potential for growth is in your strength areas.

The following tips can be used to help you discover you strengths and reap the benefits:

Identify your strengths. 
Your strength may be your ability to conduct online legal research efficiently, draft appellate briefs, or mediate complex conflicts. Take a few moments now to draft a list of your strengths and engage in self-reflection. Find a quite place to think about what drew you to the practice of law. One method of exploring your strengths may begin with examining your passions. Most lawyers go to law school with a passion to serve and desire to make a difference; however due to other life demands- time constraints, family commitments, financial obligations, your passion may have dwindled or lost its fire. You can rekindle the fire by reflecting upon what you are passionate about. Ask yourself: Why did I decide to go to law school and what skills do I have? As you are rediscovering your passion, you can identify additional areas of strength. For instance, were you concerned about human rights violations, elder abuse or social justice issues? Or maybe did you enjoy working in a corporate setting or utilizing your oral advocacy skills? By answering these questions, you may find that you have a passion for litigation, creative problem solving or legislative advocacy. Each person has their own passion as you fulfill it you will find both job satisfaction and personal happiness.  Revisiting your passion can fuel your energy and aid in the cultivation of your strengths.

Are you having trouble identifying your strengths? If so, do not be afraid to seek input from others. Colleagues, mentors, loved ones, and friends can also provide valuable insight related to your gifts and talents. Ask them questions like: What am I naturally good at?  How would you characterize my strengths? What are my weaknesses? Also, ask for specific examples of when you succeeded both professionally and personally while utilizing your strengths.

If you need additional guidance, pick up a copy of Now, Discover Your Strengths (Buckingham and Clifton) and take the Gallup Strengthfinders assessment which will highlight your top five areas of strength which may range from: woo to activator. The strengthfinders assessment tool has helped millions of people from across the world to identify their strength areas and provides practical tips for putting your strengths to work.

Develop your strength implementation plan.
Now, that you have identified some of your strengths, the next step is to begin managing your strengths. Dispel the myth that your main focus should be on improving your weaknesses, while allowing your strengths to lie dormant. Simply focus on offering your "best" to the legal profession. This lesson is made evident by golf champion, Tiger Woods' success. When Woods was asked if he learned from his mistakes during an interview some years ago, his response surprised his audience when he stated that he never pays attention to what he did wrong. Instead, he focuses on what he did right and works to improve those things. Woods has successfully developed a strength implementation plan and has reaped the benefits.
 
Your implementation plan should begin with goal setting. Setting goals is a proven method for professional development since the process provides motivation and a strategic plan. First, choose one strength and set a six month plan of managing and improving this strength. Some suggested steps for managing your strength may include: taking CLEs in your strength areas, joining a professional organization that fosters your strengths, and volunteering in a community organization that could benefit from your strengths. Throughout the six month period, track your progress and praise your accomplishments. At the conclusion of this phase, pick another goal and begin the process again. After a year has passed, you will have managed 2 new strengths and may have discovered others to hone.

Through the process of unveiling your strengths, you will begin to utilize your gifts and talents without focusing primarily on improving your weaknesses. You will then maximize the benefits of your strengths, and be amazed with the results. "When you see a strength in action, you see a person's ability to consistently provide near-perfect performance in a specific activity." Now, Discover Your Strengths.

Incorporate your talents into your resume.
You can illustrate your strengths through your previous work and volunteer experience. When describing your experience in your resume, use action verbs such as: developed, managed, created, and implemented. You should highlight the Wills for Heroes project that you led through your local bar association or the article published in The Young Lawyer. Also, be prepared to offer these examples that demonstrate your strengths in action during your interview or next work performance assessment. For instance, during your next interview when you are asked: Why should we hire you? Be prepared to talk about how your strengths can be used effectively in the workplace.

You should have a 30 seconds elevator speech or commercial prepared for the interview which describes how your strengths can serve as valuable assets to the organization. For example, you could state: "My strength of adaptability will aid me in being an effective problem solver which essential to work in this fast-paced legal environment." Or: "My futuristic strength will enable me to assist in reaching the vision of this organization in serving a broader client base and building expertise in a new area of law." Write down your 30 seconds of remarks and practice confidently stating your strength statement before the interview.
 
You can also showcase your strengths during your next performance review. Instead of providing cliché statements like I am a hard worker and team player. You will be able to use your strengths to demonstrate the value that you bring to the organization, such as: "My strength as an achiever explains my drive and determination. This strength has motivated me to meet and exceed my job expectations. This statement demonstrates your ability to work hard and rise to the occasion when a challenge arises." Or if you are strategic, you can highlight how this strength by stating: "My strategic strength has helped me to manage my time well and complete a multitude of tasks in an efficient manner."

Remember, your strengths make you unique and can offer a valuable contribution to the legal profession and the community. "Success is achieved by developing our strengths, not by eliminating our weaknesses." (Marilyn vos Savant). Now, is your opportunity to translate your strengths into your career success and the future success of your organization.

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About the Author

Artika Tyner is a University of Saint Thomas Clinical Law Fellow in the Community Justice Project, where she trains law students to become agents of social change.

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