Jennifer B. Davis
"Almost all absurdity of conduct arises from the imitation of those whom we cannot resemble." - Samuel Johnson

I was reminded today of the importance of "sharpening the saw." This phrase was made cliche in Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. But I connected with it in a different way today. I asked myself, "what saw do I sharpen?" and I thought in reply, "the one in hand."

Now, all of that may sound silly (especially the part where I talk to myself), but I am puzzled by how often we strive to sharpen a saw we don't have. In their books First, Break All the Rules and Now, Discover Your Strengths, authors Buckingham and Clifton propose that instead of trying to remediate areas of weakness, we should all rather focus on areas of strength and develop those. They claim that the return on investment in our strengths is staggering and could lead to world class performance. This is in contrast to remediation of weaknesses, which rarely makes anyone better than mediocre and saps time and energy away from developing our strengths (the opportunity costs of misplaced personal or professional development). Said another way, we should focus on becoming our best selves and not a sad imitation of someone else.

Their book includes a talent assessment of sorts which identifies five strengths worth developing further. This was an insightful exercise for me and a bit uncomfortable as well. Whether right or wrong, they listed my #1 competency as the ability to "woo" - which stood for "winning others over." This seems to be to be a powerful, and potentially dangerous, one. I have spent a lot of time thinking about this and implications of it. If this is really a strength, by sheer force of enthusiasm I might be able to convince people of something that is a bad idea or I might unwittingly limit discussion and dissent. I hate to think that I have ever limited the creativity of others or the wisdom of a team because I won others over to a flawed or incomplete idea. Using gifts of this sort wisely and always in the best interests of others is part of the sharpening that I'll be working on.

What talents do you see in yourself or in others that deserve additional sharpening? Do you have examples of sharpening the saw in your hand that have demonstrated (or disproved) this idea?
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