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Learning to focus on your strengths can make you a better person

We all have weaknesses. What are yours?

I'm not talking about jiggly thighs or belly flab. I'm talking about all those "needs improvement" areas that bosses and teachers have been hammering on you about for years.

You know, how you can never get your paperwork in on time, or how you talk too much, or how you're not strategic enough, or you're sloppy, or you're too picky.

Chances are, it's the same shortcomings over and over again and, whether you're hearing from an overly critical parent, a well-meaning boss or a nagging spouse, it's not very motivating.

There's a pervasive belief in our culture that shoring up your weaknesses is the key to becoming a fabulous human being. Bosses devote the large part of performance reviews to creating an action plan for improving your skill deficits. Teachers send home behavior reports with instructions on how little Johnny can better meet expectations. And even marriage counselors make a practice of tactfully translating complaints - "you're a big fat slob" - into helpful suggestions - "I think what Judy is saying here is that she'd like you to pick up more often."

Sometimes it seems like the whole world takes pleasure in pointing out your flaws.

But have you ever met a single person who attributed their happiness and success to overcoming their weaknesses?

People achieve success by leveraging their strengths, not by slogging around in the areas where they have deficits.

Tom Rath, best-selling-author of "StrengthsFinder 2.0," writes, "All too often, our natural talents go untapped. From cradle to cubicle we devote more time to fixing our shortcoming than to developing our strengths."

"What's even more disheartening," suggests Rath, "is the way our fixation on deficits affects young people in the home and classroom. In every culture we have studied, the overwhelming majority of parents (77 percent in the United States) think that the student's lowest grade deserves the most time and attention. Parents and teachers reward excellence with apathy instead of investing more time in the areas where a child has the most potential for greatness."

Where was this guy when my fourth-grade teacher was harping on my horrible handwriting?

Rath, who leads Gallup's workplace research and leadership consulting worldwide, reports that when it comes to our jobs, most of us aren't playing in the "strengths zone."

"Across all the areas we have studied, the vast majority of people don't have the opportunity to focus on what they do best," he writes.

Rath reports that after surveying 10 million people, 7 million are falling short. And that when you're not in the "strength zone," you often dread going to work, have more negative interactions with your colleagues and achieve less on a daily basis.

Which would mean that about 7 million people are going to work cranky.

So how do you get yourself into the strength zone?

Well it helps if you actually know what your own strengths are. Rath's book, "StrengthsFinder2.0," an updated version of his 2001 best-seller, "Now, Discover Your Strengths," comes with an access code to take the Strengths Finder assessment at www.Strengthsfinder.com.

I took it, as did my two business partners and my husband, and we all found it incredibly validating. Here was I thinking I was just bad with details - turns out I'm "Strategic." And I swear I'm not going to get annoyed at my husband for being such a stickler about the checkbook now that I understand how his "Deliberate" nature has saved our family many a wrong turn.

And therein lies the transformation. It doesn't matter if it's your kids, your employees, your students, your spouse or even yourself, when you shift your focus to strengths, everything changes.

You can spend your whole life shoring up your weaknesses, and you'll die a perfectly average person.

But none of us were sent to this earth to fixate on flaws. You were sent here to be magnificent.

Snellville resident Lisa Earle McLeod is a nationally recognized speaker and the author of "Forget Perfect" and "Finding Grace When You Can't Even Find Clean Underwear." Contact her or join her interactive blog at www.forgetperfect.com.