Management Minute

Playing to Our Strengths

In college, I studied to be a music teacher. Right after earning my bachelor’s degree, I got a job teaching junior and senior high school vocal music. For the next seven years, I stuck at that profession – earned a master’s degree and taught students ranging from kindergarten through high school seniors. I had some successes, but the work was never a very good fit. I prepared for my classes and put a lot of energy into getting the job done, but I rarely had a sense of “flow,” creativity, or fun. Many days were just hard to get through.

After seven years, I decided to go back and study for a doctorate in adult education. My first job in my new field was as a program director at the Lincoln, Nebraska YWCA. I was responsible for planning all the non-physical fitness programs for adults – everything from assertiveness training to weaving. Ideas about new educational programs flowed constantly, as I had the chance to collaborate with all kinds of interesting people who wanted to share what they knew with others. I also started working with committees of the board and became interested in nonprofit management. Before leaving the Y, I became assistant director. Even though I had moved into a new career, from the beginning, the job came naturally to me. I loved work, I felt capable, competent and I was on an upward trajectory.  

The contrast between the two jobs provided an important lesson for me in my own development: if you play to your own strengths, you’ll go farther and you’ll be happier. I’ve used that lesson to pursue a career that has steadily evolved into work that brings me joy and where I feel I am using my best talents at their highest levels.

As a supervisor, I also like to play and build on people’s strengths. I work best, and I think the people I supervise work best, when I recognize what they do well and help them better hone and develop those strengths. Every job has some part that doesn’t come as easily, and an employee can be helped and encouraged to grow at that part. But if people find themselves in jobs that are overall an odd fit, where they rarely feel a sense of competence and capability, I help them figure out how they can restructure the job to make it better utilize their strengths, or consider moving on to a position that “clicks” where they can experience the real joy of doing a job well.

Work takes up far too much of our lives to be something we struggle with. Play to your strengths, and encourage your supervisees to do the same.

Barbara Laur
Interim Chief Executive Officer