Find your superpower, watch your career take flight

Tapping into your superpower, or core strength, can make you invincible in the workplace.

Story highlights

  • Knowing your strengths -- and playing to them -- is the key to effective leadership
  • Your "superpower" is your USP to sell yourself in your career path
  • Ask colleagues, take tests or simply self-reflect to identify your core strength
  • Shore up weaknesses by building a team with the attributes you lack

It took Superman until his teenage years to discover his superpowers, but many of us take much longer to find our own, if we ever do at all.

Yet identifying a superpower -- that core strength that gives an edge in the workplace, be it creativity, vision or an analytical mind -- can be the key to taking a career to the next level.

"I am a full believer that the first thing you do in a leadership role is to identify your own strengths and play to them," says Sheryl G Feinstein, co-author of "The Brain and Strengths Based School Leadership."

"I think too often one of the difficulties leaders have is they try to be everything to everyone, which creates kind of a patchwork of leadership which is counterproductive," she adds. "They spend so much of their time overcompensating for their weaknesses that they don't really play to their strengths."

Research suggests that leaders who identify their core strengths, and play to them, are more satisfied in their work and better paid, she says.

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A superpower, explains Corinne Mills, managing director of Personal Career Management and author of "Career Coach," is the personal "Unique Selling Proposition" which gives you value in the corporate environment. Identifying it could help you sell yourself within your organization -- and to others.

But how do you identify your superpower? While a little self-knowledge can go a long way, it is common for executives to be in the dark as to their own strengths and weaknesses.

"It's very difficult to be objective about your own strengths," says Mills. "Most people have a particular strength, but quite often because it's something they enjoy doing, perhaps more of a natural ability, it feels easy and therefore they think everyone can do it."

A good way to find out is to ask ex-colleagues or ex-managers "whose opinion you trust and who will be honest," she says. "They will give you objective feedback, and the things you often take for granted, other people will see very clearly."

Guy Longshaw, an executive coach and management consultant, recommends strengths tests drawn from "positive psychology," a movement whose founders sought to "find and nurture genius and talent" by encouraging people to identify their strengths and play to them.

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Highly successful people have the knack of finding "new and innovative ways to challenge themselves in those areas," he says, thereby staying motivated and interested in their careers.

Feinstein says that simple self-reflection could also do the trick. "Maybe after you've led a meeting you reflect on what your strengths and weaknesses were. It's amazing with these computerized programs how they often just end up validating things that deep down people already know about themselves."

Sean McPheat, managing director of MTD Training, says the old conventional wisdom about strengths and vulnerabilities no longer applies.

"People used to say 'Work on your strengths, develop your weaknesses.' But forget developing your weaknesses. A 2% improvement in your strengths is going to be better than a 2% improvement in your weaknesses."

Longshaw adds: "That's not to say ignore your weaknesses -- know what they are, but time and effort trying to get better at your weaknesses is far less well spent."

Rather than spending too much time trying to overcome your failings, the best way to shore up up your weaknesses could be to assemble a team of people with the attributes you lack.

"Perhaps you have strengths in organization but are weaker when it comes to vision, to building relationships," says Feinstein. "With the right balance, you can play to your own strengths and let your team play to theirs."

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