skill vs. strength

I am a firm believer in strengths-based leadership.

Often, we use the words “skill” and “strength” interchangeably.

They aren’t the same. I offer this distinction to you today for your listening pleasure…

A skill is something we are good at doing. We’ve practiced, we have the expertise, competency, and experience we need to be able to do the skill.

A strength is a skill that we enjoy doing. Sure, it’s muscle we’ve built, but it is something we’ve loved or learned to love. Our strengths are the qualities and abilities we’ve developed that make us successful. They’ve become part of who we are.

In this context, strength is not merely the opposite of weakness.

Leveraging our strengths – the things we are good at AND like doing – is a sound methodology in many fields. In mental health, it’s called the Strengths-Based Approach. In social work, it’s called the strengths-based perspective. In business, it’s called strengths-based leadership.

In all three cases, the core principle is to put our abilities, our gifts, resources, and our strengths at the center, rather than the deficits, weaknesses, and problems. The key to addressing problems and to building where there is weakness is to use the strengths that we already have.

I have a metaphor in my head. There’s a territory called the Great Unknown, the land of Being Uncomfortable. It borders the Land of Strengths. It’s unfamiliar, unmapped, and untested. Some places in the Great Unknown are marshy, boggy, and quicksand, and some are firm and solid. We just don’t know where they are yet, because it’s unexplored. Rather than just getting thrown into the G.U., I would like to start by making short forays, returning to the Land of Strengths to check in and rest, and going back and forth as necessary. When I find a boggy place, I’ll keep one foot on solid ground…my strengths.

That’s how strengths-based leadership works. We identify the things that we are good at AND authentically and genuinely care about. We lead with those. Other people have strengths in other areas – we partner and delegate and hire to fill the gaps and create balance the areas.

On a personal level, we leverage our strengths – the solid ground – to develop in the areas that aren’t skills or strengths – the boggy bits – so that we build our own musculature.

In the meantime, remember these things: You are loved. We are all loved. Let’s all be kind. And in all things – progress, not perfection!

Love, and light in the pages,


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