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Breaking free from your box


Last week I was having a discussion about what sort of character traits and strengths would make a good HR person.  My answer was that there are a kaleidoscope of traits and strengths which could fit that role.

In our careers advice at school, we were often put into a box, weren’t we?  You’re a “people person” so a nurse, social worker, customer services…  You’re “analytical” so an accountant, an engineer or maths teacher…  You’re “competitive” so a salesperson or something in sports…

For my parents’ generation, they would normally have stayed in one box for their whole career, so I hope they chose their box wisely.  For my generation, we have more flexibility to experiment although some of us are still quite wedded to ingrained definitions of what makes a good …… [fill in the blank].

I think that these boxes that we have been put in, or that we’ve put ourselves in, are born out of assumptions.  Being a coach, I love to explore assumptions because these are very often the things that are preventing us from moving forward, achieving what we want and living our best life.

So, I decided to challenge some assumptions based upon my own personal strengths and what I do for a living…

Challenging my assumptions

If you look at my Strengths Profile, you will see someone who has a lot of strengths in relating to others; has curiosity and courage but is not very self-aware; communicates well but dislikes confrontation; loves growth and adventure but is not competitive; and is optimistic and innovative but dislikes detail and planning.

This Strengths Profile identifies my career options as coaching (!) & counselling, customer services, human resources, social care, leisure & tourism.   And, on the surface, I think you’d agree.

However, I believe that my strengths dictate not that I am a coach, but rather what sort of coach I am.

So, what sort of coach am I?

I am a coach who naturally builds rapport and trust quickly, stays ever curious about her clients, does not judge, listens intently and uses humour.  

But that is not the only type of coach, nor is it the ideal coach for every client.  So, what sort of coach am I not?

I am not the sort of coach who naturally challenges her clients, nor am I comfortable providing negative feedback or (what I see as) confrontation.  I am not a follower of process and am more inclined to go with my gut instinct and be flexible. 

Some clients might be more suited to the sort of coach that I am not.

My point is that we might assume that I am ideally suited to being a coach, but I argue that I am ideally suited to being a certain kind of coach.  In much the same way, I am a certain type of business owner: one who loves creativity, service and growth but finds the organisation, detail and planning much harder.  I was a certain kind of recruiter: one who built trust and loyalty in her clients but did not have the aggressive, deal-focused approach which you see in most successful recruiters.

Challenging your assumptions

Now it’s your turn.  Get a paper and pen.

Firstly, I’d ask you to step outside of your professional label.  Instead of saying I am a ………………………. [fill in the blank], I am asking you “What sort of ……………………… are you?”.   Use your personal strengths and characteristics to answer this question.

For example (given that we started with HR), “I am the sort of HR person who always follows process, enjoys the detailed study of employment legislation and can be relied upon to always give constructive feedback”.  For the record, I’d much prefer this sort of HR person in my business!

Now, think of some roles which you’ve not explored before and maybe thought you weren’t suited to.  Then answer the question “What sort of …………. would you be?” again using your strengths and characteristics.  Here’s one of mine to get you started:

“I’d be the sort of barrister who would always seek the very best results for my client, use story-telling and humour to engage a jury and use my judgement to make quick decisions in the moment.”

No barrister job offers please

This has greatly challenged my assumptions about whether I could be a barrister and has amused me at the same time.

I’d love for you to share any weird and wonderful roles you’ve explored during this exercise.  Let me know what sort of ……………. you’d be!

Also, if you’d like to explore your Strengths in depth with me, I have created a half day 121 Strengths Coaching Session which can be delivered in person in West Sussex or on Zoom.  Let me know if you’d like more details.

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