Strengths are an interesting thing… for many of us, they are the traits, characteristics and skills that we are sure we do well. Strengths are what we boast about, where we have pride and feel accomplishment. In reality, we occasionally fool ourselves into a false sense of our strengths. The strengths we see in ourselves in some situations suddenly become a weakness in other circumstances – or at best a hindrance. Those things about ourselves that we can always rely on become vulnerabilities and challenges; when we are forced to rely on others, our strengths sometimes get in the way.
Strengths, at best, are only good in a moment – that precise instance when everything perfectly aligns, and we get to be the hero allowing our strengths to shine through. However, at most times in our lives and leadership journey, we need to rely less on our strengths and instead rely on the strengths of others. Success depends more on our relationships than on our internal need to show our strength. There is an African word that speaks to oneness among others and our common humanity: Ubuntu. Literally translated, it means “I am, because you are.” Leadership is recognizing that strength is in our common humanity and in how we exist through others.
George Bernard Shaw stated it this way, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” Our leadership journey should be about seeking balance with each other and with the world. We discover our strengths through our relationships with others. I recently had a wilderness leadership experience that made me think about my strengths and my need to rely on others. At the top of a ropes course exercise, I was tested. Not from a fear of heights or from a fear of falling, but from something far deeper. Maybe it was trust, maybe it was courage or maybe some implicit bias, but something caused me to freeze. But in an instant, my partner took control, looked me in the eyes and calmed my fears. Telling me to hold her tight, we completed the exercise through her calming voice and strong determination.
At that precise moment, my partner’s strengths shined, and she was the hero. Our challenge is to always be looking for the hero’s in our life.