The Real-Life Lessons of Rudy: Focusing on Your Strengths

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

In movies and in books, we often celebrate the underdog–the one who worked hard and overcame the odds. The movie Rudy is a perfect example of this.

The movie is a biographical account of Daniel Eugene "Rudy" Ruettiger, a kid with a dream of playing football for Notre Dame, who has neither the size, nor the natural talent of the other players. But through his hard work and intense effort, Rudy finally gets into the final game and makes a big play, resulting in wild cheers and adulation from fans and teammates. So what's wrong with this tale?

As an inspirational drama, there's nothing wrong with the story. As a strategy for life and work, though, this is exactly the wrong example. Rudy spent most of his time and effort improving on his weaknesses, working on areas he had neither the tools nor the talent to excel.

Focusing on your strengths instead of trying to overcome weaknesses is a standard suggestion from most career coaches. 

Many career coaches instruct people to work on their strengths instead of trying to overcome weaknesses. In fact, that's the whole point of Gallup's StrengthsFinder program. Working under the theory that in life, people are more successful when improving and leveraging their strengths, Gallup offers several pointers for development:

Know your strengths and weaknesses: Like most, you probably gravitate to certain types of activities based on your natural aptitudes. There are many tools, like Gallup's Strengthsfinder, that can assist in finding those aptitudes through pointed testing. However, with reflection, you can often sit down and identify your strengths on your own. What kinds of tasks seem easy to you? What work activities do you actually look forward to? Looking at your calendar, what are you dreading doing? Answering these questions can help get you on the track to identifying your own strengths and weaknesses. 

Listen to your colleagues: Feedback is always useful, and don't discount compliments. If someone gives you positive feedback and your first reaction is to dismiss it as “no big deal”, that compliment is probably directed at one of your strengths. If something comes easy to you, be aware that it's not easy for everyone. 

Build on your strengths: Once you know what your strengths are, keep working to get better at them. Marcus Buckingham, a researcher at Gallup, studied many of the most successful people and companies to get a good idea of what drove positive results. He found that people working from their strengths—the things they are best at—are more engaged, more energized and, ultimately, more successful. You can also become a better teammate by looking for others' strengths, offering constructive participation, and eventually, being a better leader yourself.

Overcoming the odds and working hard to overcome flaws are plot points in great stories. In real-life, though, experts are finding that professionals are more apt to succeed when focusing their time and effort on improving on their assets.

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Photo credit: Rudy International via Wikipedia

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