“Wasted strengths are like sundials in the shade.”
Have you ever tried reading time from a sundial in the shade? Hard to do it, isn’t it. For a sundial to work, it needs to be–go figure–in the sun.
I walked into one of the parks in Golden Gate Park and got all excited when I saw an old sundial. I couldn’t wait to figure out the time with this ancient instrument.
And then, when I got closer, I noticed that tree branches had grown out and over the sundial essentially putting it in perpetual shade. The sundial was worthless other than as an ancient artifact.
Truth is, wasted strengths are like sundials in the shade.
For you to be able to shine with the brightness you were made for, for you to be able to point accurately to your true timing so that you give maximum benefit to others, you must be in “your sun”—you must know and use your strengths. No one else can do it for you. You are the steward of your strengths. Don’t waste them. They’re some of the best, most effective resources you have.
Here’s how it can look when you choose to wisely steward your strengths. Let’s see what lessons we can learn from one highly successful person.
Warren Buffett’s Strengths Stewardship
Marcus Buckingham, in his book Now, Discover Your Strengths, talks about Warren Buffett. He’s one of the richest people in the world who comes from such humble beginnings in Omaha, Nebraska. What a life he’s lived.
Speaking to a roomful of students at the University of Nebraska, he said, “I may have more money than you do, but money doesn’t make the difference.”
To the students, many of whom could barely pay their phone bills each month, his observation seemed a bit glib.
But he continued: “If there is any difference between you and me, it may simply be that I get up every day and have a chance to do what I love to do, every day. If you want to learn anything from me, this is the best advice I can give you.”
Though on the surface this appears to be the typical throwaway line from someone who’s already banked their first billion, it’s actually quite profound.
Turns out, Buffett is very sincere when he says this. He loves what he does and genuinely believes that his reputation as the world’s greatest investor is due in large part to his ability to carve out a role that plays to his strengths.
And his strengths as an investor actually are quite nontraditional and unexpected for high-powered successful investors these days.
Here’s how it worked for him. First, he is a very patient man, as opposed to the stereotypical impatient, high-speed, uber-active investor. So he has turned his natural patience into his now famous “twenty-year perspective” that leads him to invest only in those companies whose trajectory he can forecast with some level of confidence for the next twenty years.
Second, his mind is more practical than conceptual. So his practical mind made him suspicious of investing “theories” and broad market trends. He once wrote in his Berkshire Hathaway annual report, “The only role of stock forecasters is to make fortune-tellers look good.” So he made the commitment to only invest in those companies whose products and services he could intuitively understand (e.g. Dairy Queen, Coca Cola, The Washington Post), the latest MBA theories and predictions be damned.
And third, he is inclined to be trusting of people’s motives, not skeptical. So he has put his trusting nature to good use by carefully vetting the senior managers of the companies in which he invested and then stepping back and away, letting them engage in their day-to-day operations without his interference.
Turns out, he’s a world class investor because he deliberately and persistently plays to his strengths (his innate wiring and talents that he has honed with increased knowledge and skill through the years).
Buckingham makes this observation: “The way he handles risk, the way he connects with other people, the way he makes his decisions, the way he derives satisfaction—not one of these is random. They all form part of a unique pattern that is so stable his family and closest friends are able to recall its early tracings in the schoolyard in Omaha, Nebraska, half a century ago.” (p. 21)
Four Ways to Steward Your Strengths
So what lessons can we learn from Warren Buffett about how to effectively steward our best resources and strengths, about how we can be sundials in the sun not the shade? What did he figure out that can serve as a practical guide for all of us?
“One, look inside yourself; Two, try to identify your strongest threads; Three, reinforce them with practice and learning; and Four, either find or carve out a role that draws on these strengths every day. When you do these regularly, intentionally, and persistently, you will be more productive, more fulfilled, and more successful.” (p. 21)
These are exactly the four steps that comprise the outline of what I work on with all my coaching clients—and I do this work for myself, regularly and persistently. In essence, I am helping myself and my clients to become wise and effective stewards of our best personal and professional resources—our God-given strengths.
I want for myself and for everyone else to be sundials that tell accurate time—and that are useful to others—because they’re in the sun not the shade. This is authenticity.