When a strengths expert gets it wrong

Daria Williamson, a dark-haired woman, is standing in front of a wall painted like a jungle, smiling at the camera. She is holding out a copy of her book "Unleash Your Awesome"

I hate getting things wrong. And I really hate getting stuff wrong when it’s in my area of expertise. Apparently I don’t like being reminded that I’m human (anyone else with me on that?).

It happened again in a fairly spectacular way recently, so I decided to turn it into a teachable moment for myself. I’m now sharing it with you in the hopes that you don’t make the same kind of mistake that I did!

What I got wrong

My big mistake during the final editing and proofreading stage for ‘Unleash Your Awesome‘ was to over-rely on my Reputation strength of Meticulous.(1)

I have a very high attention to detail, and definitely like my work to be accurate.

But it is immensely draining for me, so I find myself feeling bored and getting distracted way too easily.

Because using this strength is draining and de-energising for me, if I rely on it too much, I can struggle to see a task through to completion.

A thumbnail image of an e-book proofing app screen.
Page, after page, after page of proofreading!

How this showed up

By the time I got to the final proofreading stage, I had written somewhere in the vicinity of quarter of a million words across five drafts. That’s a lot of words to pay attention to!

And along the way, I’d changed my mind about how I wanted certain stylistic elements to be presented (e.g. use of italics, whether certain words were written with title case or lower case, etc).

Because Meticulous isn’t a Genius strength for me, it’s not the first thing that I reach for when doing my work. So I was proofreading and correcting in a bit of a haphazard way, overusing my Flexible (2) Proficiency strength. I would notice an inconsistency or error and start to correct it, then notice a different one and go off on a tangent to correct that one.

I somehow forgot to reach for my Genius strength of Quality (3). I find it highly energising, enjoyable, and even exciting to present top-notch work to the world, and I’m pretty darn good at doing that. Instead of leaning into my Quality strength, I was using my de-energising Meticulous strength. And I was mindlessly allowing my Flexible strength to run the show. By selecting the wrong strategy, I ended up undermining the performance aspect of my Quality strength.

The cost of getting it wrong

The first cost to me was in the re-work. Once I got the laid-out proof of my book back from the designer, I noticed a huge number of errors and inconsistencies, which I could have sworn weren’t in the manuscript that I sent through (they were!). Every single one of them needed to be marked up for correction.

Between my additional checking, and the work of my tireless proofreader, 731 corrections were marked up in the first round. The second round had 92 markups. Over 800 corrections, despite having spent around 20 hours proofreading on my own before sending it off to the designer and proofreader.

The second cost was opportunity – what could I have done with that all that time that I spent getting distracted and frustrated, and working inconsistently?

The third cost was that I was losing my sense of joy about being so close to having my book published.

The fourth cost was to my energy – I found it harder and harder to stick with the proofreading, so I was less and less motivated to complete the task thoroughly. And that meant it dragged on for much longer than it could have if I’d taken a different approach.

The irony of getting it wrong

The irony of getting this wrong wasn’t lost on me. In between what felt like never-ending bouts of proofreading and marking up my manuscript, I was coaching my clients to lean into their Genius strengths, take care of their energy, and use their Reputation strengths wisely.

Have you heard the phrase, ‘The builder’s house is never finished’? The underlying message is that what we do for work isn’t so easy to practice at home. And it is 100% true for me.

I’m brilliant at spotting other people’s strengths and helping them work out how to use them to their full advantage. But coaching myself to do the same? That’s much harder!

So, I’m choosing to view this experience as a gentle and humbling reminder of what happens when I’m not mindful about how I am using my strengths, and why it’s vitally important to pay attention to the flow of my energy.

I’m grateful that I was able to use my Reflection (4) and Improver (5) Genius strengths to recognise what was happening and make the necessary changes.

So for my final round of proofing of the e-book version, I drew on the energising and engaging nature of my Quality strength to pick up (what I hope will be) the final few errors in my manuscript. And I was even able to tap into a principle of the Systematiser (6) strength (which is an Reputation strength in my Strengths Matrix) to do that final proofing in a methodical way, by pairing it with my Determined (7) Proficiency strength, which I find reasonably energising to use and gives me good results.

We are always learning

If there’s one thing I know about this life, it’s that there’s always another lesson around the corner. Being wrong just means that there’s something else for me to learn. It’s not a failure unless I fail to learn from it.

What have you be learning, or re-learning, recently? Tell me about it in the comments, or drop me an email.


(1) Meticulous: You pay attention to the little details that others miss and find accuracy satisfying.

(2) Flexible: You prefer to go with the flow, letting the future unfold and taking things as they come.

(3) Quality: You want to get things right the first time and deliver work that is of the highest standard.

(4) Reflection: You engage in deep thinking and discussions, contemplating ideas, principles, and concepts.

(5) Improver: You excel at making things better and have a keen eye for spotting opportunities to do so.

(6) Systematiser: You take a structured, orderly approach to life and work, creating and applying rules, guidelines, processes, and systems.

(7) Determined: You identify your priorities then act, adjusting to stay on course and achieve your goals.

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