Guest Blog from our Coaching Panel Jim Hughes 


Natural Strengths vs learned skills:why it’s critical to know the difference


What The Military Taught You That Might Hinder Your Civvy Career And How To Overcome It


Ever since we were children, most of us have been conditioned to identify, and then improve upon, our areas of weakness.

If a kid in school gets an A in Maths and a D in English, the reaction is not to double down on Maths but to bring the English grade up to standard.

I believe it’s the same in the military.

Great at navving but unfit? Start smashing some more PT!

In many cases, being pretty good at lots of things is beneficial, or even vital, the military being one such example.

Spending many years working on your weaknesses can, however, lead you to forget what you’re naturally good at and the aspects of work you enjoy the most.

I’ve been coaching military leavers for many years now and have seen this challenge time and again. Veterans hit civvy street, competent in numerous areas such as planning, leading, organising and strategy and pitch themselves accordingly.

The blessing, and indeed the curse, is that these four skills cover a broad spectrum.

Planning requires an attention to detail, patience and an appreciation of timings.

Being a good strategist involves seeing the bigger picture and an ability to make decisions with limited information.

Leading can take many forms. You can be a quiet leader, cultivating support by setting a good example, or you can inspire a following through powerful words and force of personality. Both leverage different strengths.

To demonstrate why this is important, I’ll use an example.

Imagine you’re on a first date and you want to treat him or her to a great pizza. Do you go to the Jack-of-all-trades restaurant that serves burgers, curry’s, steaks and pizza? Or do you go to Guiseppi’s Pizzeria?

If you’ve got a bad knee, would you rather be treated by a knee specialist or the physio who claims to be an expert on everything?

Not only do both specialists receive your custom, you’re also happier to pay more for the privilege.

It’s the same in the world of work. An employer would far sooner hire someone who knew their strengths and how to leverage, than someone who says they can do it all.

I know this because I fell for it myself. For years I tried to be all things to all people.

I would offer to review contracts, analyse reports, co-create company strategy and help with business development.

Not only was this lack of clarity exhausting, it affected my confidence.

Invariably, when doing detailed work, I would make mistakes. I soon started to judge myself for being crap at my job, whilst ignoring the bits I was best at.

The point here is not that you, or I, CAN’T do lot’s of things to a decent level. It’s that only some tasks and activities will leverage your natural gifts.

Some elements of work will energise you and feel effortless, some will drain you.

Some will enable you to add maximum value to an organisation, some will leave you feeling crap about yourself.

My suggestion to you is, spend time uncovering how you best operate.

  • Clarify if you’re a big picture or detail orientated person.
  • Are you an introvert, extravert or ambivert?
  • Do you thrive when given flexibility to create from scratch, or do you perform best within a set structure?
  • Are you better at the beginning of a project or the end?
  • Would you rather focus on fewer tasks for longer periods of time, or switch from one to another more rapidly?

If you find it hard to pinpoint strengths, identify your weaknesses and find their opposite.

For example:

Weakness  Strength
  • I'm crap at finishing things
  • I'm better at starting things
  • I get distracted easily
  • I thrive on variety, when woring on multiple, small tasks
  • I'm not very creative 
  • I'm great at growing or improving anexisting system or product


The sooner you can clarify what you’re naturally best at, the sooner you can communicate them, the sooner you can find more aligned and fulfilling work.

Best of luck and if any of you have any thoughts or questions on this topic, I’d love to help. Join the Value Vault and follow the link to the Caoching Panel and my Bio.

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