I can still remember the exact moment when I discovered that I’m a good public speaker.

It was my turn to present my findings in our senior honors thesis seminar. I was nervous. Was my topic – “Strategic Groups in the Cosmetics Industry” – too boring? Why would the guys care to listen to me talk about cosmetics? Why did I even care since I didn’t even wear makeup (at least not back then)? Disaster was looming.

But when I got up to speak, my classmates listened intently. They asked lots of questions and I loved having to think on my feet and answer them, even if it meant improvising. Best of all, we were laughing and having fun despite my “boring” topic. My thesis advisor and classmates all complimented me on my presentation skills.

That’s when I realized that speaking is one of my special strengths.

But fast forward to my career and it was a different story

No one asked me to present at our client conferences. At first, I figured I was too junior to be put on stage. But when I was a managing director, I still didn’t get the call.

Unfortunately, I was too shy and modest to volunteer. And since no one asked about my special strengths, all people had to go on was what they observed and experienced about me day-to-day.

And that was seeing me at my desk working hard late into the night, sitting quietly in the corner of our team meetings taking notes, and diligently calling on our clients. Hardly the signs of someone who’d be great on stage in front of an audience!

When no one knows your special strengths, everyone misses out

Through all those years, I missed the chance to shine at doing one of the things I did best. And work is a lot less fun when you don’t get to apply your special strengths – the things you’re great at and love to do.

Not only do you miss out, your organization misses out too. They don’t get the benefit of having you deliver the greatest value. And they won’t get the best performance or productivity from the entire team.

In my case, they chose a colleague to speak at our big investor conference. While the content was important, his delivery was dry. I sat through it knowing that I could have had the audience engaged and enjoying the experience. It made me feel less valued as well because I never had the opportunity.

So how do you let people know what your best strengths are?

The simplest way is to put yourself forward. That could be volunteering to do the talk, lead the project, or create the prototype. That way, people will get to experience you in action and word will get out from there.

And soon, you’ll have ample opportunities to use your best strengths for the benefit of your organization and your own satisfaction.

But just as I was uncomfortable blurting out, “I’m a great speaker – you should have me speak at the client conference,” you might be hesitant to let people know about your strengths too.

That’s where the following exercise comes in handy.

It’s about getting your teammates involved

A colleague and I are facilitating the introductory session of a leadership development program. Our 15 participants will go through this nine-month experience as a cohort where they’ll be supporting and learning from each other. Just like a team.

And like a team, they need to get to know each other beyond simply attending the sessions. For them to get the most out of the program, they need to understand the strengths each member of the group brings to the table.

That’s why we asked each person to share their two best leadership strengths with the group. And we reminded them that, “This is not the time to be modest. The group needs to know each person’s best strengths so we can know who to turn to and how to leverage each other.”

The talent this revealed was inspiring.

It turns out we have people in this group who are good at: developing teams, defusing situations, reading the room, being courageous, envisioning things from multiple perspectives, finding creative solutions, taking complex ideas and sharing them in a way that people “get”, and navigating difficult conversations, just to name a few.

What would you discover if you took them through the same exercise?

You don’t need to be the team leader and it doesn’t need to be in a formal setting. All that’s required is to pose the question, “What are your two best leadership strengths?”

And frame it as a way to make sure the group is leveraging the best strengths of the whole team and knowing who to call on when specific issues come up.

The benefit is that each person will have a greater opportunity to shine, and the group will perform better by bringing out the best of each team member.

So, share your strengths

Don’t do what I did, which was to wait 20+ years for colleagues to discover my special strength as a speaker when I was finally asked to host town hall meetings as COO. If I had found a way to share this information sooner, my speaking would have raised my profile and visibility earlier and I would have enjoyed work more.

It’s important for your career success and satisfaction that you get to lean into your best strengths as often as you can. So speak up and volunteer yourself if you can.

And find out about the strengths your teammates and colleagues bring to the table as well. That way, you can support each other and rise higher together.

When you know each other’s “superpowers” and start harnessing those strengths, something magical happens. That’s when 2+2 can truly equal 5.

So what are your two best leadership strengths?

Leave a comment. I’d love to know!