I guarantee you've been asked this question at least once in your life...and I'll bet you didn't quite know how to answer it. It comes during an interview or after you've gone through the line-by-line description of your rsum and breathlessly taken the person on the other side of the table through the product launch you successfully executed.

"What's your greatest strength and what's your biggest weakness?"

The answer sounds like a tape recorder (I'm a doer--I take initiative and drive things forward. My weakness is probably that I care too much and want to make everything the highest quality possible).

But what if you could answer that question differently? What if you could be more specific and respond with examples that actually relate to the innate cognitive approaches and behavioral styles you possess. I know how I'd answer that question.

"Collaboration. Big-picture. Innovation. That's what makes me tick. I think in a visionary way and translate what I know intuitively into real, concrete actions. I connect the dots between seemingly unrelated ideas by evaluating who should be involved, what their contribution will bring and the specific ways we'll need to advance an initiative forward to maximize impact.

I don't use the term weakness, but I recognize that it is challenging for me to ensure I communicate all the details that go into execution--however, I am hyper-aware of this aspect of my work and I empower others to challenge me on being as clear as possible."

More compelling huh? I'm equating my work with what I'm passionate about and what motivates me. That is what I call the X-Factor.

It's what differentiates you from anyone else. It is the completely unique way you approach your work. Your X-Factor is about strengths and how you think about problems and put ideas into action. It's how you communicate, lead, and influence.

No matter who you are, you have innate aspects of your personality and your cognitive perspective that are absolutely you. Our company has created a scientific measurement of these factors called the Emergenetics Profile, and I know that I'm uniquely a Conceptual and Social Thinker. I represent about 12% of the population who think this way...but that's just a broad stroke. My behaviors--the way I express myself, how I drive tasks forward and the way I respond to change--further crystallize my uniqueness. Plus, I have elements of Structural and Analytical thinking as well...it all goes to creating a distinctive picture of me--my X-Factor.

In their new book How Google Works, Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg hit at the importance of the X-Factor. In what Google terms the LAX Test, they measure passion, intelligence, creativity and curiosity of potential hires by asking themselves, "Could I spend a six-hour layover in LAX with this person?" Six hours is a long time and without knowing your X-Factor, that conversation could be a challenge.

Whether it's the LAX Test or your workplace strengths, described by Forbes as "any ability that is enjoyable, applicable, and that you are better at than most of your colleagues," your X-Factor is critical.

Anyone can develop self-awareness but knowing how to access it, apply it into your daily life and create more meaningful work will make a monumental difference.

Here's how I'd recommend going about it (if you don't have access to a full assessment or training).

  1. Find out how others see you: Ask your co-workers, friends and family questions like, "What do you come to me for? What kinds of ideas do I give you? What perspectives do I provide?
  2. Tap into your flow state: What kind of work can you do for hours? What are you doing when you are in the zone? How do you best work?
  3. Look at your accomplishments: What jumps out on your résumé? What are people endorsing you for on Linked In?
  4. Reflect on what drains you: Think about what is challenging for you. What kind of work saps energy? Being aware of what does not come naturally is just as helpful (you still have to do this work though so figure out how to tap into your strengths).
  5. Know your passions: Delve into the bigger, more important parts of life--this will help you filter your work into a bigger, more meaningful context.

Contextualizing your approach and the way you think isn't just good for you from a personal brand perspective, it actually makes sense on a bottom line level for organizations too. That's why fascinating people captivate audiences and influence purchasing decisions. It's why Google gets the very best and brightest.

The beauty is that every person has an X-Factor, and it starts with the way you think and behave. When you harness the power of these gifts, you'll truly be able to tap into your X-Factor.