The Australian has an extremely rare blood type, packed with disease-fighting antibodies, used to create an injection known as "anti-D." When administered to a pregnant woman, the injection helps fight rhesus disease (in which the woman's blood attacks the unborn baby's blood and can result in brain damage or death).
James discovered his blood was a magic elixir when he was a young boy and started donating it, once a week, which he did for 60 years in a row. He just gave his last donation at the age of 81. (Australian law says a person's blood donations must stop at 81 years old.)
Incredibly, every dose of anti-D ever made in Australia has come from James's blood. Given the fact that more than 17 percent of Australian women are at risk for rhesus disease, the Australian Red Cross Blood Service calculates that Harrison has saved the lives of 2.4 million babies.
And that, my friends, is using your gifts.
Harrison jokes that his only unique talent is giving blood, so he has gifted it for all it's worth (literally).
This amazing story got me thinking about the profound importance of using your gifts in the business world (and in life). It's hard enough to succeed in business or as an entrepreneur -- why wouldn't we embrace the efficiency inherent in leveraging our strengths to increase the likelihood of success?
But it's easy to lose sight of this. It's so easy for us to focus on what we need to improve -- it's human nature. We get 360-degree feedback at work to help us determine how we can get better, and that's what we obsess about. In so doing, we bypass the opportunity to efficiently (and joyously) ride our strengths to increase our odds of success.
I remember when I was in the corporate world and my organization got a new executive. He came in stating that for the first year he didn't want to engage in talent reviews with people about their "improvement-needed" areas. All he wanted to focus on were the strengths of each person in his shop, and how those strengths might be better leveraged. What might be common sense to others felt like a revelation in a system where intense focus was placed on improving your weaknesses.
It's worth sharing that, by far, the most successful people I've met in my career are those who balance a healthy focus on improving weaknesses with an enlightened and energetic effort to fully leverage their gifts. The well-roundedness shows up in their leadership approach.
So I offer a three-step process to help you fully leverage your gifts.
1. Confirm what your strengths are.
And no matter what you think, even on the most downtrodden days, you have unique gifts to share with the world.
There are plenty of assessments you can take to crystallize your knowledge of your talents, such as the classic CliftonStrengths test. It helps you determine your gifts in four domains: strategic thinking, execution, influencing, and relationship building.
You can also just ask for feedback from peers, friends, and family to help pinpoint what your unique talents are. The key is to be open to what surfaces and to keep it top of mind rather than just lasering in on what you need to improve.
2. Pause to appreciate those talents.
Not everyone is good at what you're good at. Even the way you're good at it is unique. And you had better believe that the world needs you to share that gift--there's a reason you have it to begin with.
So stop to appreciate your strengths. Seriously. I mean it. Don't downplay what you're good at or underplay its importance.
Then remember that nobody on earth can use your ability but you. So get ready to use it. Which brings us to the final step.
3. For every one hour you work on your weaknesses, spend two hours sharing your gifts.
Yes, you should work on your opportunity areas. But take the opportunity to balance the scale by distributing the full weight of your talents, too.
It may not save lives--but it will certainly enrich them.