Play to Your Strengths

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” ~ Civil-rights activist Harriet Tubman

Over the last decade, self-help, coaching and leadership professionals have been placing greater emphasis on positivity and personal strengths. The goal is to help clients work with what they have and build on their inherent talents.

Large corporations like Wells Fargo, Intel, Best Buy, Toyota and Yahoo now require employees to take surveys that measure talents and strengths. Their CEOs recognize that company success depends on leveraging what already works instead of trying to fix what’s broken.

This approach is logical: You cannot learn how to ensure safety at a nuclear power plant by studying Russia’s Chernobyl disaster. You’re better off reviewing what a successful cleanup entails.


Regardless of your job or industry, you can’t always do what you love. Your job description will include responsibilities that challenge you or try your patience.

You can, however, play to your strengths and approach tasks in ways that bring your best work to light.

First, you’ll need to identify your top three strengths, as well as your three greatest weaknesses. Several excellent books can walk you through the self-assessment process:

  1. Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton (Free Press, 2001)
  2. StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath (Gallup Press, 2007)
  3. Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Outstanding Performance by Marcus Buckingham (Free Press, 2007) also offers a free online strengths test: As the site notes: “It is hard for people to value and to know their strengths because they don´t see any value in doing an activity that is easy for them; they believe that everybody else can do it. When people realize that what they do easily is extremely hard and valuable for others, they normally will focus more deeply on improving their strengths, which ultimately affects their overall performance.”


“People have several times more potential for growth when they invest energy in developing their strengths instead of correcting their deficiencies.” ~ Rath

The Gallup Organization identifies 34 distinct personal strengths after interviewing 1.7 million professionals over 40 years:

  1. Achiever: constantly driven to accomplish tasks
  2. Activator: sets things in motion
  3. Adaptability: adept at accommodating changes in direction/plan
  4. Analytical: requires data/proof to make sense of circumstances
  5. Arranger: enjoys orchestrating many tasks/variables
  6. Belief: strives to find ultimate meaning in everything he/she does
  7. Command: embraces leadership positions without fearing confrontation
  8. Communication: uses words to inspire action and education
  9. Competition: thrives on comparison and competition
  10. Connectedness: seeks to unite others through commonalities
  11. Consistency: treats everyone the same to avoid unfair advantage
  12. Context: reviews the past to make better decisions
  13. Deliberative: proceeds with caution and a planned approach
  14. Developer: sees others’ untapped potential
  15. Discipline: makes sense of the world by imposing order
  16. Empathy: in tune with others’ emotions
  17. Focus: has a clear sense of direction
  18. Futuristic: eyes the future to drive today’s success
  19. Harmony: seeks to avoid conflict and achieve consensus
  20. Ideation: sees underlying concepts that unite disparate ideas
  21. Includer: instinctively works to include everyone
  22. Individualization: draws upon individuals’ uniqueness to create successful teams
  23. Input: constantly collects information/objects for future use
  24. Intellection: enjoys thinking and thought-provoking conversation; can compress complex concepts into simplified models
  25. Learner: constantly challenged; learns new skills/information to feel successful
  26. Maximizer: takes people and projects from great to excellent
  27. Positivity: injects levity into any situation
  28. Relator: most comfortable with fewer, deeper relationships
  29. Responsibility: always follows through on commitments
  30. Restorative: thrives on solving difficult problems
  31. Self-Assurance: stays true to beliefs; self-confident
  32. Significance: wants others to see him/her as significant
  33. Strategic: can see a clear direction in complex situations
  34. Woo: can easily persuade


“Your strengths have an I-can’t-help-but quality to them. You can’t quite articulate why, but you find yourself drawn to certain activities repeatedly. Even though you may be just a little scared to do them, just a little nervous—‘Maybe I’m not good enough, maybe I’ll fail’—you nonetheless feel a pull toward them.” ~ Buckingham, Go Put Your Strengths to Work

Buckingham identifies four key SIGNs of a strength:

  • S = Success. You succeed at activities in which you’re strong.
  • I = Instinct. You instinctively know how to accomplish a task.
  • G = Growth. You grow each time you perform a strength.
  • N = Need. You feel a need to be involved in an activity.

Clarify and confirm your strengths by examining the conditions that make an activity particularly engaging:

  1. Does it matter why I’m doing this?
  2. Does it matter for whom I do this?
  3. Does it matter when I do this?
  4. Does it matter what this activity entails?

Perhaps public speaking is one of your strengths—but only when it involves large groups, on a topic you know well, with the goal of closing a sale or entertaining your audience.

Once you clearly identify your strengths, you’ll be better equipped to design the work you love and set the stage for excellence. If, however, you’re struggling to pinpoint your strengths, work with an experienced coach to gain important insights.