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.
MEASURING YOUR STRENGTHS
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:
- Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton (Free Press, 2001)
- StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath (Gallup Press, 2007)
- Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Outstanding Performance by Marcus Buckingham (Free Press, 2007)
WorKuno.com also offers a free online strengths test: http://www.freestrengthsfinder.com/1-free-strengthsfinder-test.html. 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:
- Achiever: constantly driven to accomplish tasks
- Activator: sets things in motion
- Adaptability: adept at accommodating changes in direction/plan
- Analytical: requires data/proof to make sense of circumstances
- Arranger: enjoys orchestrating many tasks/variables
- Belief: strives to find ultimate meaning in everything he/she does
- Command: embraces leadership positions without fearing confrontation
- Communication: uses words to inspire action and education
- Competition: thrives on comparison and competition
- Connectedness: seeks to unite others through commonalities
- Consistency: treats everyone the same to avoid unfair advantage
- Context: reviews the past to make better decisions
- Deliberative: proceeds with caution and a planned approach
- Developer: sees others’ untapped potential
- Discipline: makes sense of the world by imposing order
- Empathy: in tune with others’ emotions
- Focus: has a clear sense of direction
- Futuristic: eyes the future to drive today’s success
- Harmony: seeks to avoid conflict and achieve consensus
- Ideation: sees underlying concepts that unite disparate ideas
- Includer: instinctively works to include everyone
- Individualization: draws upon individuals’ uniqueness to create successful teams
- Input: constantly collects information/objects for future use
- Intellection: enjoys thinking and thought-provoking conversation; can compress complex concepts into simplified models
- Learner: constantly challenged; learns new skills/information to feel successful
- Maximizer: takes people and projects from great to excellent
- Positivity: injects levity into any situation
- Relator: most comfortable with fewer, deeper relationships
- Responsibility: always follows through on commitments
- Restorative: thrives on solving difficult problems
- Self-Assurance: stays true to beliefs; self-confident
- Significance: wants others to see him/her as significant
- Strategic: can see a clear direction in complex situations
- Woo: can easily persuade
FOUR SIGNS OF STRENGTH
“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:
- Does it matter why I’m doing this?
- Does it matter for whom I do this?
- Does it matter when I do this?
- 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.