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The Language of Strengths

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“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” — Christopher Reeve

Your personal strengths are your natural patterns for thinking, feeling, and doing.  These are the activities you can do all day long.  You get energy from doing these activities rather than get drained.  Things that drain you are your personal weaknesses.

I’m spelling out these specific distinctions of strengths and weaknesses because many people just think of them as things you are good at or things you are bad at.  It’s actually more effective to look in terms of things that come natural to you, and things that go against your grain.  If you focus on your personal strengths in terms of your natural thinking, feeling, and doing patterns, then you can amplify your results and you energize everything you do.

Your personal power, unique capabilities, and inspired action comes from spending more time in your strengths, and less time in your weaknesses.

Why a Language for Personal Strengths

One of the challenges to knowing your personal strengths is knowing what to call your strengths.  Lucky for us, we can leverage some existing vocabularies for personal strengths.  Having a vocabulary helps you both understand the key concepts and it gives you a lens for looking at your personal strengths.

You can build your vocabulary of character strengths, by drawing from multiple bodies of work within the strengths arena.  Here are a few character strength vocabularies to draw from …

24 Signature Strengths (Martin Seligman)

Martin Seligman named a set of 24 Signature Strengths.  You can find out more about Martin Seligman’s work at the Authentic Happiness Center.  Here are Seligman’s 24 Signature Strengths:

  1. Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence
  2. Bravery and Valor
  3. Capacity to Love and Be Loved
  4. Caution, Prudence, and Discretion
  5. Citizenship, Teamwork, and Loyalty
  6. Creativity, Ingenuity, and Originality
  7. Curiosity and Interest in the World
  8. Fairness, Equity, and Justice
  9. Forgiveness and Mercy
  10. Gratitude
  11. Honesty, Authenticity, and Genuineness
  12. Hope, Optimism, and Future-mindedness
  13. Humor and playfulness
  14. Industry, Diligence, and Perseverance
  15. Judgment, Critical Thinking, and Open-Mindedness
  16. Kindness and Generosity
  17. Leadership
  18. Love of Learning
  19. Modesty and Humility
  20. Perspective  and Wisdom
  21. Self-Control and Self-Regulation
  22. Social Intelligence
  23. Spirituality, Sense of Purpose, and Faith
  24. Zest, Enthusiasm, and Energy

34 Key Strengths (Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton)

Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton, Ph.D. identified 34 key signature themes of strength.  I have a brief description of each strength in my post, Finding Your Strengths.  Here are the 34 signature themes:

  1. Achiever
  2. Activator
  3. Adaptability
  4. Analytical
  5. Arranger
  6. Belief
  7. Command
  8. Communication
  9. Competition
  10. Connectedness
  11. Context
  12. Deliberative
  13. Developer
  14. Discipline
  15. Empathy
  16. Fairness
  17. Focus
  18. Futuristic
  19. Harmony
  20. Ideation
  21. Inclusiveness
  22. Individualization
  23. Input
  24. Intellection
  25. Learner
  26. Maximizer
  27. Positivity
  28. Relater
  29. Responsibility
  30. Restorative
  31. Self-assurance
  32. Significance
  33. Strategic
  34. Woo

How To Use the Language of Strengths

One way to use the labels for strengths is to take the tests and find out what they say about you.  I do like the fact that they frame and name the strengths, which makes it easy to explore, test, and evaluate.  Personally, I’ve found more value by simply exploring the labels and using them as lenses.  I’ve been rationalizing them against the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) as well as my own frames for strengths, looking for underlying patterns and practices.

At the end of the day, the most important thing for me has been finding where I get energy from, and finding what takes it away.   This leads me to a personalized strengths frame that I can use as a lens for investing in my portfolio of strengths … and this is the key to exponential results.

An Example of Using Strengths

At Microsoft, there are a lot of demands on my time and competition is fierce.  I’ve learned to keep my energy strong while making things happen.  The best ways I’ve found to do that are follow my growth and follow my passion.  Another way, that’s very important, is to play to my strengths.  Spending time in my strengths is the key to hitting the high notes and getting exponential results.  It keeps me strong, my energy high, and produces more impactful results in less amount of time.

Whenever I find myself drained, all I need to do is take a look at where I’ve been spending my time.  Sure enough, it’s always from spending too much time in my weaknesses and not enough time in my strengths.   That’s the interesting lesson too … I can spend more time in my weaknesses, as long as I’m spending enough time in my strengths.

By strengths, I’m not talking about the skills I’ve learned.  I’m talking about my natural strengths – the ones that I can count on no matter what.  I didn’t find my strengths over night and it’s a continuous process of gaining clarity and precision.

The key here is knowing the language.  When you know what to look for, it’s easier to find your own strengths, label them, and use them to your advantage.

Photo by Mell P.

13 Comments on "The Language of Strengths"

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  1. JB King says:

    Thanks for the list. The idea that these labels are just starting points and not end points is something that can’t be stressed enough. I remember reading through, “Go Put Your Strengths to Work,” and noticing how specific one is to get with their strengths as there can be various factors that determine what are the circumstances where a strength can be used.

    JB

  2. SM says:

    You might want to look at Buckingham’s newest work, Stand Out. The book will be published in September, but I got an advanced copy and it’s more focused than his original work in the area and loaded with practical techniques to leverage your core strengths in a work environment.

  3. Vered says:

    “the most important thing for me has been finding where I get energy from, and finding what takes it away.” Great advice. You know that you’re the one who taught me to focus on my strengths instead of on my weaknesses.

  4. JD says:

    @ JB — Your point about context reminded me of another powerful and related book — Overachievement. The author is a sport pschologist and writes about ways to bring out your best and get your game on in the toughest scenarios.

    @ SM — It sounds great. Buckingham knows his stuff. And, it sounds like a perfect complement to Linchpin.

    Many moons ago, Tony Robbins said the key to success is to be outstanding.

    @ Vered — I’m glad you’ve chosen the strengths path. I think it’s the key in today’s world, and it’s sustainable for the long run.

    One of my managers really focused me on my strengths. He wanted me to spend more time on whatever I could be the best in the world at, and stop focusing on my weaknesses. (The exception was addressing things that would be key liabilities.)

  5. Sanjay says:

    A Real Beautiful insight. Very few individuals dwell on such subtle & creative topics.
    Cheers, mate!

  6. Great post!

    I think its also important to note that a lot of what we consider our ‘strengths’ are also just that as a result of our having nurtured those qualities. In my practice with leadership coaching, part of what we focus on is the fact that you can cultivate your other qualities, say those of creativity because they are still innate and just need to be tapped into – particularly creativity.

    -Deborah Connolly

  7. JD says:

    @ Sanjay — Thank you. I think more people will gradually find that strengths are the key to sustainable results in our new landscape.

    @ Deborah — I agree, and I’m a fan of skills and deliberate practice.

    I think the fine point is finding the sweet spot where our natural talents can accelerate at a faster pace, than if we’re working against our own grain.

    Ultimately, it’s the Hedgehog concept in action, with a personal twist.

  8. Hilary says:

    Hi JD .. many thanks – I went and had a look at your “How to Find your Strengths” post in 2008 .. http://sourcesofinsight.com/2008/02/11/finding-your-key-strengths/

    Interesting .. I’ll make a note and come back to these two posts ..

    Great post and lists .. the 2008 post is fascinating ..

    Have the 5 you listed changed?!

    Cheers Hilary

  9. JD says:

    @ Hilary — The strengths path is a powerful one.

    These still ring true for me: Achiever; Ideation; Individualization; Maximizer; Self-assurance; Significant.

    But, I’m actually exploring and testing additional ways to look at strengths and to blend it better with skill. I’m a fan of the skills path and deliberate practice, combined with natural strengths.

  10. Nolan Hara says:

    I’m looking for all the help and or advice I can possibly get. I’ll admit that I am a procrastinator, no motivation or ambition and no goals. Having said that I am definetly looking to improve myself and my quality of living. I am also currently employed in the Security Industry, but would like to consider changing my field that would be best suited for me.

    Taking my list of ‘Character Strengths’, how I can use them or apply them when looking for employment. Finding work that I will enjoy doing and working in a field that would be most suuited based on those skills/strengths?

    Thank-you for your time and input!

    Best regards, Nolan

  11. JD says:

    @ Nolan — I think one of the simplest ways to use the strengths is to identify the types of work that you could accelerate at.

    One way to find the way forward is to ask, “What would you do for free?”, and, “What would people pay you for?”

    In my experience, if you don’t follow your passion, then your path will feel like pushing rocks uphill. When you follow your passion, work becomes play, and more importantly, it gives you the staying power to overcome challenges and do the tough stuff to get great at what you do.

    The real key though is to find that intersection of your passion and what people will pay you for. Some people follow their passion, but that’s not enough to make a living.

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