By July 31, 2009 Read More →

Why Strengths?

WhyStrengths2

In this post, I’ve collected the most significant data points I could find to help answer the question “Why strengths?” Simply put, you might just be the world’s next best, you name it, but we’ll never know. Why? … Because we don’t spend enough time in our strengths. Worse, very few of us even know what our strengths are. I’m talking about natural talent here, not skills, knowledge, or experience. Your natural talents are your default thinking, feeling, and doing patterns. Luckily, there is a language for talking about these. The Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment is a language of the 34 most common talent themes, based on Gallup’s 40-year study of human strengths.

Why do we even care about care about our strengths, though? Because spending time in your strengths unleashes your best, gives you more energy, helps you find your flow, and gives you an advantage in the market place. Your strengths are your differentiators. Perhaps, the most important point though is, you grow more in your strengths than in your weaknesses. To clarify this, you grow more where you have natural talent. Why? Because talent is the multiplier.

Even if you know and can name your natural talents by heart, none of this matters if you don’t actually spend time in your strengths. Knowing and doing are two separate things. When it comes to strengths, it’s the doing that makes the difference.

Key Take Aways
Here are my key take aways:

  • Only 17 percent of us play to our strengths most of the time. We spend more time in our weaknesses than our strengths. Our natural talents and passions last a life time, and yet our talents go untapped. We spend more time in activities that make us weak, than activities that make us strong.
  • Strengths are the key to improving life. Focusing on strengths improves engagement, job satisfaction, and quality of life. It’s how you find your flow and get your groove on and unleash the best version of yourself. It’s how you realize and put into practice your authentic self. It’s ultimately about your core and most enduring personality traits – your passions, interests, and talent.
  • Talent is the multiplier. If you put the same time and energy in a place where you have no talent, you’ll burn a lot of energy for less return on investment. If you apply that same time and energy in a place where you have natural talent, you’ll amplify your impact.
  • Map out your strengths and weaknesses. When you know your strengths/weaknesses, you can invest more time in strength activities and less time in weakness activities
  • You’re wired for some things more than others. You’re able to get better results by growing your strengths (the stuff you’re wired for) than by fixing your weaknesses.

The pattern I see time and again is be more of yourself with skills. A core part of who you are, or, your authentic self, is your natural talents and strengths.  Knowledge and skills are amplifiers for your natural talents.

It’s About Results
Do what you do best … every day.  According to The Marcus Buckingham Company:

  • … the single best predictor of a consistently high-performing team is the answer to this question: “At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best everyday?”
  • Teams with individuals who do massively outperform teams with people who don’t-they’re more profitable, more productive, less likely to quit, less likely to have accidents on the job…the list goes on.

Avoid the Path of Most Resistance
You can follow your weaknesses.  That’s the path of most resistance.  You can also choose to follow your strengths and make the most of your innate talents.  Before trying to turn your weaknesses into strengths, explore where you’ve made the most of your talent or if you’re missing an opportunity.  In the book, StrengthsFinder 2.0: A New and Upgraded Edition of the Online Test from Gallup’s Now, Discover Your Strengths , Tom Rath writes:

  • Avoid the path of most resistance.
  • We celebrate those who triumph over their lack of natural ability even more than we recognize those who capitalize on their innate talents.

The Story of Hector
In the book, StrengthsFinder 2.0: A New and Upgraded Edition of the Online Test from Gallup’s Now, Discover Your Strengths , Tom Rath writes how Hector increased his results three-fold, by spending more time in his strengths and less time in his weaknesses:

    Hector had always been known as a great shoe-maker.  In fact, customers from such far-off places as France claimed that Hector made the best shoes in the world.  Yet for years, he had been frustrated with his small shoemaking business.  Although Hector knew he was capable of making hundreds of shoes per week, he was averaging just 30 pairs.  When a friend asked him, Hector explained that while he was great at producing shoes, he was a poor salesman — and terrible when it came to collecting payments.  Yet he spent most of his time working in these areas of weakness.  So Hector’s friend introduced him to Sergio, a natural salesman and marketer.  Just as Hector was known for his craftsmanship, sergio could close deals and sell.  Given the way their strengths complemented one another, Hector and Sergio decided to work together.  A year later, this strength-based duo was producing, selling, and collecting payment for more than 100 pairs of shoes per week — a more than threefold increase.

    The Greatest General of All Time
    In the book, StrengthsFinder 2.0: A New and Upgraded Edition of the Online Test from Gallup’s Now, Discover Your Strengths , Tom Rath writes about Mark Twain’s story of opportunity lost::

    Mark Twain once described a man who died and met Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates.  Knowing that Saint Peter was very wise. the man asked a question that he had wondered about throughout his life.  He said, “Saint Peter, I have been interested in military history for many years. Who was the greatest general of all time?”  Saint Peter quickly responded, “Oh, that’s a simple question.  It’s the man right over there.” “You must be mistaken,” responded the man, now very perplexed.  “I knew that man on earth, and he was just a common laborer.”  “That’s right my friend,” assured Saint Peter.  “He would have been the greatest general of all time, if he had been a general.”

People Change, But Their Natural Talents Stay the Same
While people change over time, some things are more durable than others.  Research has shown that your interests, passions, and natural talents tend to be enduring.  In the book, StrengthsFinder 2.0: A New and Upgraded Edition of the Online Test from Gallup’s Now, Discover Your Strengths , Tom Rath writes

  • Although people certainly do change over time and our personalities adapt, scientists have discovered that core personality traits are relatively stable throughout adulthood, as our passions and interests.
  • More recent research suggests that the roots of our personality might be visible at an even younger age than was originally thought.
  • A compelling 23-year longitudinal study of 1,000 children in New Zealand revealed that a child’s observed personality at age 3 shows remarkable similarity to his or her reported personality traits at age 26.
  • This is one of the reasons why StrengthsFinder measures the elements of your personality that are less likely to change – your talents.

Increase Employee Engagement by Six Times and Have an Excellent Quality of Life
You can dramatically improve your engagement at work, as well as your quality of life, by playing to your strengths, instead of focusing on your weaknesses.  In the book, StrengthsFinder 2.0: A New and Upgraded Edition of the Online Test from Gallup’s Now, Discover Your Strengths , Tom Rath writes:

  • Over the past decade, Gallup has surveyed more than 10 million people worldwide on the topic of employee engagement (or how positive and productive people are at work), and only one-third “strongly agree” with the statement:  “At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.”
  • … and for those who do NOT get to focus on what they do best – their strengths – the costs are staggering.  In a recent poll of more than 1,000 people, among those who “strongly disagreed” or “disagreed” with this “what I do best” statement, not one single person was emotionally engaged on the job.
  • In contrast, out studies indicate that people who do have the opportunity to focus on their strengths every day are six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs and more than three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life in general.

When Your Manager Focuses on Strengths, You’re More Engaged
In the book, StrengthsFinder 2.0: A New and Upgraded Edition of the Online Test from Gallup’s Now, Discover Your Strengths , Tom Rath writes:

  • if your manager primarily ignores you, the chances of you being actively disengaged are 40% .
  • if your manager primarily focuses on your weaknesses, the chances of your being actively disengaged are 22% .
  • if your manager primarily focuses on your strengths, the chances of you being actively disengaged are 1%..

Only 17 Percent of Us Play to Our Strengths Most of the Time
Even if we know what our strengths are, very few of us spend significant time in them.  For one reason or another, we end up spending most of our time in activities that are more of a weakness than a strength.  Imagine the world of difference when you start spending the majority of your time in your strengths? In the book, Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance , Marcus Buckingham writes:

  • … only 17 percent of us have our strengths in play most of the time.
  • The truth is, we are not our organization’s greatest asset, at least not nearly to the extent that we could be.
  • Today, despite more than two million people taking the Clifton StrengthsFinder profile, when you poll people with the question “What percentage of a typical day do you spend playing to your strengths?” only 17 percent answer “most of the time.”

Talent is the Multiplier
Your natural talent is the multiplier.  When you invest your time in something, it’s your natural talent that can help you make the most of it.  If you don’t have any talent, you can thrash away just to break even.  That’s why finding and playing to your talents is so powerful.  It multiples and amplifies your impact.  It’s your personal game changer.  In the book, StrengthsFinder 2.0: A New and Upgraded Edition of the Online Test from Gallup’s Now, Discover Your Strengths , Tom Rath writes:

  • Adding raw talent is not the same as adding skill.
  • Start with a dominant talent and add skills, knowledge and practice.
  • Talent is the multiplier.

(Talent) X (Investment) = Strength
There is a simple formula for strength.  It’s talent times investment.  When you sharpen and hone your talent, you build your strengths.  These are your authentic strengths.  They are at your core and reflect your greatest gifts.  In the book, StrengthsFinder 2.0: A New and Upgraded Edition of the Online Test from Gallup’s Now, Discover Your Strengths , Tom Rath writes:

  • Talent X Investment = Strength
  • Talent is a natural way of thinking, feeling or behaving.
  • Investment is time spent practicing, developing your skills and building your knowledge base.
  • Strength is the ability consistently provide near perfect performance.

How Talents are Expressed Varies a Great Deal from Person to Person
One person’s ability to inspire may be completely different than another’s.  You might have the same general talent, but entirely different approaches or “how”.  That’s why the key is to find what works for you.  Take your talent, but find your best way for unleashing it.  In the book, StrengthsFinder 2.0: A New and Upgraded Edition of the Online Test from Gallup’s Now, Discover Your Strengths , Tom Rath writes:

While you and a few friends may each have Learner among your top five themes, the fine points of those talents and how they are expressed vary a great deal from person to person: One of you may learn from reading several books each month, while someone else learns primarily from doing, and yet another learns from an insatiable curiosity and Googles everything.

Managing Your Weakness
Don’t let your weaknesses be your downfall.  Your weakness is anyplace where you don’t have natural talent and you have to work extra hard at something.  In the book, StrengthsFinder 2.0: A New and Upgraded Edition of the Online Test from Gallup’s Now, Discover Your Strengths , Tom Rath writes:

  • In any occupation or role, it’s helpful to know your areas of lesser talent.  That’s especially true if the demands of your job pull you in a new direction, as your lesser talents can lead to weakness.
  • As you study the descriptions of the 34 themes, see if you can identify a few areas in which you are clearly lacking in talent and have little potential to create a strength.  In many cases, simply being aware of your area of lesser talent can help you avoid major roadblocks.
  • Another strategy is to partner with someone who has more talent in the areas in which you are lacking.

Be a Lot More of Who You Already Are
Be YOUR Best.  That’s the key.  First take inventory of what your core strengths really are.  From there, pick and choose where to play your best game.  In the book, StrengthsFinder 2.0: A New and Upgraded Edition of the Online Test from Gallup’s Now, Discover Your Strengths , Tom Rath writes:

  • The American myth – be whatever you want.
  • A person who has always struggled with numbers is unlikely to be a great accountant or statistician.
  • The person without much natural empathy will never be able to comfort an agitated customer in the warm and sincere way that the great empathizers can.
  • Each person has great potential for success in specific areas
  • The key to human development is building on who you already are
  • You cannot be anything you want to be — but you can be a lot more of who you already are.

Where to Go From Here
When you’re on the strengths path, you have a lot of support.  Not only is there extensive research and bodies of knowledge to draw from, but there are heroes, and examples to draw from.  Here are some key books to explore and experiment with strengths:

Photo by fPat.

9 Comments on "Why Strengths?"

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  1. How To Have a Strong Week - Sources of Insight | August 10, 2009
  1. Great post, JD. :)

    One thing that often amazes me is how unaware people are of their skills and talents. In my experience, I have met people who have unrealistic views about their talent and skills. Many people want things immediately without the work. I think one of the best things a person can do is to be honest with what are their strengths and weaknesses and take things from there. When a person has a realistic perception of themselves, then they can take what they have and have it work for them. Each one of us is capable of doing something amazing with what we have.

    For some reason, this post just confirms that for me.

  2. Hi J.D.
    I love this post and it gave me comfort in knowing that my own believe system a line with what was said here. Gallup is classic!
    Thanks for sharing.
    Giovanna Garcia
    Impecfect Action is better than No Action

  3. Lance says:

    Hi JD,
    The very end really jumps out at me: “You cannot be anything you want to be — but you can be a lot more of who you already are.” — This is saying to me, right now, that I have a lot of potential within me, in those areas that matter deeply to me, and that I “can” do. And that’s such a good feeling right now… For me personally, and when I look out at the world, and what the potential is for all of us!

  4. J.D. Meier says:

    @ Nadia

    You’re right. It really is about being honest with yourself in what your real strengths and weaknesses are. I see people that wish to be dealt another hand, and I see others who play their best hand with the cards they’re dealt. You can imagine the difference.

    @ Giovanna

    Gallup is indeed classic! There is a lot of power in strengths, and it really is about shifting focus to what you’re naturally great at.

    @ Lance

    You put it very well – it’s your potential, it matters, and you can do it. It’s all about giving your best where you have your best to give. That is the key to unleashing your potential.

  5. Hi J.D.
    This is a great post. So many good points!
    I stumbled it so more people can learn from this.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Giovanna Garcia
    Imperfect Action is better than No Action

  6. JD says:

    @ Giovanna

    Thank you!

  7. Jen says:

    Hello JD,
    Let me just choose these few words to express and encourage YOU today: ‘I feel as though I have walked into a beautiful cavern and have seen slabs of chrysolite’ and I do know this feeling! :) ~how much! I have learned from the many blogs that I have browsed on your page today!
    “Thank-you, J.D!” Truly, you are making a difference illumining your corner and I am grateful for having ‘divinely’ stumbled across these pages! Namaste blessings, Jen/Sharmila
    ~’Living Truthfully’~honoring my highest values :)

  8. JD says:

    @ Jen

    Thank you! I try to pave paths and share what I learn. It sounds like you’ve found some things that made your day, and that makes my day.