4 Signs of a Strength: Success, Instinct, Growth, and Needs



“It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from. The ability to triumph begins with you. Always.” — Oprah Winfrey

What are your best abilities?

Not just what are you good at, but what are your core strengths that run deep.

These are the activities where your passion, your talent, and your ability collide.

Do You Know Your Own Strengths?

The more you do, the stronger you get, the more jazzed you feel, and the more you grow.   Do you know your own strengths?  Many people don’t.

They’re too busy trying to fix their weaknesses.

In Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance, Marcus Buckingham writes about the four signs of a strength.

Key Questions

  1. Do you know your own strengths? 
  2. Do you spend more time growing your strengths or fixing your weaknesses?
  3. How can you find ways to spend more time in your strengths each day?

SIGN (Success, Instinct, Growth, Needs)

SIGN is an acronym to help you organize and remember the key indicators of a true strength:

  1. S is for Success
  2. I is for Instinct
  3. G is for Growth
  4. N is for Needs.

S is for Success

Strengths are where you feel successful:

Buckingham writes:

“If I were to ask you to describe your strengths, you would more than likely begin with those things at which you feel successful, and, frankly, this is a sensible place to start. 

For an activity to be labeled a strength, you must obviously have some ability in it, and your success, measured or otherwise, is the best indicator of ability. 

To be sure, you may not be the most accurate judge of what you’re good at – you will probably assess yourself too harshly or too generously depending on how fragile your ego is.  Nonetheless, how effective you feel at an activity – your self-efficacy, in psychological parlance – is a solid first indicator of a strength.”

I is for Instinct

Strengths are where you feel yourself drawn to the activity.

Buckingham writes:

“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.”

G is for Growth

Strengths are where you grow the most.

Buckingham writes:

“By now you know that the biological underpinnings of your strengths are the presence of thick branches of synaptic connections. 

You also know that because of natures habit of piggy-backing on existing infrastructure, you will grow the most new synaptic connections in those areas where you already have the most existing ones. 

Here you will learn the most, come up with the most new ideas, and have the best insights.”

N is for Needs

Strengths are where you feel a need.

Buckingham writes:

“The final sign of a strength, the N of SIGN, stands for needs.  Whereas the Instinct sign refers to how you feel before you do the activity, and the Growth sign is to your feelings during the activity, the Needs sign points to how you feel right after you’ve done it.”

Some Activities Feel an Innate Need of Yours

Strengths fill an innate need of yours.

Buckingham writes:

“Some activities just seem to fill an innate need of yours.  When you’re done with them, you may feel physically tired, to the point where you are not yet ready to saddle up and tackle them all over again. 

But you don’t feel psychologically drained.  Instead you feel fulfilled, powerful, restored, the exact opposite of drained. 

It’s a satisfying feeling, sure but it’s also much more than mere satisfaction.  It feels authentic, correct.”

You Seek Out Situations Where You Can Do It

Buckingham writes that strengths are where move towards versus away from the activity.

Buckingham writes:

“That all-is-right-with-the-world feeling is addictive.  Your need to feel it again and again is, to return to the I of SIGN, to volunteer for the activity, and to seek out situations where you can do it. 

You want this feeling again, and you’ll put yourself through a lot to get it.”

Your Strengths are Those Activities That Make You Feel Strong

Strengths are the activities that make you feel strong:

Buckingham writes:

“Putting these four signs together, the simplest and most useful definition of a strength is this: Your strengths are those activities that make you feel strong.  (The flip side is also true: ‘An activity that makes you feel weak’ is the best definition of a weakness. ) 

This definition captures the insight that you how you feel while you are doing an activity determines how good you get at the activity

Buckingham writes:In the language of SIGN, you need to be acutely aware of your Is (Instinct), your Gs (Growth), and your N’s (Needs), because they drive your Ss (Success). 

More simply, your appetites drive your ability.”

Your Appetites Fuel Your Practice and Your Practice Fuels Your Performance

Your appetite drives your abilities.

Buckingham writes:

“You are drawn in by some activities and repelled by others, and those you are drawn to, you practice more, so you get better, and so you practice more, and so your performance improves still further. 

Up and up this spirals, with your appetites fueling your practice and your practice driving your performance.  Using SIGN language again, the I draws you in, the G keeps you focused, and the N makes you feel great, which in turn fuels the I, which draws you back in.  Onward and upward it goes, with your appetites driving your abilities.”

Key Takeaways

Here are my key takeaways:

  • SIGN.  SIGN is an acronym for success, instinct, growth, and needs.
  • Strong.  Strengths are activities that make you feel strong.
  • S – Success.  Strengths are where you feel successful.
  • I – Instinct.  Strengths are activities that you are naturally drawn to.
  • G – Growth.  Strengths are where you learn the most, come up with the most new ideas, and have the best insights.
  • N – Needs.  Strengths are where you feel the need to spend more time.

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The Language of Strengths – Learn How To Identify and Label Your Strengths

The Strengths Movement – A Shift from Weaknesses to Strengths

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  1. This made me realize that I really don’t pay attention to how I feel after different activities. It makes absolute sense to focus on things that are fulfilling, natural, and make me feel strong. But what the heck are they?

    Thanks for the inspiration; I’m going to keep a doc open over the next few weeks to record the activities that leave me feeling strong.

  2. Hi J.D.

    WOW. This is thought provoking. As I read it, it reminded me of how writing has always been part a part of my life/jobs. I never thought of myself as a writer, but now that I’m blogging, I find I get a lot of joy from it and am beginning to think, it’s one of my strengths. When I read your key takeaways, I was nodding at each one. That’s awesome. Who knew?

  3. Hey Sara

    Good move! You might be surprised what you find. I know I was.

    Here’s some places you can look that might help:
    – do you recharge when your alone or when your with other people?
    – do you prefer thinking or doing?
    – do you like starting or finishing?
    – do you like the details or do you like the big picture?

    Once you know what makes you stronger, you get better at finding opportunities to play to your strengths and avoid situations that drain you.

  4. Hey Barbara

    If you have any doubts, let me be the first to confirm that your writing is one of your strengths. Maybe you don’t hear it enough and maybe people don’t tell you enough, but you’re a writer. What a great strength to have in today’s information age!

  5. My strengths have to do with helping people think about and practice the art of life balance. I’m far from perfect, and I focus on growing my strengths. I grow my strengths by dedicating time each day to my creative practice.

  6. Mine are writing and communicating. I do tend to focus on those. I am also working on weaknesses. For example, I learned how to ski despite having many fears around it. There’s something wonderful and empowering about conquering fears. But I agree that for the most part, it’s a god idea to focus on what we’re good at.

  7. Hey Vered

    I agree – you have strengths in writing and communicating. Your energy continues to show.

    I too am a fan of taking on new challenges. Maybe conquering your fears is one of your strengths? (sounds like you get energy from it)

  8. Hey Stacey

    You show your strengths daily and that’s great. I really think your combined focus on growth and balanced is a good one.

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