I have always believed in “playing to your strengths,” so I was excited to read StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath and take the online assessment. I also gave everyone in our External Affairs unit a copy and made this the core part of our annual staff retreat.
The book debunks the idea that we can be anything we want to be if we just try hard enough. We love the underdog story. (I admit; I fall right in line here, especially when it comes to movies like Rudy.) Rath writes that this leads to culture of devoting more time to our shortcomings, with the misguided mindset that hard work can overcome all. “As a result, millions of people see these heroes as being the epitome of the American dream and set their sights on conquering major challenges. Unfortunately, this is taking the path of most resistance.”
It was disheartening to read about the implications for young people. Gallup research indicates that the overwhelming majority of parents think that a student’s lowest grades deserve the most time and attention. “Parents and teachers reward excellence with apathy instead of investing more time in the areas where a child has the most potential for greatness.”
The reality, according to the author, is that if you struggle in a particular area – the book uses the example of “numbers,” it’s unlikely that you’re ever going to be a stellar accountant. It’s a slap in the face to the popular notion that we can be anything if we work hard enough. Rath proposes another way of looking at this:
“You cannot be anything you want to be—but you can be a lot more of who you already are.”
StrengthsFinder actually measures talents, not strengths. But “strengths” is part of the name because the ultimate goal is to build a true strength, and talent is just one of the ingredients in this formula. Practice and hard work are also required. The author’s formula is TALENT x INVESTMENT = STRENGTH. The best use of our time and energy is developing our natural talents. If we do this, there is extraordinary room for growth. In this case, raw talent serves as a multiplier.
The Clifton StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment took about 30 minutes to do at strengthsfinder.com. (Each book contains a unique access code.) Its objective is finding the areas where you have the greatest potential to develop strengths.
My top five strength themes were Learner, Individualization, Achiever, Relator, and Responsibility.
I received a 20-page Strengths Insights and Action-Planning Guide divided into three sections: Awareness, Application, and Achievement. Application included 10 Ideas for Action for each strength. For example, under “Learner” one action idea read: “Be a catalyst for change. Others might be intimidated by new rules, new skills, or new circumstances. Your willingness to soak up this newness can calm their fears and spur them to action. Take this responsibility seriously.”
The report was comprehensive and insightful and provided the basis for discussion at our staff retreat.
We brought in a facilitator who used additional materials from Marcus Buckingham, who coauthored the first edition of StrengthsFinder – Now, Discover Your Strengths – with the late Donald Clifton.
We contemplated what percentage of a typical day we spend using our strengths. Gallup research says that only 2 out of 10 people play to their strengths at work. That’s discouraging because – to no surprise – those who do have the opportunity to focus on their strengths report having a much higher quality of life at work and at home.
Buckingham defines a strength as an activity that makes you feel strong. A weakness is an activity that leaves you feeling weak, an activity that bores you, or frustrates you, or drains you. For our group, this was a different perspective in which to think about our strengths and weaknesses.
Our charge was to seek out situations that call upon our strengths and reduce weakening activities to 25 percent of our day. Easier said than done? Exactly how do you cut out your weaknesses? The first suggestion was to stop doing what you don’t like and see if anyone would notice or care. A more plausible route could be seeking out someone who loves what you loathe. Can you find someone who enjoys that activity and create a partnership? While you may not be able to completely eliminate weakening activities, you may be able to manage around them.
StrengthsFinder 2.0 was a worthwhile endeavor for our entire staff, and we continue to discuss action items. Afterward we created and distributed a table of our compiled strengths. This reinforced an important adage that a team is well-rounded precisely because the individuals are not.
“Our natural talents and passions – the things we truly love to do – last for a lifetime. But all too often those talents go untapped…This is why it is essential not only to discover and develop your strengths as early as possible, but also to help the people around you build on their natural talents…Every human being has talents that are just waiting to be uncovered.”