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Leadership Series, Part Two: What’s Your Strength?

It’s the American way to focus on weaknesses to improve overall strengths. But in StrengthsFinder® 2.0 (Gallup Press 2007), author Tom Rath says that this approach has its priorities out of order.

Let’s say a child brings home a report card with five A grades and one D in math. How do parents typically respond? Polling from The Gallup® Organization shows that 77% of parents in the United States believe that a child’s lowest grades deserve the most attention and time. Most often, parents will ask their child to explain the cause of the D; then they’ll come up with a plan to improve the grade. They may even hire a tutor and require their child to spend hours studying and focusing on math.

Or what about an athlete? Let’s say a basketball player has strong stats for field goal percentage, points scored and rebounds, but has a low free throw percentage compared to other athletes. It would not be a surprise to see this player working hard to boost those free throw stats.

Yet StrengthsFinder 2.0 contends that people who are not good with numbers will never become incredible statisticians or accountants. And someone who scores low in empathy will not be able to comfort a disgruntled customer in the way that a natural empathizer could. Even the incredible Michael Jordan, the best basketball player of his generation, could never equal that prowess on the golf course or the baseball field, no matter how hard he tried.

Rath challenges the belief that “you can be anything you want to be” or “you can achieve anything if you work hard enough.” Instead, he suggests that “you cannot be anything you want to be—but you can be a lot more of who you already are.”

The Benefits of Knowing Our Own Strengths

StrengthsFinder 2.0 suggests that you should focus on your strengths rather than trying to improve your weaknesses. The key is to dwell on what you are already good at, what you are naturally drawn to and what you inherently succeed at—and to continue to improve on those strengths.

Rath cites a real-life example of an incredibly talented shoemaker who was horrible at sales and marketing. His business struggled until he partnered with an incredible salesperson/marketer. How does this lesson apply to fitness managers?

Having a clear picture of your strengths and talents enables you to

  • find a job or career that highlights those strengths,
  • focus on strengths and make alliances with others who have strengths in areas where you are lacking,
  • manage and lead staff better by harnessing people’s strengths and dividing responsibilities according to areas where the individuals excel, and
  • create a more positive work environment. (People in positions that focus on their strengths tend to love their jobs, which enables them to become more engaged at work, perform at higher levels and enjoy more positive relationships with their co-workers and customers.)

Helping People Find Their Strengths

Rath explains that if you take talent—the natural way of thinking, feeling or behaving—and multiply it by someone investing time and energy practicing, developing and building that natural talent, you can create the ability to consistently achieve near-perfect performance. The challenge is that some people may not even be aware of their strengths or talents.

Fortunately, StrengthsFinder 2.0 has a solution. It encourages readers to go online and take the Clifton StrengthsFinder® assessment, which uses a decade of Gallup research on 10 million people to help test-takers determine their natural talents.

But there is a bit of a catch: The book (published in hardcover; currently selling for $15 on Amazon.com, and possibly more at your local bookstore) provides a unique access code for taking the online test. But the code can be used by only one person. I manage a team of more than 15 people, and I would like all of them to take the test and assess their strengths. But to do that, we each have to buy a copy of the book to get an access code (the code apparently is not available in the Amazon Kindle version of the book). The publisher should consider a discount for managers or business owners, to encourage them to test their entire teams.

My Test Results

Once you answer all the questions on the test, you get a list of five personalized talents or strengths out of 34 categories.

My test generated a 19-page report that outlined my five specific talents and provided a detailed explanation of each strength. Here is a summary:

Significance. People who are especially talented in the Significance theme want to be very important in the eyes of others. They are independent and want to be recognized.

This may sound egotistical, but I have to admit there is some truth here. I’ve always been driven to be the top student, to be top in my career and in my industry and to have my company and skills recognized.

Achiever. People who are especially talented in the Achiever theme have a great deal of stamina and work hard. They take great satisfaction from being busy and productive.

It’s true that I like to have a lot going on and will tend to work as hard as needed to get the job done, sometimes working for extended hours and late into the night. Fortunately, as I have gotten older I’ve learned to enjoy more balance in my life and to surround myself with incredibly talented and intelligent people who can help with the workload so I don’t have to do it all myself.

Activator. People who are especially talented in the Activator theme can make things happen by turning thoughts into action. They are often impatient.

I’m definitely a doer, and I don’t need things to be perfect before jumping in. It’s true that I can be impatient with inefficiencies and incompetence.

Focus. People who are especially talented in the Focus theme can take a direction, follow through and make the corrections necessary to stay on track. They prioritize, then act.

I can definitely prioritize and focus to get the job done.

Competition. People who are especially talented in the Competition theme measure their progress against the performance of others. They strive to win first place, and they revel in contests.

I have been told many times that I am very competitive, and I do love a good challenge and the feeling of winning.

Moving From Recommendations to Action

My report provided an accurate assessment of my natural inclinations, often suggesting that I should be a coach, teacher, mentor, speaker and leader. I guess you could say I stumbled into my calling!

If you take the test, your report will provide 10 action ideas for each of your top five themes. It will also lay out a strength-based action plan for setting specific goals for building and applying your strengths within the next week, month and year.

I believe the book—and specifically the assessment—is worth the price. In just a couple of hours, it can give you a detailed review of where you should focus your energy in your career.

I am a firm believer in the adage “When you love what you do, you never have to work another day in your life.” That is, when you are passionate about what you do and you are naturally good at it, even when you’re working hard, you’re hardly working!

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