Sunday, August 30, 2009

Discovering my strengths

I first heard of the Internet based StrengthsFinder Profile when Jane Pauley mentioned taking it in her book, "Skywriting: A Life Out of the Blue."

She wrote:
“I’d been reading books about management and organizations for a long time, recreationally. On our February trip to Boca Raton, my sister recommended Now, Discover Your Strengths, by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton, who argue that it’s far more productive to develop a strength than to strengthen a weakness. A provocative idea—assuming I had strengths. I was dubious.

I went online and, with the pass-code that came with the book, registered and answered the questions. Experts call it a “testing instrument”—it’s not apparent to a layperson like me how the questions produce accurate results. Instantly, I got mine and my first thought was that I didn’t recognize this person they said I was.”

I was intrigued that Jane was surprised by her results, perhaps her struggles with bipolar disorder contributed to this surprise, but then even Peter Drucker felt few people could articulate their areas of strength. When I noticed Now, Discover Your Strengths was listed as one of Jack Covert's "100 Best Business Books of All Time," I decided I had to buy this book and take this test.

You do need a NEW copy of the book. If you get a used copy, the key provided in the book will NOT enable you to take the online assessment.

I ended up purchasing Tom Rath's book Strengths Finder 2.0 instead of Now, Discover Your Strengths because it included a new upgraded edition of the StrengthsFinder assessment. It also came with a more customized version of the top 5 themes (strengths) report and 50 ideas for action (10 strategies for building on each of your top 5 themes). Both books are based on the same premise you are more productive developing your strengths than strengthening a weakness.

A strength is different from a skill. A talent or strength is something you're naturally good at, while a skill is something you learn over time by building skills and knowledge. Buckingham’s definition of a strength is something you’re pulled toward and want to do. When you’re doing it, you’re highly engaged. You’re curious about how you can do it better. When you’re finished, you feel energized and want to do it again. Once you shape your work and life in ways that use your natural talents, you will make yourself more effective, productive and happy.

What are my top 5 strengths?

You have a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve. In particular, the process of learning, rather than the outcome, excites you.

You have a craving to know more. Often you like to collect and archive all kinds of information.

You enjoy thinking about the past. You understand the present by researching its history.

You are characterized by your intellectual activity. You are introspective and appreciate intellectual discussions.

You are intrigued with the unique qualities of each person and have a gift for figuring out how people who are different can work together productively.

Initially, I was not pleased with the results of my assessment. My first reaction was "I thought this assessment was going to teach me something I didn’t know." I was hoping my strengths would be a little more glamorous. The above so called talents were the same traits I’ve been trying to overcome since I was the geeky uncool nerd in high school. I shut my computer off in disgust.

Most upsetting was the talent "Input;" my collection of facts, quotes, and lists of books is a strength? I never considered myself a collector of things even if it is lists of books or favorite quotes. Also, I was surprised I wasn’t an "Analyzer" (I am an accountant) instead I am this context individualizer. I always hated this part of myself. I tend to think it makes me seem obsessed; like I just can’t let things go.

The aftermath:
Acceptance ~ I took the assessment in May. Over the past couple of months, I thought and read more about my 5 strengths and gradually began to accept them as who I really am. If I strip away all the layers of what I think I am supposed to be along with what I aspire to be my 5 themes really are the talents that I am really drawn to.

It turns out INPUT is a great strength to have if you are a writer, artist, or another type of creative. INPUT can keep you fresh. It might be a great strength for a “Blogger.”

Also, this isn’t the first time I've seen "Learner" listed as my top strength. Back in 2002, I took the free VIA online survey which gives an immediate report of character strengths in top-down order with a brief description of each strength.

My top 3 strengths from the VIA survey were:
Love of learning
Industry, diligence, and perseverance
Judgment, critical thinking, and open-mindedness

I retook this survey last week. The results for my top three strengths were identical to the 2002 results.

I wonder if #3 is another way of describing "Individualization?"

My weaknesses:
I have to admit I do spend a lot of time trying to develop my weaknesses. No matter how hard I try I will never naturally be a "Commander." A commander is someone who has presence, takes control of a situation and makes decisions. This explains why I sometimes struggle in my role as Accounting Manager and why I found being the President of my professional association a difficult task. I had to push myself to lead the group and make the difficult decisions. The reality is that in any area where we’re truly weak you can climb from pathetic up to really bad, but no matter how much you work at it, you don’t really improve.

A new career or answering the question of are you in the right career is not the assessment’s intended purpose. It is designed to be used as a performance enhancer:
I can use my results to better enhance my career; when seeking out a new position I am going to look for more of a supervisor role that focuses on teaching and individualization rather than a senior level "Commander" management role. Or perhaps I'll forego management altogether and become an expert in one particular accounting area.

I am most successful when I partner with people who have complementary strengths:
“Learners” love research and learning for the sake of learning. For me, results matter less than the experience of learning. My immediate boss is clearly “Analytical.” He searches for reasons and causes and has the ability to think about all the factors that might affect a situation. Between the two of us we take forever to get something done. I work much better when I work directly with our President. He is an “Achiever.” Achievers thrive on getting things done. They are driven by accomplishing things. “Learners” and “Achievers” complement each other well and together succeed like they might not as individuals.

Bottom line:
Based on my experience, I think Peter Drucker is correct; few people can articulate their areas of strength. Trying to discover my own strengths has not been an easy process or very effective. So many career books I’ve read in the past, Lawler Kang’s Passion at Work: How to Find Work You Love and Live the Time of Your Life comes to mind, instruct you to perform an exercise or two then assumes you’ve discovered your life’s passion. Now, I finally feel as though I have a baseline of strengths to draw from to continue my process of "Getting my Ducks in a Row."

If you have any interest in discovering your own strengths, I highly recommend taking the StrengthsFinder Profile or at the very least checking out the free VIA online survey. If you do so, please share your experience in the comments or post a link to your own blog post.


  1. I took the free VIA online survey. My top 3 strengths were 1) Curiousity and interest in the world
    2) Love of learning
    3) Honesty, authenticity, and genuineness

  2. HU,
    What a great set of strengths, you are going to make a fabulous nurse.

  3. Yeah I know, the topic of requiring a new book purchase in order to take the assessment is quite the sales gimmick and deserves its own post.

  4. I did a similar online assessment - Authentic Happiness -- it took a looonng time, but I did actually enjoy it. 2 friends did it as well, and we found that the statements sparked a lot of discussion between us over a snowy weekend. I can't say there were "revelations," but maybe some cold hard facts to face.