Monday, February 11, 2008

Finding Your Key Strengths

What are your key strengths?  What are your talents that come easy for you, but are difficult for others?  Are you fully leveraging your unique combination of strengths?  If you know your unique combination of strengths, and you play to your strengths versus focusing on your weaknesses, you can amplify your results.  One of the key things that can hold you back is spending too much focus on your weaknesses and not on your strengths.  The better you know your strengths and talents, the better you can pick the right situations or job to leverage your innate abilities.  In Now, Discover Your Strengths, Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton, Ph.D. identify 34 key signature themes of strength, based on years of empirical research.

34 Themes of Strength and Talent
Familiarize yourself with the 34 key themes of strength.  If you can identify your top five themes, you can use the information to start cultivating your strengths for personal excellence and stop focusing on weaknesses.  Here are the 34 signature themes of strength according to Buckingham and Clifton:

  • Achiever - You have a relentless need for achievement.  You feel as if everyday starts at zero and you must achieve something tangible in order to feel good about yourself.  It brings you the energy you need to work long hours without burning out.
  • Activator – You are impatient to start.  “When can we start?” is a recurring question in your life.
  • Adaptability – You live in the moment.  You don’t see the future as a fixed destination.  Instead, you see it as a place that you create out of the choices that you make right now.
  • Analytical – Your Analytical theme challenges other people.  “Prove it.  Show me why what you are claiming is true.”   In the face of this kind of questioning some will find that their brilliant theories wither and die.  For you this is precisely the point.  You do not necessarily want to destroy other people’s ideas, but you do insist that their theories be sound.
  • Arranger – You are a conductor.  When faced with a complex situation involving many factors, you enjoy managing all the variables, aligning and realigning them until you are sure you have arranged them in the most productive configuration possible.
  • Belief – If you possess a strong Belief theme, you have certain core values that are enduring.  These values vary from one person to another, but ordinarily your Belief theme causes you to be family-oriented, altruistic, even spiritual, and to value responsibility and high-ethics – both in yourself and others.
  • Command – Command leads you to take charge.  Unlike some people, you feel no discomfort with imposing your views on others.  On the contrary, once your opinion is formed, you need to share it with others.  You are not frightened by confrontation; rather you know that confrontation is the first step toward resolution.
  • Communication – You like to explain, to describe, to host, to speak in public, and to write.  This is your Communication theme at work.  Ideas are a dry beginning.  Events are static.  You feel a need to bring them to life, to energize them, to make them exciting and vivid.
  • Competition – Competition is rooted in comparison.  When you look at the world, you are instinctively aware of other people’s performance.  Their performance is the ultimate yard-stick.  No matter how hard you tried, no matter how worthy your intentions, if you reached your goal but did not outperform your peers, the achievement feels hollow.
  • Connectedness – Things happen for  a reason.  You are sure of it.  You are sure of it because in your soul you know that we are all connected.  Yes, we are individuals, responsible for our own judgments and in possession of our own free will, but nonetheless we are part of something larger.
  • Context – You look back.  You look back because that is where the answers lie.  You look back to understand the present.  From your vantage point the present is unstable, a confusing clamor of competing voices.  It is only by casting your mind back to an earlier time, a time when the plans were being drawn up, that the present regains its stability.  The earlier time was a simpler time.  It was a time of blueprints.  As you look back, you being to see these blueprints emerge.
  • Deliberative – You are careful.  You are vigilant.  You are a private person.  You know that the world is an unpredictable place.  Everything may seem in order, but beneath the surface you sense the many risks.  Rather than denying these risks, you draw each one out into the open.  Then each risk can be identified, assessed, and ultimately reduced.
  • Developer – You see the potential in others.  Very often, in fact, potential is all you see.  In your view, no individual is fully formed.  On the contrary, each individual is a work in progress, alive with possibilities.  And you are drawn toward people for this very reason.  When you interact with others, your goal is to help them experience success.  You look for ways to challenge them.  You devise interesting experiences that can stretch them and help them grow.
  • Discipline – Your world needs to be predictable.  It needs to be ordered and planned.  So you instinctively impose structure on your world.  You set up routines.  You focus on time-lines and deadlines.  You break long-term projects into a series of specific short-term plans, and you work through each plan diligently.  You are not necessarily neat and clean, but you do need precision.  Faced with the inherent messiness of life, you want to feel in control.
  • Empathy – You can sense the emotions of those around you.  You can feel what they are feeling as though their feelings are your own.  Intuitively, you are able to see the world through their eyes and share their perspective.  You do not necessarily agree with each person’s perspective.  You do not necessarily feel pity for each person’s predicament – this would be sympathy, not empathy.  You do not necessarily condone the choices each person makes, but you do understand.  This instinctive power to understand is powerful.  You hear the unvoiced questions.  You anticipate the need.  Where others grapple for words, you seem to find the right words and the right tone.
  • Fairness – Balance is important to you.  You are keenly aware of the need to treat people the same, no matter what their station in life, so you do not want to see the scales tipped too far in any one person’s favor.  In your view this leads to selfishness and individualism.  It leads to a world where some people gain an unfair advantage because of their connections or their background or their greasing of the wheels.  This is truly offensive to you.
  • Focus – “Where am I headed?” you ask yourself.  You ask this question every day.  Guided by this theme of Focus, you need a clear destination.  Lacking one, you life and your work can quickly become frustrating.  And so each year, each month, and even each week you set goals.  These goals then serve as your compass, helping you determine priorities and make the necessary corrections to get back on course.  Your Focus is powerful because it forces you to filter; you instinctively evaluate whether or not a particular action will help you move toward your goal.  Those that don’t are ignored.
  • Futuristic – “Wouldn’t it be great if …” You are the kind of person who loves to peer over the horizon.  The future fascinates you.  As if it were projected on the wall, you see in detail what the future might hold and this detailed picture keeps pulling you forward, into tomorrow.  While the exact content of the picture will depend on your other strengths and interests – a better product, a better team, a better life, or a better world – it will always be inspirational to you.
  • Harmony – You look for areas of agreement.  In your view there is little to be gained from conflict and friction, so you seek to hold them to a minimum.  When you know that the people around you hold differing views, you try to find the common ground.  You try to steer them away from confrontational and toward harmony.  In fact, harmony is one of your guiding values.  You can’t quite believe how much time is wasted by people trying to impose their views on others.  Wouldn’t we all be more productive if we kept our opinions in check and instead look for consensus and support?  You believe we would and you live by that belief.
  • Ideation – You are fascinated by ideas.  What is an idea?  An idea is a concept, the best explanation of the most events.  You are delighted when you discover beneath the complex surface of an elegantly simple concept to explain why things are the way they are.  An idea is a connection.  Yours is the kind of mind that is always looking for connections, and so you are intrigued when seemingly disparate phenomena can be linked by an obscure connection.  An idea is a new perspective on familiar challenges.  You revel in taking the world we all know and turning it around so we can view it from a strangely enlightening angle.  You love all these ideas because they are profound, because they are novel, because they are clarifying, because they are contrary, because they are bizarre.  For all these reasons, you derive a jolt of energy whenever a new idea occurs to you.  Others may label you as creative or original or conceptual or even smart.
  • Inclusiveness – “Stretch the circle wider.”  This is the philosophy around which you orient your life.  You want to include people and make them feel part of the group.  In direct contrast to those who are drawn only to exclusive groups, you actively avoid those groups that exclude others.  You want to expand the group so that as many people as possible can benefit from its support.  You have the sight of someone on the outside looking in.  You want to draw them in so they can feel the warmth of any group.  You are an instinctively accepting person.  Regardless of race or sex or nationality or personality or faith, you cast few judgments.  Judgments can hurt a person’s feelings.
  • Individualization – Your Individualization theme leads you to be intrigued by the unique qualities of each person.  You are impatient with generalizations or “types” because you don’t want to obscure what is special and distinct about each person.  Instead, you focus on the differences between individuals.  You instinctively observe each person’s style, each person’s motivation, how each thinks, and how each builds relationships.  You hear the one-of-a-kind stories in each person’s life.  This theme explains why you pick your friends just the right birthday gift, why you know that one person prefers praise in public and another detests it, and why you tailor your teaching style to accommodate one person’s need to be shown and another person’s desire to “figure it out as I go.”  Because you are such a keen observer of other people’s strengths, you can draw out the best in each person.  This Individualization theme also helps you build productive teams.  While some search around for the perfect team “structure” or “process,” you know instinctively that the secret to great teams is casting by individual strengths so that everyone can do a lot of what they do well.
  • Input – You are inquisitive.  You collect things.  You might collect information – words, facts, books, and quotations – or you might collect tangible objects such as butterflies, baseball cards, porcelain dolls, or sepia photographs.  Whatever you collect, you collect it because it interests you.  And yours is the kind of mind that finds so many things interesting.  The world is a great deal, it is not necessarily to refine your theories but rather, to add more information to your archives.
  • Intellection – You like to think.  You like mental activity.  You like exercising the “muscles” of your brain, stretching them in multiple directions.  This need for mental activity may be focused; for example, you may be trying to solve a problem or develop an idea or understand another person’s feelings.  The exact focus will depend on your other strengths.  On the other hand, this mental activity may very well lack focus.  The theme of Intellection does not dictate what you are thinking about; it simply describes that you like to think.  You are the kind of person who enjoys your time alone because it is your time for musing and reflection.  You are introspective.  In a sense you are your own best companion, as you pose yourself questions and try out answers on yourself to see how they sound.  This introspection may lead you to a slight sense of discontent as you compare what you are actually doing with all the thoughts and ideas that your mind conceives.  Or the introspection may tend toward more pragmatic matters such as the events of the day or a conversation that you plan to pragmatic matters such as the events of the day or a conversation that you plan to have later.  Whatever it leads you, this mental hum is one of the constants of your life.
  • Learner – You love to learn.  The subject matter that interests you most will be determined by your other themes and experiences, but whatever the subject, you will always be drawn to the process of learning.  The process, more than the content or the result, is especially exciting for you.  You are energized by the steady and deliberate journey from ignorance to competence.  The thrill of the first few facts, the early efforts to recite or practice what you have learned, the growing confidence of a skill mastered – this is the process that entices you.  Your excitement leads you to engage in adult learning experiences – yoga or piano lessons or graduate classes.  It enables you to thrive in dynamic work environments where you are asked to take on short project assignments that are expected to learn a lot about the new subject matter in a short period of time and move on to the next one.  The Learner theme does not necessarily mean that you seek to become the subject matter expert, or that you are striving for the respect that you seek to become the subject matter expert, or that you are striving for the respect that accompanies a professional or academic credential.  The outcome of the learning is less significant than the “getting there.”
  • Maximizer – Excellence, not average, is your measure.  Taking something from below average to slightly above average takes a great deal of effort and in your opinion is not very rewarding.  Transforming something strong into something superb takes just as much effort but is much more thrilling.  Strengths, whether yours or some else’s, fascinate you.  Like a diver after pearls, you search them out, watching for the telltale signs of a strength.  A glimpse of untutored excellence, rapid learning, a skill mastered without resource to steps – all these are clues that a strength may be in play.  And having found a strength, you feel compelled to nurture it, refine it, and stretch it towards excellence.  You polish the pearl until it shines.  This natural sorting of strengths means that others see you as discriminating.  You choose to spend time with people who appreciate your particular strengths.  Likewise, you are attracted to others who have found and cultivated their own strengths.  You tend to avoid those who want to fix you and make you well rounded.  You dn’t want to spend your life becoming what you lack.  Rather, you want to capitalize on the gifts with which you are blessed.  It’s more fun.  It’s more productive.  And, counter intuitively, it is more demanding.
  • Positivity – You are generous with praise, quick to smile, and always on the lookout for the positive in the situation.  Some call you lighthearted.  Others just wish that their glass were as full as yours seems to be.  But either way, people want to be around you.  Their world looks better around you because your enthusiasm is contagious.  Lacking your energy and optimism, some find their world drab with repetition or, worse, heavy with pressure.  You seem to find a way to lighten their spirit.  You inject drama into every project.  You celebrate every achievement.  You find ways to make everything more exciting and more vital.  Some cynics may reject your energy, but you are rarely dragged down.  Your Positivity won’t allow it.  Somehow you can’t quite escape your conviction that it is good to be alive, that work can be fun, and that no matter what the setbacks, one must never lose one’s sense of humor.
  • Relater  - Relater describes your attitude toward your relationships.  In simple terms, the Relater theme pulls you toward people you already know.  You do not necessarily shy away from meeting new people – in fact, you may have other themes that cause you to enjoy the thrill of turning strangers into friends – but you do derive a great deal of pleasure and strength from being around your close friends.  You are comfortable with intimacy.  Once the initial connection has been made, you deliberately encourage a deepening of the relationship.  You want to understand their feelings, their goals, their fears, and their dreams; and you want them to understand yours.  You know that this kind of closeness implies a certain amount of risk – you might be taken advantage of – but you are willing to accept the risk.  For you a relationship has value only if it is genuine.  And the only way to know that is to entrust yourself to the other person.  The more you share with each other, the more you risk together.  The more you risk together, the more each of you proves your caring is genuine.  These are your steps toward real friendship, and you take them willingly.
  • Responsibility – Your Responsibility theme forces you to take psychological ownership for anything you commit to, and whether large or small, you feel emotionally bound to follow it through to completion.  Your good name depends on it.  If for some reason you cannot deliver, you automatically start to look for ways to make it up to the other person.  Apologies are not enough.  Excuses and rationalization are totally unacceptable.  You will not quite be able to live with yourself until you have made restitution.  This conscientiousness, this near obsession for doing things right, and your impeccable ethics, combine to create your reputation: utterly dependable.
  • Restorative – You love to solve problems.  Whereas some are dismayed when they encounter yet another breakdown, you can be energized by it.  You enjoy the challenge of analyzing the symptoms, identifying what is wrong, and finding the solution.  You may prefer practical problems or conceptual ones or personal ones.  You may seek out specific kinds of problems that you have met many times before and that you are confident you can fix.  Or you may feel the greatest push when faced with complex and unfamiliar problems.  Your exact preferences are determined by your other themes and experiences.  But what is certain is that you enjoy bringing things back to life.  It is something to its true glory.  Intuitively, you know that without your intervention, this thing – this machine, this technique, this person, this company – might have ceased to function.  You fixed it, resuscitated it, rekindled its vitality.  Phrasing it the way you might, you saved it.
  • Self-assurance – Self-assurance is similar to self-confidence.  In the deepest part of you, you have faith in your strengths.  You know that you are able – able to take risks, able to meet new challenges, able to stake claims, and, most important, able to deliver.  But self-assurance is more than just self-confidence.  Blessed with the theme of Self-assurance, you have confidence not only in your abilities but in your judgment.  When you look at the world, you now that no one can make your decisions for you.  No one can tell you what to think.  They can guide.  They can suggest.  But you alone have the authority to form conclusions, make decisions, and act.  This authority, this final accountability for the living of your life, does not intimidate you.  On the contrary, it feels natural to you.  No matter what the situation, you seem to know what the right decision is.  This theme lends you an aura of certainty.  Unlike many, you are not easily swayed by someone else’s arguments, no matter how persuasive they may be.  This Self-assurance may be quite or loud, depending on your other themes, but it is solid.  It is strong.  Like the keel of a ship, it withstands many different pressures and keeps you on your course.
  • Significance – You want to be very significant in the eye of other people.  In the truest sense of the word you want to be recognized.  You want to be heard.  You want to stand out.  You want to be known.  In particular, you want to be known and appreciated for the unqieu strengths you bring.  You feel a need to be admired as credible, professional, and successful.  Likewise, you want to associate with others who are credible, professional and successful.  And if they aren’t, you will push them to achieve, until they are.  Or, you will move on.  An independent spirit, you want your work to be a way of life rather than a job, and in that work you want to be given free reign, the leeway to do things your way.  Your yearnings feel intense to you, and you honor those yearnings.  And so your life is filled with goals, achievements, or qualifications that you crave.  Whatever your focus – and each person is distinct – your Significance theme will keep pulling you upward, away from the mediocre toward the exceptional.  It is the theme that keeps your reaching.
  • Strategic – The Strategic theme enables you to sort through the clutter and find the best route.  It is not a skill that can be taught.  It is a distinct way of thinking, a special perspective on the world at large.   This perspective allows you to see patterns where others simply see complexity.  Mindful of these patterns, you play out alternative scenarios, always asking, “What if this happened?  Okay, well what if this happened?”  This recurring question helps you see around the next corner.  There you can evaluate accurately the potential for obstacles.  Guided by where you see each path leading, you start to make selections.  You discard the paths that lead nowhere.  You discard the paths that lead straight into a fog of confusion.  You cull and make selections until you arrive at the chosen path – your strategy.  Armed with your strategy, you strike forward.  This is your Strategic theme at work: “What if?” Select. Strike.
  • Woo – Woo stands for winning others over.  You enjoy the challenge of meeting new people and getting them to like you.  Strangers are rarely intimidating to you.  On the contrary, strangers can be energizing.  You are drawn to them.  You want to learn their names, ask them questions, and find some area of common interest so that you can strike up conversation and build rapport.  Some people shy away from starting up conversations because they worry about running out of things to say.  You don’t.  Not only because you are rarely at a loss for words, but you actually enjoy initiating with strangers because you derives satisfaction from breaking the ice and making a connection.  Once the connection is made, you are quite happy to wrap it up and move on.  There are new people to meet, new rooms to work, new crowds to mingle in.  In your world there are no strangers, only friends you haven’t met yet – lots of them.

How To Identify Your Strengths
You'll likely recognize a lot of these strengths in yourself.  The key isn't to whittle the list down to your absolute strongest talents, the ones that differentiate you from others and that come easiest for you.

A lot of the strengths resonated for me.  I took two passes.  On my first pass, I made the following list:

  • Achiever; Arranger; Competition; Deliberative; Developer; Fairness; Focus; Empathy; Ideation; Individualization; Intellection; Learner; Maximizer; Self-assurance; Significant

On my second, pass, I modified some of my choices and whittled it down to the following five strengths:

  • Achiever; Ideation; Individualization; Maximizer; Self-assurance; Significant

I don't know that I've yet got the precision I need but it's a start.  I plan to ask others for their feedback and to help me find my blind spots.  I also plan to take the StrengthsFinder evaluation.

Taking the StrengthsFinder Evaluation
You can go to the authors' site at - and take the evaluation.  You need a copy of the book, Now, Discover Your Strengths, for an access code to take the evaluation.

Key Take Aways 
Here's my key take aways:

  • Identify your signature strengths.  Don't just know what you're good at.  Identify what you are great at.  This difference makes all the difference in the world.
  • Be your best.  The key here is to be your personal best.  This is why modeling somebody else's success may not come easy for you.  You may not have the same strengths.
  • Cultivate your strengths.  The key is to focus on your strengths and not your weaknesses.  Reducing your weaknesses is not the path to greatness.  Improving your key strengths is your personal path to excellence.
  • Use the sum of your talents.  It's not about having a single strength, it's about using the synergy of your strengths.
  • Find a fit for your strengths.  Leveraging your strengths turns your work into passion.   What's work for somebody else is your play if you find the right way to leverage your unique talents.
  • Amplify your results with your network.  Once you know your key strengths, you can find the people that complement you in strengths that you lack.


Anonymous said...

So what ended up being your strength results? I guessed only 2 out of 5 of my strength themes correctly, and I am very self itrospective.

Ideation, Adaptability, Futuristic, Significance, Connectedness

J.D. Meier said...

I haven't taken the test. I think the following tend to resonate:

Achiever, Learner, Maximizer, Significance, Self-Assurance

Periodically, I revisit to see whether these give me more insight or help me adjust may approach.

Melissa said...

Thanks for listing these, helpful as I am updating my CV at the moment. The following resonate for me: Activator, Empathy, Harmony, Intellection, Learner. It was quite difficult to cut the list down to five at first, would be interesting to do the test and compare with results.

J.D. Meier said...

Hey Melissa

Great to hear.

One thing I don't think I've nailed yet is how to differentiate between extreme competence from training and years of conditioning versus natural talent that's baked in. What I also need to figure out is -- at that point - does it matter? (and how will I know -- which I suspect is based on whether I get energy and feel passionate or whether I get drained, even though I do a good job)