Purpose Driven Life
What are my Strengths?
How can a strengths-based approach to life can create more meaning and fulfillment? What is my strength? CJ interviews Fatima Doman on her book “Authentic Strengths”. We’ll talk about how to find your strengths and use them to get motivated and manage others. Plus, we’ll talk about how you can add more oomph in goal setting by creating STRONG goals.
What is My Strength?
Each person is as unique as their fingerprint. While at times, we do not recognize or see our uniqueness they are ever present. Luckily, there are easy ways for us to get a glimpse of what makes us special. Personality and strength assessments are the simplest form of self-discovery and introspection. In a matter of 5-20 minutes, you can discover your strengths relative to others. Sadly, our curiosity with these assessments are short-lived after we take an assessment. Most assessments get filed in a drawer never to see the light of day, or get posted as a novelty item on social media.
The alternative to this fast food approach to self-discovery is to use these assessments as a launching point for living life differently. While that comment may seem far-fetched, this is exactly what great coaches like Fatima Doman, the author of “Authentic Strengths” can do with the results of this test, which we’ll describe later in the post. But first, which strength test should you take and what is a strength?
Define Strength: What is a strength?
Let’s start with the basics. What is a strength? There are several definitions. The most popular strength assessment is Gallup’s Strengths Finder. Here’s how they define a strength:
“A strength is the ability to consistently provide near-perfect performance in a specific activity. The key to building a strength is to identify your dominant talents, then complement them by acquiring knowledge and skills” Source: http://strengths.gallup.com/help/general/125540/strength.aspx
Often a strengths definition get confused with skills and knowledge. Gallup clarifies in their book “Now, Discover Your Strengths” how it measures strengths and how they differ from skills and knowledge in the terminology below.
Talents are your naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior. Your various themes of talents are what StrengthsFinder Profile actually measure. Talent is any recurring pattern that can be productively applied. Your talents, your strongest synaptic connections, are the most important raw material for strength building. Talents are your spontaneous reactions, yearnings, rapid learning and patterns that bring you satisfaction.
Knowledge consists of the facts and lessons learned.
Skills are the steps of an activity. Skills bring structure to experiential knowledge. For example, if you bake a caked there are a set of skills from measuring ingredients, mixing, and then cooking the cake. Skills enable you to avoid trial and error and to incorporate your best discoveries from your past experience.
Gallup illustrates these terms through an example of a person (e.g.-Nancy) who may have a theme of talent to confront others (which they refer to as the theme Command). Nancy could use this talent to perform well in sales and sell successfully, which is a strength. In order to build her talent into a strength, Nancy would have to perfected this innate talent with product knowledge and skills to fully develop a strength of selling. The main difference with Gallup is that it is focused on performance at work or the “doing” part in an activity.
Like many other strength advocates, Gallup believes that we can live a better life when we identify our most powerful talents, and hone them with skills and knowledge. The research for Gallup’s StrengthFinder assessment boils strengths into 34 themes of talents, described here: http://www.strengthstest.com/strengths-finder-themes. To take StrengthsFinder go to: https://www.gallupstrengthscenter.com/Purchase/en-US/Product
What are Character Strengths (and virtures)?
A slightly different approach to strengths is through the VIA Institute. The founder of VIA Institute of Character, Dr. Neal H. Mayerson describes talents as what we are good at doing, while character strengths define what we care about doing. Fatima Doman, author of “Authentic Strengths” describes character strengths as aspects that define what’s best in you and that character strengths give your energy. VIA Institute of Character identifies twenty- four character strengths that every person possesses in varying degrees and combinations. You can see the full list of 24 character strengths here: http://www.viacharacter.org/www/Character-Strengths/VIA-Classification).
Other Strength Assessments
My favorite assessment is Dependable Strengths (http://dependablestrengths.org/). Dependable Strengths are identified based on a subjective analysis of good experiences, versus an online test which is done objectively. A good experience is defined as an experience where you feel that you did well, you enjoyed doing the experience, and that you feel proud of the experience. A good experience involves actions you take to create something. For example, you may have gone to a baseball game with your dad. It would only be a good experience if you did things (buy tickets, plan a special day, organized your family to join) to create that experience. From these good experiences, you come up with a list of “dependable strengths”. These are talents that you use when you were engaged in a good experience. Find out more here: http://dependablestrengths.org/. Here is an example of what dependable strengths look like: https://www.moaa.org/uploadedFiles/MOAA_Main/Main_Menu/User_Group/Spouse_and_Family/Military_Spouse_Symposium_and_Career_Fair_2012/DependableStrengthsExplorationChart.pdf. The downside with this approach is it takes longer than the five to fifteen minutes and it doesn’t come with a printed report. The upside is that because they map to real subjective experience you have a better touchpoint to using those experiences in your real life.
Which assessment is better?
Based on my own experience as a life coach, any type of assessment is valuable. It’s what you do with the information that is more critical. Gallup’s assessment helped me get an objective sense of my strengths relative to the general population when at work. I really liked the VIA Institute as it feels more qualitative and not only what I was doing, but who I was being as a person (my character). As a result, VIA strengths felt more inspirational whereas Gallup‘s list felt a bit flatter (more impersonal). The Dependable Strengths were most memorable because I was deeply involved in the process. Again, any of these assessments provide a good starting point. The real value coms when you invest in living your life in alignment with these strengths.
You can check out my results from these assessments. As a coach, I’ve done a bunch of self-exploration and can say that all three of these results were pretty accurate descriptors of my strengths. As you can see from the descriptors that they have different words to describe the same thing (Strategic/Perspective) or Problem Solver/Curiosity. In totality, they do paint a pretty accurate picture of me.
Gallup 5 strengths: Relator(Connect deeply with few), Restorative(Problem solver), Achiever(Drive), Learner and Strategic (Perspective).
VIA Institute: Honesty, Perspective, Creativity, Love, Curiosity.
Dependable Strengths: Intuitive, Follow Through/Ownership/Accountability, Individualist, Energy/Driven, Creativity.
What do I do with my strength information?
Now, what? How does this information change your life? The more mindful we are about the strengths and who we are, the more we can place ourselves in jobs and situations where our greatest gifts can be offered. The theory is that using your gifts bring you happiness and fulfilment.
My life is a good case study for this theory. My first job was in Finance. This job pulled on one of my least used character strength of prudence ((Prudence: Being careful about one’s choices; not taking undue risks; not saying or doing things that might later be regretted).. While I was ok, I wasn’t great at that work in comparison to my peers. It was through sheer perseverance that I kept it going and did well in the job. However, longer-term that work left me feeling dead inside. As a result, I went back to graduate school and studied marketing and strategic planning. I had several jobs in the highly competitive and dynamic high tech environment doing business planning, marketing, strategy. While I loved this work, and it drew upon my strengths the pace was unsustainable with my family priorities. My next job was in a totally different field as a life coach. Coaching drew upon these same strengths but offered me a flexible work schedule. I can truly say that coaching gives me fulfilment and meaning, and I think it IS because it draws on my strengths.
Not convinced? Well, how about having more time and energy? Strengths are things we do that come easily to us. It’s the ultimate in the 80/20 rule. Focus 20% of your life energy and get 80% impact. For example, coaching is effortless, fun, and brings me a lot of meaning. I never studied for any exam through my whole coaching class or studied much at all. So, are you willing to just try it for a month to see what happens?
Aren’t there risks on just focusing on my strength?
Really, where’s the data that the strength-only focus is valid. Well, according to a survey of 6000 leaders, Zenger and Folkman authors of “The Extraordinary Leader” found that among the 6000 leaders they surveyed that 1/3 of the leaders had fatal flaws, 1/3 of them had no strong weaknesses or strengths, and 1/3 that had one or two very strong strengths. So, this approach works for 67% of us out there. However, if you have a fatal flaw focusing on just your strengths is not the best approach at work where performance metrics are operative.
In the case that a leader has a fatal flaw, the authors suggest that a focus on strengths only is not a good strategy (Check out research by Zenger and Folkman authors of Extraordinary Leaders suggest that while it’s true that / http://zengerfolkman.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Developing-Strengths-or-Weaknesses-Article-Rev-02-23-09-2.pdf). How do you find your fatal flaw? According to Zenger and Folkman, it’s hard for us to self-diagnose our fatal flaw. However, our peers and 360 reviews often can provide pointers to our fatal flaw. are a better solution.
Gallup suggests that our weaknesses or fatal flaw is anything that get in the way of excellent performance and the goal should be to manage our weaknesses. The first step is to identify whether your weakness is a skills, knowledge, or talent weakness. Knowledge and skills are easier to address. Through a process of trial and error, you can calibrate if you can improve your weakness to be “good enough” at work. Another strategy is to use your strengths to shore up your weaknesses. For example, let’s say that one of your signature talents is Learning and your fatal flaw is talking in front of groups. You can combine your strength of Learning to overcome this fear of public presenting by studying videos or taking a class. The last strategy to try before finding another job is to work in partnership with someone who fills your gaps. If you don’t like to communicate, hire a direct report that loves to do presentations.
How do I start focussing on my strengths?
First, you need to categorize which of your strengths you should focus on. The top 5 strengths whether they be VIA or Gallup are called your signature strengths. These are the strengths that most books say to focus on. They come to us effortlessly and can be easily and readily expressed. Are your life choices in alignment with these strengths? Is your career drawing upon these strengths? Do you raise your kids using these strengths? If not, what would happen if you started doing more work or changing your choices to be in alignment with these strengths.
According to Gallup these themes do not change much over a lifetime. However, they caution that this does not preclude you from acquiring new knowledge and skills. In the Gallup book, they share a story of a news reporter with talents in Empathy and Command that uses her skills to ask tough questions with people she connected with, which then uses these same talents as a therapist in hospice. While this is true with Gallup, Fatima Doman suggests that your character strengths can change over time with effort. For example, in the video interview Fatima shares a story about her client who’s bottom five character strengths (Perseverance) moved to her top 5 signature strengths over the course of a steady dedicated focus in this area.
“Signature themes are enduring. No matter how much you might yearn to transform yourself, these themes will prove resistant to change” Pg 141, Now Discover Your Strengths.
The next set of strengths are what VIA calls Middle Strengths. These middle strengths offer ways to balance, support, or manage your signature strengths. For example, someone with a signature strength of perseverance may need to balance this with their middle strength of perspective to know “when to say when”.
The last five strengths of the 24 character strengths are called your lesser strengths (versus weaknesses). Fatima emphasized during out interview that character strengths may not occur as naturally and may take more effort and energy to utilize. Check out more on signature, middle, and lesser strengths here:
How do we know if we are over/under using our strengths?
Once we know the strengths we should focus on the next step is figuring out if we are over or underusing our strengths. For example, even though someone has a strength of humor, it maybe overused if they are using this during a funeral. Another overuse is when we go overboard with our strength due to our passion and can during stressful times judge others for not meeting our same level of excitement. For example, our character strength of curiosity is overused goes to eccentricity. Another way we know when we are overusing a strength when it gets us into trouble in our relationships. VIA explains that our personality strengths have what researchers call a “shadow-side. For more research on underuse or overuse https://www.viacharacter.org/www/Research/Overuse-and-Underuse-of-Strengths.
In “Authentic Strengths” Fatima Doman describe underuse of our strength occurs when we either don’t use a character strength at the right level of expression or we neglect to use it in situations where it would be appropriate. My sense is that underuse strengths are these beautiful gifts that you had under the Christmas tree that you forgot about. Once you upon them up, they are truly a present. The key is owning them and embracing these as gifts.
How can our strengths motivate us to achieve our goals?
Check out the video for more information on the Motivational Grid and Smart Goals.