Before I left Toronto and moved to London last year, friends, family and fellow fundraisers sent me off with words of wisdom, plenty of hugs, and a few thoughtful parting gifts, small enough to fit in my suitcase. Among those gifts was something that has fundamentally changed the way I see myself.
Because Paul Nazareth totally gets me, he sent me on my way with a USB stick containing about 15 business-related audiobooks, and over the past year and a half, they’ve been my commuting companions. I’ve learned about negotiation, confrontations, the dynamics of a strong team, and much more. But what’s made the biggest impression is a book called Now, Discover Your Strengths.
During a 40-year study of human strengths, a psychologist named Dr Donald Clifton and his research team interviewed 1.7 million professionals from different fields to try to identify the most common talents. The field of psychology was already full of ways to identify and describe what’s wrong with people, but they wanted to start a global conversation about what’s right with people.
So Dr Clifton and his team developed an assessment test, called the Clifton StrengthsFinder, to help people discover and describe their top 5 talents from a list of the 34 most common.
Now these aren’t specific talents like singing or playing hockey – they’re broader than that, like Empathy and Communication. Because they are core personality traits, these innate talents don’t tend to change over time. In fact, your personality at age 3 is remarkably similar to your adult personality.
Of course, knowledge, skills and practice are incredibly important for developing a true strength. So the purpose of StrengthsFinder is to help you find the areas where you have the greatest potential to develop strengths. Your talents are personality traits that represent your natural ways of thinking, feeling or behaving.
The most successful people start by identifying their dominant talents, and then add skills, knowledge and practice to the mix. When you multiply your talents with hard work, you develop your strengths and hone your ability to consistently provide near-perfect performance.
When you take the test, you can then focus on building on your strengths rather than focusing on weaknesses. Growing up, most parents and teachers put emphasis on the subjects where grades are poor, and largely ignore the classes where children excel. We’re taught to work harder at the things we’re not naturally good at.
But by identifying our strengths, we can focus our time and energy on what comes intrinsically, and this is especially important in the workplace. We spend more time at the office then many of us spend with our loved ones, so our happiness and fulfillment during those 40+ hours each week play a massive role in our wellbeing.
People who have the opportunity to focus on their strengths every day are six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs and more than three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life in general.
And having a manager who focuses on your strengths can make a big difference too.
If your manager primarily: The chances of your being actively disengaged are:
Ignores you 40%
Focuses on your weaknesses 22%
Focuses on your strengths 1%
Wow! Can you imagine if charities were running with 99% active engagement from their staff? The study also found that those who aren’t able to use their strengths at work tend to treat customers poorly and achieve less on a daily basis. I’m sure you’ll agree this seems like something charity managers should be trying hard to avoid!
So here’s the list of the 34 most common talents:
- Achiever – one with a constant drive for accomplishing tasks
- Activator – one who acts to start things in motion
- Adaptability – one who is especially adept at accommodating to changes in direction/plan
- Analytical – one who requires data and/or proof to make sense of their circumstances
- Arranger – one who enjoys orchestrating many tasks and variables to a successful outcome
- Belief – one who strives to find some ultimate meaning behind everything they do
- Command – one who steps up to positions of leadership without fear of confrontation
- Communication – one who uses words to inspire action and education
- Competition – one who thrives on comparison and competition to be successful
- Connectedness – one who seeks to unite others through commonality
- Consistency – one who believes in treating everyone the same to avoid unfair advantage
- Context – one who is able to use the past to make better decisions in the present
- Deliberative – one who proceeds with caution, seeking to always have a plan and know all of the details
- Developer – one who sees the untapped potential in others
- Discipline – one who seeks to make sense of the world by imposition of order
- Empathy – one who is especially in tune with the emotions of others
- Focus – one who requires a clear sense of direction to be successful
- Futuristic – one who has a keen sense of using an eye towards the future to drive today’s success
- Harmony – one who seeks to avoid conflict and achieve success through consensus
- Ideation – one who is adept at seeing underlying concepts that unite disparate ideas
- Includer – one who instinctively works to include everyone
- Individualization – one who draws upon the uniqueness of individuals to create successful teams
- Input – one who is constantly collecting information or objects for future use
- Intellection – one who enjoys thinking and thought-provoking conversation often for its own sake, and also can data compress complex concepts into simplified models
- Learner – one who must constantly be challenged and learning new things to feel successful
- Maximizer – one who seeks to take people and projects from great to excellent
- Positivity – one who has a knack for bring the light-side to any situation
- Relator – one who is most comfortable with fewer, deeper relationships
- Responsibility – one who, inexplicably, must follow through on commitments
- Restorative – one who thrives on solving difficult problems
- Self-Assurance – one who stays true to their beliefs, judgments and is confident of his/her ability
- Significance – one who seeks to be seen as significant by others
- Strategic – one who is able to see a clear direction through the complexity of a situation
- Woo – one who is able to easily persuade
The biggest problem is, of course, that most people are either unaware of or unable to describe their own strengths and the strengths of those around them. I found this out firsthand when I took the test. After reading the book and looking through the above list, I had a pretty good idea of what my top 5 personal themes would be. But I guessed one correct. The others I’d never even heard of! I certainly had no idea they were qualities that could give me an edge.
I think sometimes our strengths come so easily to us that we assume they’re easy for everyone. I’d always thought of these qualities as being universally human. I was completely unsure what I could bring to the workplace that was unique.
Since I took the test four months ago, I’ve completely changed the way I think of myself as a member of the team. I now understand what I bring and it’s made me more confident. I’ve also able to identify the times I’m using my strengths, and feel I’m enjoying those moments more. I’ve even asked my boss for new tasks that play on my strengths.
But unexpectedly, I have also become more understanding of my colleagues who have different strengths. I used to get so frustrated if someone didn’t have the same empathetic reaction as I did or the same desire for efficiency. I couldn’t understand why I was the only one who kept up with all the latest blogs, articles, videos, and lectures. Now I know it’s because my dominant talents are Empathy, Input, Activator, Maximizer, and Futurist.
The authors offer one important warning – watch for blind spots. These are cases of your talents being taken too far. For example, my talent Activator means I need to have everything be as efficient as possible BUT this can come across as bossy and impatient. My talent Input means I am constantly collecting knowledge BUT this can stop me from producing, as I spend all my time reading, watching, listening, etc. We have to ensure we use our talents to help make us the best we can be.
If you’ve read this far, I’m guessing the topic of discovering your strengths has struck some interest in you. I HIGHLY recommend taking the test but it’s not free. Each copy of the book comes with a one-time-use code that allows you to take the 30 min test online, but it was one of the best £10 I ever spent. I’ve also heard other fundraisers say that their boss bought them the copy as part of their professional development budget – great idea! The current version is called Strengths Finder 2.0 and you can find it here. The test reveals much deeper explanations of your 5 dominant talents and offers tips on how to make the most of them.
So if you do take StrengthsFinder or have done so in the past, please share your top 5 list in the comments. I’d love to hear your experience in the months that followed and whether you felt it had an impact on your work too. I’m fascinated by the topic of personal growth in the workplace and love discussing it so drop me a Tweet at @margauxs if you’d like!