We all have strengths and weaknesses. When it comes to professional or personal development, where do we tend to look to get better? For most of us, we look at our weaknesses to find where we will focus our improvement efforts. If you focus on developing an area where you are weak, you likely will get better as you put in effort and practice. However, if you put in similar effort and practice into developing an area you are already good at, have some natural talent for, and enjoy doing, you can get exponentially better at it. This is what the strengths movement is all about; focusing on developing our strengths where we can be most effective, and managing our weaknesses. One tool we have found to be quite effective with our clients to help them identify and develop their strengths is Gallup’s Clifton StrengthsFinder.
What is StrengthsFinder?
If you are not familiar with the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment, it is an online psychometric tool that measures the presence of talents in 34 theme areas. Talent themes are a collection of talents that together describe unique ways individuals think, feel and behave, and these naturally occurring talents are the foundation of strengths development.
How can taking StrengthsFinder help you?
Positive psychology research has found that positive emotions are shown to improve function in areas such as memory, creativity, resilience, performance, trust, decision-making, and more. When we are working on developing our natural talents, we are more likely to have the positive affect that leads to these improved functions. When we work to fix an area we are not good at, we are not likely to get these benefits of positive emotions.
“Even when working with their most productive employees, they [mangers] still spend most of their time talking about each person’s few areas of nontalent and how to eradicate them. No matter how well-intended, relationships preoccupied with weakness never end well.” ― Marcus Buckingham, First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently
How can StrengthsFinder help teams?
I have used StrengthsFinder with teams that are high performing and with teams that are in conflict, have low trust, or are experiencing some form of dysfunction. I often use it at the beginning of a client engagement when working with teams to build appreciation for the talents each person brings, to help the team get to know each other on a deeper level, and to create awareness around the values, needs and contributions associated with each talent theme.
One of the activities I use with teams is Gallup’s Best of Us exercise, in which teammates reflect, write down and then share the conditions that bring out their best and their worst, as well as what the team can count on them for and what they need from the team. They gain a greater understanding of each other’s needs, values and where each member can contribute his or her best. It builds positive emotions amongst the team, and that can bring the benefits of positive affect mentioned above.
When I debrief this activity I typically learn that they have never had this kind of conversation with their teammates before, and that they learned a LOT from each other through the process. Our strengths come so naturally to us that we have a tendency to expect others to naturally think, feel and act the same way. When they don’t we may feel like they do not care about our needs and values. One leader shared with me after his team had completed this activity that two of his team members had a history of conflict. During the activity they discovered the motivation behind the other’s behavior was related to their strengths, and not a personal vendetta against them. They were able to laugh together about the misunderstandings, and begin to build a better relationship where they could appreciate each other on a whole new level. That is the power of focusing on strengths.
Written by: Tina R. Shaw, PCC Founder of Tina R. Shaw Coaching & Consulting, DBA Strengths Partner Change Agent for Unleashing Leaders, Inc.
Strengths & Engagement Champion for 34 Strong, Inc.
Tina’s dominant strengths include:
Individualization l Arranger l Relator l Input l Maximizer l Learner l Connectedness l Futuristic l Achiever l Belief