06. Play to Your Strengths!—Embrace Your Natural Abilities
First, this module defines the distinctions between talents, knowledge and skills, and strengths and discusses the “Strengths Movement.” Then it describes 34 strengths identified by the Strengths finder assessment to help you recognize yours—and also suggests resources for further study of your strengths. Finally, it explores how to make smart decisions based on knowing your strengths and weaknesses.
What’s one logical way to develop a personal brand (and build a career in the process)? Accentuate the positive! Minimize the negative! So, in this module, you get a chance to consider your strengths, as well as your weaknesses, and to think about what comes naturally to you that you do well. Before we begin, let’s define some terms for the purpose of this exercise.
- Talent: When you have talent, you’re able to do something well without even thinking about it. Talents are innate—although, of course, practice can help you hone your talent; just ask any professional musician.
- Knowledge and skills: These are things you can learn. Knowledge can be facts that you learn or an understanding that you gain about how something works. Skills such as typing or problem-solving are the how-to’s of a job and often involve the steps of an activity.
- Strength: When you combine your innate talent with your added knowledge and the skills that you’ve developed, you have a strength. Strengths are patterns of interests and abilities that consistently produce a positive outcome in a specific task.
Studying your strengths
Strengths are always a major component whenever someone is gathering the building blocks of their personal brand. There’s even a school of thought called the “strengths movement,” which advocates focusing on a person’s strengths instead of his or her weaknesses. The strengths movement is gaining momentum on college campuses and in the workplace, and organizations are starting to realize that people work better when highlighting their strengths; they feel more confident and perform more skillfully.
You may be thinking, “sure, focusing on your strengths sounds like a good place to start. But I’m not quite sure what mine is!” If you aren’t certain how to identify your strengths, you can tap into the results of a decades-long research project conducted by the Gallup Organization. The study focused on functions that people perform in their careers. Gallup developed a list of 34 strengths based on that research.
What follows is a summary of the 34 strengths, which Gallup refers to as StrengthsFinder or StrengthsQuest qualities. (StrengthsQuest is the college-focused version of StrengthsFinder.) We’re reprinting the list below. Give it a quick read and mark a check next to the items that make you feel a shock of recognition as if the researcher might have had you in mind when he or she wrote the description.
Achiever: You have a constant need for achievement and are known for your stamina and ability to work hard.
Activator: You make things happen by turning thoughts into action.
Adaptability: You discover your future one choice at a time. You are a flexible person who can stay productive when the demands of work are pulling you in different directions at once.
Analytical: You see yourself as objective and dispassionate. You like data because it is value-free. Others see you as logical and rigorous.
Arranger: You enjoy managing all the variables and realigning them until you have found the most productive configuration possible. You are a great example of effective flexibility.
Belief: You have certain core values that are unchanging. From these values, you form a defined purpose in your life.
Command: You take charge. You can easily express your opinion to others. You have a presence. You have command of a situation and enjoy aligning others with your goals.
Communication: You like to explain, describe, speak in public, and write. You feel a need to bring your ideas to life and communicate them.
Competition: You measure your achievements by finding a high-achieving person to compare yourself with. Competition invigorates you.
Connectedness: You believe that things happen for a reason. You know that everyone is connected and part of something larger. You are aware that there is a purpose beyond your everyday life.
Consistency: Balance is important to you. You are keenly aware of the need to treat people the same, no matter what their station in life. You value fairness for all people.
Context: You look back because that is where the answers lie. You look back to understand the present.
Deliberative: You are careful, vigilant, and private. You identify, assess, and reduce risks. You have naturally good judgment and can provide advice and counsel.
Developer: You see the potential in others and view individuals as works in progress, alive with possibilities. Your goal is to help others experience success.
Discipline: Your world needs to be predictable, and you like it ordered and planned. You set up routines and add structure. You like to control the messiness of the world.
Empathy: You can sense the emotions of those around you and can understand their perspectives even if you don’t agree with them. Your instinctive ability to understand is powerful.
Focus: You need a clear destination. You like to set goals and work toward them.
Futuristic: You love to peer over the horizon. You are a dreamer who sees visions of what could be.
Harmony: You look for areas of agreement and look for common ground when views differ. You steer away from confrontation and move others toward harmony.
Ideation: You are fascinated by ideas and are able to make connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.
Includer: You want to include people and make them feel part of the group. You are an instinctively accepting person and hate the sight of someone feeling like an outsider in the group.
Individualization: You are intrigued by the unique qualities of each person. You focus on the differences between individuals. You find the right person to play the best part.
Input: You are inquisitive and love to collect information. You find many things interesting and enjoy acquiring knowledge that you might use someday. You love keeping your mind fresh with new information.
Intellection: You like mental activity and enjoy exercising the muscles in your brain. You are introspective and enjoy time alone to think. Your mental hum is a constant in your life.
Learner: You are energized by the journey from ignorance to competence. You thrill at the growing confidence of a skill mastered.
Maximizer: You focus on strengths as a way to stimulate personal and group excellence. You seek to transform something strong into something superb.
Positivity: You always look for the positive in any situation. Your enthusiasm is contagious. You are able to keep your sense of humor.
Relator: You enjoy close relationships with others. You find satisfaction in working together to achieve a goal.
Responsibility: You take psychological ownership for anything you commit to and feel emotionally bound to follow it through to completion. Your reputation is that you are utterly dependable.
Restorative: You love to solve problems and enjoy the challenge of analyzing the symptoms, identifying what is wrong, and finding the solution. You love to save things and give them new life.
Self–assurance: You are confident in your ability to manage your life. You know that you make the right decisions and set ambitious goals.
Significance: You want to be recognized and stand out. Your performance needs to be visible, and you need to be appreciated for your unique strengths.
Strategic: You can sort through the clutter and find the best route. You have distinct way of thinking and seeing patterns where others see complexity. You are talented in creating alternative ways to proceed.
Woo: This stands for winning others over. You enjoy the challenge of meeting new people and getting them to like you. You enjoy meeting strangers and can easily carry on conversations.
If one or more of these descriptions resonate with you, try to consciously look for situations (class projects, job opportunities, volunteer work) where you can take on a role that will exercise those strengths.
The above list is just a taste of the concept of strengths. If this is interesting to you and you think further reflection might be useful, you might want to delve deeper into assessing your strengths. You could purchase the book StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath (Gallup Press) and use the code in the back of the book to take an online assessment. The StrengthsFinder websites at www.strengthsfinder.com or www.strengthsquest.com will give you more information. Or visit www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu, for a free version of the strengths assessment.
Remember Your Weaknesses
You definitely want to focus on your strengths. But it’s also a good idea to be aware of your weaknesses, both so that you can avoid exacerbating them and because weaknesses can act as guideposts for what you shouldn’t spend your day doing.
Sometimes, weakness isn’t a lack of talent but an overabundance of strength. (A Relator can take nurturing too far and become a gossipy, clingy person who smothers others with attention, for example.)
To observe your weaknesses, go back to the list of strengths and focus on the ones you circled (if you circled many, try to isolate your top five). Then ask, “What is the opposite of this strength?” and “What would happen if this characteristic went overboard?” Take the strength Deliberative, which is used by someone who is careful, vigilant, and private. The opposite might be impulsive or daring. If you’re so deliberate that you never make a decision or take a risk, then that’s a weakness right there, especially if you were looking for a job in a quick-thinking, risky field, say on the floor of the stock exchange. Taking one of your strengths and considering what would happen if that strength were overused is a good first step to understanding your weaknesses.
Once you know your strengths and weakness, you can use that knowledge as guidelines for choosing classes, jobs, and careers. Knowledge is power, and once you know your strengths and weaknesses, you have the power to choose how to work with them to develop the strongest, most authentic personal brand possible.