One of the most important questions you can ever ask yourself is this, “What are my strengths?” Knowing the answer is the key to job satisfaction.
It will determine how fast you advance in your career and, more importantly, how happy you are in your job—and perhaps your life.
Unfortunately, most of us have been trained to think first about our weaknesses. For example,
- Teachers pointed out our errors and marked them with a red pen.
- Parents scanned our report cards and focused on those subjects where we needed to improve.
- Employers have noted our weaknesses and discussed them at our annual performance review, often under the heading, “Opportunities for Improvement.”
I used to do the same thing with my direct reports. I thought I was being helpful. As a leader, I thought that this was my role.
Then I read, Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton’s bestseller, Now, Discover Your Strengths. At the time, both men worked for Gallup. The book was based on their research there.
They had a simple but powerful thesis. The best way to get ahead in your career and be satisfied in your job is to focus on developing your strengths. No matter how hard you try, you really can’t improve your weaknesses. You are wasting time and energy trying to do so. The best thing you can do is discover your strengths and then find a role that allows you to use them.
At the time I read this, it was revolutionary. It still is.
In their extensive research, Buckingham and Clifton identified 34 different strength themes. They also developed an online strengths assessment that identified your five top strengths.
Since the book originally came out, Buckingham left Gallup and went on to write several more bestsellers. Sadly, Clifton passed away.
However, Tom Rath, another Gallup employee, picked up the torch and refined the research. He used the results from the four million people who took the first test to develop an even more accurate, reliable, and faster assessment tool.
In 2007, he wrote a follow-up book called StrengthsFinder 2.0, documenting his research. Gallup then made the new assessment available online, renaming it “Clifton StrengthsFinder 2.0” in honor of Donald Clifton.
The last time I took the test was more than four years ago. However, I review the results annually to make sure that I am still operating in “my strengths zone.”
I was especially interested in doing it this year in light of my transition from CEO of Thomas Nelson to my new role as a full-time writer and speaker. My top five strengths, along with the descriptions I received in the customized report are:
- Achiever: People who are especially talented in the Achiever theme have a great deal of stamina and work hard. They take great satisfaction from being busy and productive.
- Intellection: People who are especially talented in the Intellection theme are characterized by their intellectual activity. They are introspective and appreciate intellectual discussions.
- Strategic: People who are especially talented in the Strategic theme create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.
- Futuristic: People who are especially talented in the Futuristic theme are inspired by the future and what could be. They inspire others with their visions of the future.
- Relator: People who are especially talented in the Relator theme enjoy close relationships with others. They find deep satisfaction in working hard with friends to achieve a goal.
This was a good reminder for me. My goal is to stay focused on my strengths and say “no” to everything else or delegate it to someone else who is better equipped to handle it. The more I do this, the more productive and satisfied I will be.
After reviewing the list, I think I have more alignment between my strengths and my role than ever before.
But what about you? Do you know what your strengths are? Does your current job give you an opportunity to express them? If not, could this be why you feel so little satisfaction in your career?
You can start operating in your strengths zone by taking these five steps:
- Buy the StrengthsFinder 2.0 book and take the test. Inside the book, you will find an “access key” that enables you to take the online assessment.
- Review your customized report and reflect on your strengths. Ask, “How well do these strengths describe me?” Now ask those who know you best the same question. What do they say?
- Evaluate your current job in light of your strengths. Objectively speaking, what strengths does your job require? Do you have these strengths? On a scale of 1-10, how satisfied are you in your role?
- Develop a strategy to align your strengths and your job. This will likely require you to start focusing on those aspects of your job where you can express your strengths and delegate, negotiate, or offload the rest. In some cases, it may mean looking for a new opportunity.
- Share your strengths with your colleagues. Tell them you want to focus on your strengths, so that you can make your greatest contribution to them and the team. If they know your strengths, they can help you find opportunities to express them.
If you really want to develop a strengths-based culture, have your entire team (even your family) take the test and then discuss how you can get everyone focused on their strengths. You can even use this as a basis for recruiting people with strengths you may be missing. In the end, you and your team will be more productive and more happy.
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