Working from Strengths: Leveraging Natural Talents to Succeed

Shannon Brown Care for people, Leadership


Shannon Brown is a Ph.D. student at Benedictine University’s Center for Values-Driven Leadership (CVDL) and has served in leadership positions with Thomson Reuters, Tata Consultancy Services and BoomTime.  In addition, she is an adjunct faculty member at Dominican University where she teaches courses in leadership studies.

Which message from your boss would you find more inspiring?
a)     Your communication style is often jumbled and indirect: find a way to organize your thoughts more clearly.
b)     When you talk about your work, you communicate enthusiasm in a way that’s inspiring to others. By giving your colleagues clear ways to support your work, you’ll better be able to turn that inspiration into action.
Option B would work better for me. If you agree, then your prefrences align with that of Donald O. Clifton, Ph.D. and The Gallup organization, who discovered, through 50 years of research with millions of individual subjects across all types of organizations and job roles, that individuals have significantly higher potential for growth when they focus on enhancing their strengths rather than “fixing” their weaknesses. Macus Buckingham and Tom Rath have expended the initial body of work through a series of popular books, assessments and other training materials to help people identify and implement their strengths throughout their lives.
What’s interesting about this idea, to me, is that it seems so obvious. When you’re working in an area of strength, you can feel it. You feel strong, powerful, competent. You enjoy it. Time flies by without you noticing it. Remember the classes in school that you loved and in which you excelled? Chances are, they brought out a strength in you. Remember the classes wherein you had to struggle and barely squeaked by? Perhaps they represented an area that was outside your strength zone.
This idea is becoming more relevant for business, as the research shows significant business impact when people are working in their areas of strengths most of the time. A recent article in the Financial Post discusses these ideas as well. (Click here for that story.)
People who are focused on their strengths are more likely to be happy in their work and engaged in their job, and have a more positive affect in general. In addition, having someone else who pays attention to your strengths has a significant impact in employee engagement and job satisfaction as well. A supervisor who helps you find ways to employ your strengths improves your employee morale too.
I recall a small team of which I was a part many years ago.  There were three of us, and each of us contributed to that team from our strengths, and it was engaging to watch.  As the “activator” and “intellection,” I had many ideas and got new things started.  One of my colleagues was very strong in “executing” strengths, and she could take my ideas and actually bring them to life.  A third saw had excellent “relationship” strengths, and she was able to work with other groups to get the buy-in and resources we needed.  The three of us still talk today about how much we enjoyed that work, even with the extremely long hours we put in. We specifically talk about how it felt like there wasn’t any challenge we could not overcome.
Learning to work from your strengths doesn’t give you license to neglect the things you’re not good at. Certainly most jobs and schools, and just life in general, have requirements that may not play up to our strengths.Perhaps we can find ways to leverage our strengths in these circumstances, so the tasks become more bearable and the outcomes more positive. In addition, we can develop competence in a wide variety of things, such that we may become excellent at them, even if they are not really a strength or an innate talent.
However, imagine if we focused on our strengths as often as we could. Imagine feeling competent and strong and engaged 90% of the time. Imagine looking at others and trying to identify and play to their strengths – giving them work to do that would capitalize on areas where they excel so that they could really stand out and shine and be effective.
Who wouldn’t want to go to work each day?
For more information on discovering your strengths, find Strengths Finder 2.0 and the other Strengths-based books, Clifton & Gallup’s work, the research behind the findings, or the Strengths movement in general, please see
Rath, T. (2007). Strengths finder 2.0. New York: Gallup Press.
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