Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Play to your Strengths


That's me. That list is the list of my Top Five. Anyone who has done one of the Strength Finder programs knows exactly what I am talking about. This blog is for the rest of you.

When I was trying to decide what to do next during my last stretch in the advertising world Scott Dickinson (client and friend) discovered the Strength Finder series and gave me a copy of the book. He had a few reasons, the first was that the book preached to something that he and I had discussed for years, the concept that people do better playing to their strengths instead of wasting time trying to shore up their weaknesses. I have always hated the concept of company reviews that focus on "areas of opportunity" or "growth opportunities" to work on during the next year. Basically weaknesses that they thought you needed to fix to advance. I would always tell Scott, if Jane is great at the register and lousy at the fryer keep her on the register, don't make her learn how to fry! And since he agreed with that concept when he found this series and they were saying the same thing he thought I would love it. He was right.

The second reason is that he wanted to roll the program to his company and wanted my help. To really understand the program I needed to work it as well. And honestly I think he was curious to see what my strengths were. It truly gives you insight into the person you are dealing with if you understand how their mind is working. I tried to get my boss Scott to work the program and try it out in our company. The main reason being there is a section in the book that teaches you how to talk to people with different strengths than yours and I thought how wonderful it would be if after almost a decade of working together off and on we could figure out how to talk so the other one heard us. But no go on his part.

But I did the program and I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone. If for no other reason it gives you some clarity as to why you do what you do and why not every one else does. The reason I am tucking it in the middle of the job series is because it's one of the things I learned while working for L/N. If not for my job there I wouldn't have worked with Scott D. in the co-op and then in his stores as well. If I hadn't been open to helping with projects that weren't strictly marketing or advertising related he wouldn't have felt he could come to me for help in employee training programs. Remember early on in my working career I learned that by saying yes to different things you often got the opportunity for a more rewarding job experience. Little did I know at the time that it's part of my basic strength group (input).

The Strength Finder concept is that people spend an awful lot of wasted time trying to shore up areas that they think are weaknesses instead of finding out what you are truly good at and focusing on how to make that work for you. It's much easier to excel in an area you are already good at than to excel in an area you are not. Along with this there is the basic reminder that everyone is different. You are rarely going to find two people in your organization (work, family, friends) who have the same Top Five in the same order. You might share some traits but as one might be your number one it might be their number five. And the beauty is this is great. It gives everyone a chance to shine and grow in their area. There are 34 dominant themes or strengths you can have so you see how many possible combinations there are!

Your strengths are so ingrained in you that you don't even realize that not everyone has them. For instance empathy is my third highest strength. When I am having a conversation with someone more often than not I understand and can feel their emotions. When you tell me a sad story I will tear up. When you are telling an angry story I get a little mad as well. And because I can do it so easily I am sometimes amazed when other people miss things. We could be in a meeting at work and afterward I would tell my boss, Man so and so was mad. And he would have missed it completely. He was not strong in empathy. This isn't a weakness of his he needed to work on, it just wasn't his strength. But just because I understand how you are feeling it doesn't mean I agree with it. I am not high in Sympathy. You see?

One of the things Scott would do in his company before the managers would take the test is have them review the brief descriptions of the 34 themes and see if they could pick out their own top five strengths. I don't think anyone has ever gotten all five. I know I didn't. There were so many areas that I thought I would be really high in that didn't make my top five and at first I thought, well that can't be right, but when I read the detailed versions of my top five I had to agree that those things are me. The very core of me. I found myself nodding and laughing as I read the full descriptions knowing they were right and understanding why there were things that made so much sense to me that other people just didn't get. And conversely when I watch someone do something that I could never do in a million years and they do it with ease I know now they are playing to a strength they have and they might not even realize how amazing it is that they can do something other people struggle with.

When something isn't working in my life I stop and think is it because I am trying to approach this in a way that doesn't play to my strengths? If I look at it from another angle will it be easier? Or the very basic, why am I doing this? Is it because I want to or because I feel like I should? I use what I learned from this one simple book more often than I ever thought I would. Which is why (as I said) I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone.

The biggest realization I had after reading the book and taking the tests and living with the results for awhile was that I was in the wrong field. I needed to move on to something that played more to my strengths. I had adapted the way I worked to match my strengths, without even realizing what I was doing, but I was really tapped out. At least in that company. It was one of the final pieces I needed to help me move on out the door and on to the next job. Which is a blog for another day.

Here are my strengths in detail in case you are curious as to what makes me tick.

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