Hey there…my name is Jon Sexton…and I’m passionate about people. What do I mean by that? I thrive on working with folks to help them realize their true potential, whether that’s through helping them build confidence, explore new educational or career opportunities, or learn how to tap into their strengths to realize untapped potential in a given role. One of the ways I do this is through using the framework of the Clifton StrengthsFinder. This approach won me over through the simple words of Donald Clifton, founder of the StrengthsFinder Assessment:
“What would happen if we studied what is right with people versus what is wrong with people?”
I challenge you to think about that quote for a few minutes. I would argue that we live in a deficit oriented society, one in which we’re constantly inundated with messages about how we should be more “well rounded” and seek ways to improve ourselves. That’s fantastic in theory, but how much time do we waste investing in building skills that simply are aligned with our natural skill set. What if instead we truly honed and focused on our natural talents? Some of the most successful professionals I know do just that…they play to their strengths seeking opportunities to work with individuals who have significantly different skill sets than their own.
From a career development perspective this approach is powerful in that it focuses on tapping into your natural interests. In addition it focuses on investing in activities that bring you energy versus draining it from you. There is benefit in building your natural talents as it allows you to develop the ability to tap into them in a strategic manner to achieve the things you naturally want to do. When we fail to invest in talent…it may go untapped, unrealized, or left undeveloped. Imagine if someone had convinced John Lennon or Paul McCartney at a young age that playing guitar was a waste a time and that they should invest time into more “serious” pursuits.
Even when we know our talents, we must be willing to work on developing them. Raw talent has the tendency drive our behavior in undesirable ways. Let’s use the metaphor of taming an animal as an example. Say you want to tame a horse, to the point where you’re able to ride it between two locations that are several miles or kilometers apart. Do a half hearted job and you’ll likely have an animal that will either buck you off, or will fight you on where you want it to go. Like undeveloped talent, there is untapped potential in that horse, but until you’ve properly tamed it, it’s going to try to lead you where it wants to go…and perhaps even accidently harm you as a result of that struggle. Properly train the animal and all of a sudden you’ve harnessed a resource that can help you in a wide variety of ways.
The benefits of taking a Strengths based approach to your work or professional development are abundant. Consider the following:
- If you’re a student looking for the right major, a soon to be graduate trying to figure out the right career path, or an established professional considering changing your career course…reflecting upon your strengths can lead to insights and discovery into fields that you may have never considered. Fields in which you can absolutely thrive if you invest time and reflection into considering how a different role might be a great fit for you.
- When you allow time to reflect on and think about the things that you do well, you have some natural language for answering popular questions like, “tell us about top 3 things you do well.” I love that question, because it’s an open opportunity to tell you that I thrive whenever I have an opportunity to tell a story (Communication), to connect with a large group of people with whom I can identify shared interests (Woo), and that I’m a team oriented person who loves any opportunity to build up my colleagues, direct reports, and mentees (Positivity).
- Investing time in learning more about each of the 34 talent themes, working with a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach, or working in an organization that is intentional about building a Strengths based culture provides an excellent lens for understanding what drives your colleagues or teammates at a deep level. That insight is invaluable (particularly from a managerial perspective) when you understand how to assign projects or roles to folks in which they’ll naturally thrive. It also leads to people seeing you as someone who genuinely understands them and values the unique perspectives they bring to a team.
If you’ve never heard of this unique perspective, purchase a new copy of StrengthsFinder 2.0 and use the insert to take the online assessment. It’s well worth your $15 to $20 investment, but make sure to buy a new copy to ensure the code inside isn’t used. I assure you that you’ll be fascinated by the accuracy of the results and the potential that lies within that book, as well as the abundance of additional readings and resources that Gallup provides on the topic.