I remember the exact moment I decided I would become a rock star. I was in third grade, and there was an opportunity to join the school band. With my handy saxophone in tow, the visions started coming to me…

Sold out crowds

Adoring groupies

Tons of money

I was going to be a mega superstar.

However, the truth was, I wasn’t good at the saxophone. Despite much persistence, and many years trying to hone the craft, I could feel my dream slipping away from me. It started to become evident to me that I lacked something critical to be successful: rhythm. My mother, on the other hand, was inherently talented as a musician. She had innate musical ability, something I would never possess even with 10,000 hours of perfect practice.

My journey to rock star status was the first time I became familiar with the concept of positive-strength psychology, whereby people understand their inherent strengths and focus on what they do best to enjoy greater success. Though I was not destined to be a rock star, I did discover that I could easily understand the mathematical construct of music. The key to pinpointing a strength is to identify your dominant talents, then complement them by acquiring knowledge and skills pertinent to the activity.

Unlocking Your Dominant Strengths

Years later, I started to dive deeper into the notion of strengths-based psychology and, more specifically, strengths-based leadership. I first came across the concept in the early ‘90s when I stumbled upon the book “Soar With Your Strengths” by Donald Clifton and Paula Nelson. Considered to be the “the father of Strengths-Based Psychology and the grandfather of Positive Psychology,” Donald Clifton developed the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment. The test presents you with 177 paired statements and asks you to choose the one that resonate most strongly with you. After, you receive an in-depth report on your top five strengths or the more comprehensive report that provides you a customized order of all your 34 strength themes. Initially, I chose the top five strength report and gained tremendous insight my strengths and talent, but more importantly, how to leverage them. (Fun fact: I became so fascinated with the concept that I became a Certified Strengths Coach.) My top 5 are:

  • Maximizer: Focus on strengths to stimulate personal and group excellence
  • Individualization: Intrigued by the unique qualities of each person
  • Strategic: When faced with any given scenario, create alternative ways to proceed
  • Learner: Great desire to learn and want to continuously improve
  • Achiever: A great deal of stamina and work hard

Understanding my dominant strengths has profoundly impacted how I lead and organize companies. For instance, understanding that Maximizer is my No. 1 strength, I inspire my teams to continually be driven to make the leap from good to great. I fundamentally derive fuel in seeing great things become excellent, and I lean on that strength to encourage others to subscribe to the notion of excellence. Moreover, I depend on my Individualization to hire and assemble winning teams. That strength allows me to recognize the unique talents of each individual I come across and, as such, understand exactly the role they need to be in to excel.

Unlocking your dominant strengths leaves you feeling powerful, grounded and activated. When we understand our strengths, we can choose career paths and passion projects that make us feel fulfilled and stimulated versus frustrated and overwhelmed. We can become more engaged and activated professionals. And we can take sizeable steps forward on our leadership journey.

A Different Workplace

As a leader, I always struggled with the annual performance review process. Most involved looking back over the past year and rating your employee’s performance and then sitting with the employee to develop a performance improvement plan. To me, the whole process had a very negative feeling by focusing much more attention on what was wrong.

Beyond the performance review process, what if we spent more time focused on what we did right in business than what we did wrong? We could align roles and responsibilities to the individual’s strengths. Collaboratively, we could develop career development plans leveraging the employee’s innate talents. When we think about the impact that an awareness of one’s strengths can have on the workplace, we start to imagine:

  • How different the workplace could look if we hired people based on their strengths and not weaknesses
  • How much more effective leaders could be if they understood what tasks and functions empower their employees versus leaving them feeling defeated
  • How strength-based leadership shapes culture and performance
  • How much differently we would choose what is next for our careers

In preparing to be a strengths coach, I came across this quote,

“Employees who do not work in strengths areas are only 9% engaged in their jobs vs. 74% engagement levels for people who do work in their strengths.” ~ “Strengths Based Leadership” by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie

It changed the way I looked at my team and how we ran the organization. As a business leader, you may be ready to take a step forward to making your department and team more strengths-based. In Part 2 of this series, we will dive into how to take that step forward. See you next week!