Strengths Theory 101

“What would happen if we studied what is right with people?”

This is the fundamental question behind strengths theory, and the one asked by psychologist Donald O. Clifton, the creator of Clifton StrengthsFinder.

Strengths theory proposes that we will be more successful by focusing on what we do well instead of where we are lacking.

It’s easy to focus on our faults.

Most of us are aware of those areas in our life where it’s difficult to perform at our best—where we lack the innate skill or natural ability to easily achieve results.

While it’s essential that we invest our time to develop those areas that are holding us back, I believe that we are better off investing in our strengths.

Let’s dive in and explore strengths theory and how you can apply it to your mindful leadership career.

1) Why focus on strengths?

If you find that you don’t have the opportunity to do what you do best every day, then your natural talents are going untapped.

The misguided advice (and our default tendency) is to focus on our weaknesses. You will gain far more when you expend effort in developing your natural talents than when you spend a comparable amount of energy to remediate your weaknesses.

2) What are strengths?

In simplest terms, we develop a strength when we invest the time to master our natural skills and abilities (aka talents).

A talent is a natural-occurring pattern of thought, feeling or behaviour that can be productively applied. We gain mastery of a strength when we have maximized our natural talents.

3) Why can’t I see my natural talents?

It can be a challenge to identify our natural talents on our own.

Because they are naturally-occurring patterns, they are difficult to notice without external feedback.

When I first discovered my talents, I remember saying, “Doesn’t everyone think this way?” I realized that no, not everyone does.

I found it very difficult to notice my talents because they were so ingrained in who I am. I needed to get external feedback to be able to see my abilities.

4) How do I discover my natural talents?

The tool that I use with my clients to help them identify their natural talents is the CliftonStrengths Assessement by the Gallup Organization.

Here’s a non-affiliate link that you can use to purchase the assessment online.

CliftonStrengths Assessment

This assessment will help you identify your top 5 natural talents from 34 different themes. Also, this site will give you some tips to help you understand and apply your natural talents.

5) How do I turn my talents into a strength?

The formula for turning your talents into a strength is simple:

Step 1: Identify your most powerful talents.

Step 2: Improve your natural talents with practice.

Step 3: Acquire the relevant skills and knowledge to turn your talents into a strength.

How I used my Strengths

Here’s how I used this process to identify my talents, put them into practice, and to develop the relevant skills and knowledge to turn them into a strength.

Step 1: Identify your most powerful talents.

Here are my top 5 natural talents and the plan I used to turn them into strengths.

My top 5 natural talents from the StrengthsFinder assessment:

  • Focus – Able to prioritize and take action
  • Learner – Loves to learn and how to learn best
  • Input – Craves information and knowledge
  • Significance – Driven to make substantial contributions
  • Intellection – Deep thinker and strategist

Reviewing these results, three of my natural talents are related to strategy (learner, input, and intellection). My remaining natural talents (focus and significance) are related to execution and getting things done. This puts me in a unique situation where I think strategically, yet I can stay focused on what needs to be done (tactics).

The results from your assessment will give you a unique insight on how to best to combine them to turn them into strengths.

Step 2: Improve your natural talents with practice.

Once you’ve identified your talents, the next step is to improve them with practice.

This is where you want to get intentional by creating a specific learning strategy that will …

1) Combine theory with real-life experience.

The best learning plans combine different ways of learning. Select a right mix of reading, online video courses and hands-on experience.

2) Push at the edge of your comfort zone.

To turn a talent into a strength requires that you do things that are slightly uncomfortable. Remember that growth happens outside of your comfort zone.

3) Provide you with constructive feedback.

You will need a right mix of positive reinforcement and constructive feedback to develop your talents. Find a mentor, join a supportive community, or start a mastermind, are all excellent ways to find accountability and support that you need.

Start Where You Are

The secret is to start where you are by looking for ways to practice your natural talents in your current situation.

All through my career, I’ve looked for ways to practice and develop my talents in my current role.

In my situation, I used a combination of learning methods to create my learning plan.

As a computer programmer, I read books on the best practices of programming, I spent many evenings and weekends coding various side projects, and I started a few learning groups.

As a people manager, I read books on the best practices of leadership, business, productivity, and communication. I invested in courses and training (often on my own time and out of my pocket), and I started a leadership users group.

As a mindful leadership coach, I continue to read books on leadership, strategy, coaching, and mindfulness. I’ve invested in my coaching and training certification, and I’m actively part of a learning community and mastermind group.

Step 3: Acquire the relevant skills and knowledge to turn your talents into a strength.

It takes 10,000 hours of deliberate and varied practice to achieve mastery.

Rule #1: Always be learning.

Be intentional about your learning. Look for ways to learn something new in every role and project that you take on. If there is nothing left to learn, it’s time to find a new position or dive into a new project.

Rule #2: Mix it up.

As mentioned earlier, don’t stick with just one form of learning. Include a mix of reading, online courses, in-person workshops and real-life experience.

Rule #3: Go Deep.

Be careful about jumping around from one area to the next. Choose an area of focus and go deep. Look to become one of the best in that field.

Over my career, I’ve developed skills in the areas of strategic thinking, people development, peak performance and mindful leadership.

Also, I’ve built practical knowledge in the areas of leadership, management, technology, business, entrepreneurship, coaching, training, and mindfulness.

Looking through the highlights, this puts me in an excellent position to help other mindful leaders become the best versions of themselves.

Build Self-confidence

To succeed in today’s competitive marketplace requires that you believe in your abilities and build self-confidence. One of the best ways to do that is to achieve mastery in a particular area.

The path to mastery will be a lot shorter when you expend effort in developing your natural talents than when you spend a comparable amount of energy to remediate your weaknesses.

The best time to start developing your strengths and building your knowledge was ten years ago.

The second best time is to start today.

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