Book Review: Now, Discover Your Strengths

CIDM

April 2005


Book Review: Now, Discover Your Strengths


CIDMIconNewsletter Sylvia McCombs, Engenio Information Technologies, Inc.

Have you experienced extreme frustration at work because you feel you are in the wrong role and realize that no amount of training makes you feel better equipped or more competent? And to make it worse, even if you pursue a growth and development plan, you are expected to participate in training that focuses on filling the gaps of your skills or behaviors. In other words, the training focuses on your areas of weakness and those things you find least interesting.

As a manager, have you been frustrated because you feel your employees are not reaching their full potential or optimal level of productivity?

If you answered yes to either (or both!) of these questions, Now, Discover Your Strengths (The Free Press 2001) is a must read. It is a different view from the corporate norm of recommending that we continue to spend valuable time and dollars training employees to improve in their areas of weakness.

Buckingham and Clifton wrote this book to start what they refer to as a Strength Revolution. The introductory pages offer an enthusiastic pace that continues to the last page. We are immediately introduced to the “Strength Revolution” and how it focuses on ways to capitalize on an individual’s strengths instead of spending resources to minimize their weaknesses. The authors acknowledge that if an individual’s weakness is undermining his or her performance, then the staff member can benefit from remedial training in that area. However, they caution against pursuing the training any further than to correct the weakness to the extent that it does not distract from or diminish a person’s role. They claim that a weakness cannot become a strength, even with the best of training.

The authors discuss in detail the research findings that support the recurring, worldwide theme that “most organizations take their employees’ strengths for granted and focus on minimizing their weaknesses”

[page 8]. Then they turn the discussion to elaborating the benefits of the Strength Revolution, summarized as increased productivity, customer loyalty, and employee retention. I believe you will find the supporting evidence for these benefits both encouraging and thought-provoking.

The Gallup Organization provided the research for this book. Gallup has conducted research over the last 30 years and has gathered and analyzed statistics to find the best ways to maximize people’s potential. Gallup’s million dollar question, “At work do you have the opportunity to do what you do best everyday?”, has shown startling results [page 5].

According to Buckingham and Clifton, if you can answer yes to that question, you are among only 20 percent of employees in the world who believe they are doing what they do best every day. In other words, most organizations operate at 20 percent capacity. Alarming! The encouraging news is that talents that can become perfected strengths are inherent in each individual. The organization need only identify them, provide strength-building training as needed, and place the individual in positions that rely on those talents and strengths. It may sound too simple to be true, but the research results in this book provide convincing evidence showing how this strength-building concept has been played out successfully in today’s organizations.

The authors report that, “In Gallup’s total database we have asked the `opportunity to do what I do best’ question of more than 1.7 million employees in 101 companies from 63 countries.” Only 20 percent responded that their strengths were being used everyday at work [page 6]. Most startling is the fact that the longer people stay with a company, and the higher their position, the less likely they feel that their strengths are being used in that organization.

“At the heart of this research are our interviews with eighty thousand managers-most excellent, some average-in hundreds of organizations around the world. Here the focus was to discover what the world’s best managers had in common. We described our discoveries in detail in the book First, Break All the Rules, but the most significant finding was this: Most organizations are built on two flawed assumptions about people:

  • Each person can learn to be competent in almost anything.
  • Each person’s greatest room for growth is in his or her areas of greatest weakness.” [page 7]

To create an optimally functioning organization, these assumptions need to be changed to the following:

  • “Each person’s talents are enduring and unique.
  • Each person’s greatest room for growth is in the area of his or her greatest strength.” [page 8]

Now, Discover Your Strengths provides a way to develop a systematic process for strength building, not only for yourself but also for your department and your organization. Readers of this book will be able to identify their talents and build on their strengths to develop what the authors refer to as “consistent, near perfect performance.”

Along with the Introduction, Chapters 1 and 2 show the grave statistics and stories resulting from the weakness-based growth and development concept and then contrast it with the concept, statistics, and stories of the strength-based focus. The comparison is enlightening and the arguments in favor of the Strength Revolution are clear and persuasive. From this revolution concept was born a program called StrengthsFinder®, which identifies the most common human strengths and reveals how they can be translated into personal and career success. StrengthsFinder® is a web-based assessment that profiles personal motivation, interpersonal skills, self-presentation, and learning style. This assessment provides immediate feedback in the form of a StrengthsFinder®Profile, which is further described and explained in subsequent chapters. In these first few chapters, you will find examples of individuals, some well known, who excel in using their natural talents to build their strengths. These examples help to show what a strong, successful life looks like.

Chapter 3 helps you understand the subtleties of learning to identify your own talents. Then it describes the StrengthsFinder® Profile that provides confirmation of those talents by listing your five most dominant themes of talent, which are called your signature themes. At the end of Chapter 3, you are directed to a web site where you complete the Internet-based StrengthsFinder® Profile. This profile is designed, as nearly as possible, to replicate the real-world environment by the types of questions and the rate at which you are expected to respond in that environment. StrengthsFinder® differs from other profile evaluations in that it does not try to identify what is wrong with an individual, it finds out what is right!

After you have completed the Profile and received the results, which list your top five dominant talent themes, you can read a detailed description of your talents in Chapter 4. This chapter describes the entire set of 34 themes from which your top five were selected, based on your responses in the Profile.

Chapter 5 provides a significant amount of information in the form of frequently asked questions. This chapter contains answers that really help clarify many points about our talent themes, our strengths, and our weaknesses. I found it to be a most enlightening and helpful chapter.

If you are a manager, or hope to achieve a management position, then carefully and thoroughly absorb Chapter 6. This chapter teaches by sharing examples of managers who excel and it delineates the fine line between successful management tactics and those that breed excellence. Best of all, this chapter offers tips about how to manage individuals depending on their talents. It refers to the same 34 talent themes that are detailed in Chapter 4.

I know I’ve raved about several chapters within this book, but Chapter 7 is outstanding! It offers sound advice for building an organization of employees who use their full potential. It provides four steps as a “systematic process for maximizing the value locked up in your human capital” [page 217]. The chapter includes a section, The Practical Guide, which describes how we can build strength-based organizations.

Now, Discover Your Strengths concludes with A Technical Report on StrengthsFinder® that provides more details about the research behind the Profile and what research is planned to refine it. This section is written by Theodore L. Hayes, Ph.D., Senior Research Director, The Gallup Organization. It clearly lends authority to the material in the book.

I hope you will plan time to read this book. It’s both a quick and inspiring read and offers much insight into why we should all build on our strengths. You will, no doubt, also want to take time to complete the StrengthsFinder® Profile for your personal benefit. It only takes about 30 minutes and provides instant results.

Here are two final questions for you to ponder as you wait for a break in your busy schedule to read this book:

  • Do you know the difference between talents and strengths?
  • Do you know your own talents and strengths?

The brief answer is: You can identify talents by paying attention to your spontaneous reactions to situations, yearnings from early in life, subjects you learn rapidly/easily, and activities/work that you find satisfying. Start observing others; you might see evidence of their talents as well. If someone consistently excels at an activity or skill, or if they make it look easy and natural, the chances are good that they have a talent.

When you identify your innate talents, you understand how to develop your strengths to excel. Don’t spend time trying to force a weakness into a talent or strength; it’s not going to happen. The best you can do is to make the weakness less visible or damaging.

Once we understand our talents and strengths, as employees, we need to take personal responsibility for accomplishing a three-fold mission:

  • Define our talents
  • Focus on perfecting our strengths
  • Improve on our weaknesses just enough to prevent them from jeopardizing our performance.

As managers, we need to quit spending valuable time and dollars trying to fix our employees’ flaws and begin identifying their strengths so we can place them in the most effective positions. We must focus on individual strengths of employees when we select them for employment and determine how we measure performance, our approach to growth and development, and how we help direct the careers of our people.

In closing, remember: Every one of us has extraordinary potential. To unleash that potential, we need to first identify our talents and build our strengths. To that end, I have formulated a summary that I post as a reminder on my wall at work. It’s all I need to remind me of the StrengthsFinder® path to excellence:

Success = Maximizing Strengths

Success Fixing Weakness CIDMIconNewsletter

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