Raw talent is much more dangerous and visible than weakness. I used to find that statement provocative. Now that I understand what talents are, I agree with that message. It’s against common beliefs and assumptions, yet I’ve found a lot of examples that confirm it. In this post, I describe why raw talents are dangerous and how to mature your talent.
She is the best in her role. She performs much better than average. She is told that if she wants to be promoted, she can take a managerial position. The problem is that she doesn’t like to manage people. She loves what she currently does and wants to develop in that area. Unfortunately, there is no career path defined for that area. And also, if she wants to earn more money, becoming a manager is the only way. So she becomes a manager, and she’s miserable in that role. She misses her old job. Sound familiar? Have you heard similar stories in the past?
Can pessimism be a virtue? My impulse used to be to say „no.” Now I know that’s not true. I got inspired to write this post when I was listening to an episode of This is your life podcast. The title of the episode was How to wreck your future. In that episode, its hosts discuss the hidden dangers of pessimism. I listened to the discussion and noticed that I kept repeating in my head “This is not fair! You can’t say that someone is a pessimist and assume all these things based on that!” I decided that I’d debate with the thesis from that podcast. Keep reading to learn why I don’t agree with this idea and why I think pessimism can be a virtue.
What is a strength? In this post I give you both the “official” answer and my understanding of the term. OK, let’s jump into it.
Donald O. Clifton and his team studied strengths for nearly 50 years. They created a list of 34 strengths that are shared among all people. Each person has his/her own 34 strengths, each with a different intensity. When you take a StrengthsFinder assessment, you discover what your signature strengths are, including your dominant, supporting, and lesser strengths. Your profile is unique to you and you only!
Donald Clifton defined a strength as follows:
A strength is the ability to consistently produce a nearly perfect positive outcome in a specific task.
All strengths start with a talent. Talents ”are a person’s innate abilities — what we do without even thinking about it.” Your talents have to be invested in to be used in a productive and efficient way. Investing in your talents means practicing and developing your skills and acquiring knowledge. This is how you build your strengths.
There is a difference between the definition of a talent, a skill, and knowledge.
- Talent – ”a natural way of thinking, feeling, or behaving”. Talents are innate.
- Skill – ”the basic ability to move through the fundamental steps of tasks.” Skills can be acquired through training.
- Knowledge – ”what you know. Knowledge can be acquired through education.”
It is very important to understand the difference between these terms. Talents are innate. Either we have them or we don’t. For example, you can’t learn the ability to feel a person’s emotions. Either you have this talent or you don’t. But what you do with that talent is up to you. Maybe you can sense basic emotions (happiness, sadness, etc.), but don’t have any idea of what to do with that finding. When you start practicing using this talent, you can build up your empathy strength. How can you practice it? Perhaps by observing someone’s emotional state, taking notes about your observations, and confirming whether those observations are aligned with the real emotions of that person. You can consciously choose to read more about empathy and the practical application of that strength in your life. This will be a process of acquiring knowledge and building your skills.
What I described above is the difference between so-called raw and mature strength. A raw strength is a natural talent which you aren’t sure how to use, while a mature strength is the conscious usage of a talent in a way that you find useful.
There is one more thing I would like to share with you about strengths. Each of them has a balcony and a basement—a bright and a gray (or even dark) side. Again, I will use empathy as an example. A person who has empathy as a signature strength ”can sense other people’s feelings by imagining themselves in others’ lives or situations.” What would a balcony side of that strength be? That person can feel how others feel and react to a situation. He/she can guess if someone is happy or sad and act accordingly. Think about how much more efficient such a person could be in a meeting! He/she would know when to speak, what to say, and how to react to others’ reactions. This is a very powerful strength. Especially when the strength-holder is aware of having that strength and is focused on developing it. What could a basement of empathy be? Imagine that you’re a team leader. You are a very empathetic person and you sense what others feel. If your empathy is raw and not fully developed, you may sometimes find that you are reluctant to giving challenging feedback to someone, only because you feel it might make this person sad or unhappy. This would hinder your effectiveness as a team leader.
This is just one simple example. Each strength has bright and gray sides. Each strength is raw until it becomes mature. This is why it is so important not only to learn about your strengths, but also to develop them. How can you do this? There are many different ways. But that’s a topic for a separate post.
I hope that after reading this post you know what a strength is. I also hope that this post got you interested in the topic of your strengths. Maybe you would even like to learn what they are and develop them. I know that for me, focusing on my strengths changed me as a person and allowed me to become a better me. I’m only at the beginning of that path, but I see that in this case the sky really is the limit! And I wish the same for you — to begin down a similar path and find out that by focusing on your strengths, ”you can be a lot more of who you already are.”
Two years ago, the company I work for organized a strength-based development training for its managers. A company based in Stockholm came to our office and ran a number of workshops. This was my first encounter with the idea of focusing on what I’m good at, not on my weaknesses. What a shock! Someone told us that we should develop the areas where we are strongest. During those workshops we learned what our top strengths were. We talked with our colleagues about how these strengths are visible in our day-to-day behavior. This is how the fascination with strengths-based development started for me.
Unfortunately, after two or three workshops we discontinued the program. But the knowledge and curiosity stayed with me. A few months later, one of my colleagues reintroduced the idea of strengths development in our office. He and his team had taken an assessment test called Gallup StrengthsFinder and they discovered their top five strengths. But they took an additional step,too – they visualized the collective strengths of their team. This time I was really hooked. I started to read about the Gallup StrengthsFinder program and about Donald O. Clifton (the creator of the StrengthsFinder). I took the assessment myself, discovered my strengths, and started to analyze them. The next step was obvious for me – go to the Gallup Certified Coaching Accelerated Course. There I met two awesome coaches from Gallup and more than 20 people from all over the world who were into strengths development as much as I was. That week was transformative for me. I learned so much, experienced a lot, and came back even more motivated and encouraged to work with strengths. I want to use them in my personal life, at work, and to help others.
You may ask what is so exceptional about this approach. You see, during most of my life, I experienced a very different approach. For example, back in primary school, I was good at math and physics. At the same time, I sucked big time in music, art, and practical subjects. Still, I was forced to spend the same amount of time on all of them. I know that the time spent on music lessons, being forced to sing and so on, was a waste of my energy and time. I could have spent the same time learning math, which I use much more in my adult life. If I had had spent more time on math, I probably would have become a better programmer. That’s why I’m so fascinated with this different approach. I should focus on what I’m good at, work on it, and excel at it, because that’s where my biggest potential lies. I love that thought!
I’m still in the process of learning about and understanding my strengths according to the StrengthsFinder. This will be a long process, for sure. Understanding my strengths is the first step. The second will be finding examples of these strengths in my life, in my behavior, and in the way I think. And the third will be consciously applying them in my life. These three steps in Gallup’s approach are called “Name it, Claim it, Aim it.” This is what strengths-based development is all about.
- Understand your strengths (Name it)
- Recognize how you use these strengths (Claim it)
- Use your strengths to grow and to solve your challenges (Aim it)
I’m aiming to become a Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach and I’m currently in the middle of the certification process. This process includes coaching a number of people. When I talk with these people during coaching sessions, many of them also find focusing on strengths to be very encouraging. When we start to talk about their strengths more, we find a lot of examples of how they play an important role in our lives. It is amazing to observe how liberating it is to focus on strengths and to realize that we do not have to battle our weaknesses. We all have strengths that, when consciously applied, allow us to achieve what we want in the way that is best for us.
I will leave you with one very personal thought: I really believe that by focusing on my strengths I can become the best possible version of myself. This is what I try to do, and this is the message I want to spread!