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.”