With my sabbatical nearing the end I am reflecting what I really want to do in terms of work. When I was younger, work was a central part of my life. It was essential to who I was. Now work is less important, other things define who I am and what I do with my life. I do not live to work.
However, I do want my work to be engaging, my strengths best utilized, and fit with my values. I don’t want to waste my time doing something that I don’t enjoy and doesn’t take advantage of my strengths.
So what are my strengths?
I had a reasonable idea but wanted something more objective. In my search I was recommended CliftonStrengths.
Don Clifton’s StrengthsFinder is based on 40 years of research. Millions of people have used CliftonStrengths to discover and describe their talents.
I have found that personal and professional development often focusses on improving your weaknesses. As a child you are told you can be anything you want to be as long as you work hard. But the reality is if you have always struggled with maths you are unlikely to be a great accountant. Tom Rath, author of StrengthsFinder 2.0, recommends putting our energy into developing our natural talents.
You cannot be anything you want to be – but you can be a lot more of who you already are.
According to research by Gallup (the company behind CliftonStrengths), having the opportunity to develop our strengths is more important to our success at work than our role, title or even our pay.
In the workplace, you are six times less likely to be engaged in your job, when you’re not able to use your strengths in your job.
Consider this; when you’re unhappy at work you are more likely to:
- dread going to work,
- have more negative than positive interactions with your colleagues,
- treat your customers (clients, students, patients) poorly,
- tell your friends what a miserable company you work for,
- achieve less on a daily basis.
CliftonStrengths identifies 34 themes of talent, or core personality traits. Through an assessment where you have just 20 seconds to answer each question (top of mind responses being more revealing than if you have time to think about it) your top five strengths are determined and all 34 are ranked.
So what are my top five?
- Discipline – People who are especially talented in the Discipline theme enjoy routine and structure. Their world is best described by the order they create. Initially I thought Discipline was about self-control (definitely NOT one of my strengths) but I am all about routines, structure, and being organised.
- Input – People who are especially talented in the Input theme have a craving to know more. Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information. I really do find so many things interesting. I love to read just about anything. I love to travel because each new location offers a new experience.
- Communication – People who are especially talented in the Communication theme generally find it easy to put their thoughts into words. They are good conversationalists and presenters. This is what I am all about. I love to write (hey, blogger!). I love to talk. I love to bring ideas to life, to energize people and to inspire them to act.
- Harmony – People who are especially talented in the Harmony theme look for consensus. They don’t enjoy conflict; rather, they seek areas of agreement. Of my five top strengths Harmony is the the one that that is least descriptive of me. I do like to argue and put my opinion forward. However, I do believe that while people’s opinions matter and people should speak up, we should be working towards agreement and consensus. We do need to find common ground.
- Relator – People who are especially talented in the Relator theme enjoy close relationships with others. They find deep satisfaction in working hard with friends to achieve a goal. I don’t always feel comfortable meeting new people or confident striking up a conversation with an acquaintance, but I do gain strength from being around close friends and believe that so much more can be achieved by being friends with my colleagues.
Now I have an insight into my strengths it doesn’t end there. CliftonStrengths offers advice on how to develop your strengths and on managing areas of less strength (e.g by seeking others with talents in those areas). They also help you to be aware of blind spots caused by your strengths.
I am working on an action plan for improving and applying my strengths into the future.
To start with, each week I plan to select a different strength in my top five and ask myself, “How can I use this strength today?” and at the end of each day, reflect on how I intentionally used this strength and think of the impact it had for me.
Secondly, I plan to ask those who know me, especially my former colleagues, three questions relating to my top five strengths.
- What was your initial reaction to my report?
- Which strength or strengths do you see most in me? Can you give me an example?
- What do you see as my greatest strengths?
I hope that by focusing on my strengths, rather than my weaknesses, I will gain a clearer picture of how best to use my time and how I can best can contribute to my community.