I am a sucker for personality tests, spiritual gift inventories, and introverted quizzes. I have taken the Myers-Briggs test more times than I care to admit, Animal personality tests so many times I can peg others from a five-minute conversation, and the same spiritual gifts inventory four times over. Maybe it has something to do with my introverted personality desiring to examine every facet of my being that causes me to enjoy learning about myself, or maybe my fascination with what makes people tick drives me to learn more about myself since I am always the easiest test subject. Regardless of the reason, I enjoy learning about myself and others.
A book that has been on my list for a while has been Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath. I was introduced to the Strengths Finder concept from a couple different places over the past couple years but never took the time to dive into it until this past weekend. And, I am so glad I did.
Rath’s basic premise is this: work from your strengths. For years the American workforce has focused on weaknesses rather than strengths. Companies have sent management to seminars to “Improve their Company’s Efficiency” or “Find the Five Ways to Improve Co-worker Interactions.” People have been focused solely on improving in the areas they are NOT good at they do not work out of the areas that they are the BEST at. Rath says that if workers choose to work out of their strengths rather than improving minimally on their weaknesses, work becomes more fulfilling in the long-run because we are working in the ways we are wired to work.
For example, we are told by culture, if we want to make money we have to be in this profession, start working at this entry level job, work hard, and possibly get the chance to be promoted until we are on top. Because we want to support a family, live a certain lifestyle, or impress someone, we fall into this hierarchal system–whether we actually want to or not. Then, after a few days, months, or years on the job, we begin to feel a sense of dissatisfaction with our work. The cubical jungle becomes something we avoid rather than embrace. The workplace gets a little more tense as more and more snarky remarks from co-workers grate on our work ethic. We sit through meetings, work on projects, and talk with clients about things that we know are not qualified for or have the desire to complete; yet, we still do the same monotonous routine day-in, day-out hoping somewhere, deep in our hearts that our situation will improve but knowing, in all likelihood, it will not.
In every season of our life we are told to work on the things we are not good at. From an early age, kids are told they can “You can be anything you want to be.” Parents spend more time talking about the grades their kids make that are bad rather than celebrating the classes they do well in. In college it gets a little better, but we still spend hours slaving away studying for classes to get a degree from a major that we have no desire to use. This translates into the previous job experience I described. How do we break this cycle?
This, Rath argues, is the only way an individual can break our of this cycle is learning what his or her strengths are and working from them. If we are sucked into the system of trying to “be anything you want to be,” we spend a good portion of our life trying to improve weakness that will never become a strength. For example, as Rath points out, someone who does not excel at math in school is probably not going to be a world-class accountant–it could happen, but it is not likely. If he or she is better at art or music, they should be encouraged to devote the majority of time and effort to cultivate those strengths instead.
But Strengths Finder 2.0 is not the book to help you discover what career choice you should make, whether art, science, math, or english is your strongest subject. It assumes you are already in the workplace trying to figure out how to better improve your environment, team, and experience. This is where Rath’s research with Gallup comes in. Over the past few decades, Gallup has amassed a databank of thousands of strengths, but Rath and his team were able to narrow them down to 34 central themes which they found to be the most common in their research: achiever, activator, adaptability, analytical, arranger, belief, command, communication, competition, connectedness, consistency, context, deliberative, developer, discipline, empathy, focus, futuristic, harmony, ideation, includer, individualization, input, intellection, learner, maximizer, positivity, relator, responsibility, restorative, self-assurance, significance, strategic, and woo.
I am not going to go into each individual theme (you can read the book if you want all of those insights), but I will explain my top five strengths, show how they work together, and attempt to wrestle with how I will use them in the future.
All in all, I would encourage everyone to purchase and read this book–in order to find out your top five strengths you must purchase the book new because it comes with a code in the back that allows you to take an online test that will analyze your answers and tell you your strengths. It has helped me better understand how I work as well as how other co-workers work. If nothing else, go to your local bookstore and read the first thirty pages; they are worth the time.
I will leave you with what Rath says to close out the preface:
“When we’re able to put most of our energy into developing our natural talents, extraordinary room for growth exists. So, a revision of the ‘You-can-be-anything-you-want-to-be’ maxim might be more accurate: You cannot be anything you want to be–but you can be a lot more of who you already are.”