I still remember the short and fidgety instructor we had that day. He was there to teach the 1-day course for discovering your strengths, based on philosophies and ideas on Buckingham and Clifton’s book, “Now, Discover Your Strengths“. I went to the very front and took my seat. If I am here, I want to be very present. I had been waiting for this course since I signed up for it months ago.
He was not a particularly good or effective instructor. Yet he is secured in my memory for his courageous approach to teaching.
The question on the table was easy enough: What are your strengths?
Before we could respond, he took a step forward and asked us to sit very comfortably. Then he proceeded to guide a full class of corporate citizens in a high tech company to do the unthinkable – to close our eyes and meditate, to go inward and to listen to the beat of our own hearts and the sound of our own breath, and to listen for what it is that truly defines our strengths, to identify it in our mind and articulate it. When we had heard everything in that period of silence, he instructed us to open our eyes and to write about it without analysis or judgment.
As highly technical and career minded as I may be, yoga and meditation are no stranger to me. I felt immediately at home, and welcomed the diversity of the instructor’s approach. When I opened my eyes, the heavy quiet of my peers filled the air, and my words filled the blank pages of my book. A calming and productive exercise.
It turns out this was the climax of our class, and what else can be more challenging than truly knowing what your strengths as a human being are. What could be more brave to realize that the strengths that your management and parents have associated with you are their reality, and not necessarily yours. What could be more scary than opening your eyes and realizing that you have no idea what your strengths are and being able to find comfort in the awareness of knowing what they are not.
I started reading this book somewhat reluctantly and soon after I took the StrengthFinder test. The results present you with 5 signature themes which identify your areas of strengths, or more accurately, areas with the greatest potential strengths. The philosophy which Buckingham and Clifton explore is simple and logical: We focus too much on our weaknesses in this day and age, and it is hard to argue with the authors as they list out the expansive vocabulary invented and built around “diseases”, “disabilities”, “disorders” and “syndromes” in our society.
If we are found to be operating slightly outside of the norm, we must be suffering from syndrome xyz or a new disorder yet to be named. In contrast, how weak is the vocabulary of our strengths? The authors claim very weak, and this is why they have built a vocabulary around human being’s strengths. The book motto can be summarized in one phrase: “Capitalize on your strengths and manage around your weaknesses.”
Reading is the best pastime for an active mind! If you like to see the other book reviews, check the index of In Print.
It is easy to pass off the StrengthFinder test as another personality test, a new version of Myers-Briggs or Hermann Brain. While I have not taken the Mysters-Briggs in full, I am familiar with Hermann Brain. It was conducted as a team exercise in what I can only politely call an extremely dysfunctional team.
Whether the dysfunctional operation of our team and its management offset any benefits that Hermann Brain could possibly have offered, or whether the system itself was not truly effective in identifying the “Whole brain thinking” aspect of the team members remains a mystery. Nonetheless, I find StrengthFinder to serve as an opportunity to really explore the inner and outer strengths of who you are.
I took the test with reluctance, perhaps with a bit of a hurry, and without taking it as seriously as I wish I had – still my results came back with amazing accuracy. If I did not feel this accuracy when I saw my 5 themes at first, I did soon after thinking carefully about my life, my interactions, my working and living style, and my every day experiences. Each single theme describes me at my core. The intimate nature with which this test analyzed me and put me in 5 categories was both irksome and reassuring at the same time.
I know my 5 strengths – now what?
How do I use them?
What career do I pursue to explore them best?
How does knowing this help me in my life?
If you are hoping for clear-cut answers to these questions, as I was, you will be disappointed. The book gives you a good description of each strength but leaves you wanting more. The authors have plenty of examples and few concrete identifiers that we could grab onto. I wish the sections with each strength outlined all relevant specific characteristic traits.
What the book lacks in the details around each strength area, it makes up for in articulating the differences between dominant talent, skill set and knowledge. For instance, while it is not easy to identify the exact mix of talent, skill and learning which goes into creating a superlative performance, the absence of talent is to blame in the case of sub par performance for the highly skilled and highly knowledgeable person. Talent we cannot produce; we can simply foster an environment to bring out its best.
The writing style is less business oriented and more inspirational. The research is solid and thorough, based on two million interviews, and the credibility of the test afforded me incentive enough to thoroughly enjoy and learn from this book.
These parts of the book had a keen effect on me, and perhaps they may on you also, particularly if you do not read it cover to cover.
-Pg 19., “I am really no different from any of you.”, Warren Buffett said to a class of students in University of Nebraska, and what proceeds in next few pages.
-Pg 25., “The definition of a strength: consistent near perfect performance in an activity”
-Pg 29., How talents, skills and knowledge combine to build your strengths, and how the StrenghtFinder profile identifies them for you.
-Pg 46., “But be careful. Skills are so enticingly helpful that they obscure their two flaws. The first flaw is that while skills will help you perform, they will not help you excel.”
-Pg51., How our brain is formed, the creation and death of billions of our “synapses” during our early years
-Pg 67., The chapter on “Traces of Talent”. Read this if you read nothing else.
-Pg 121., “Are there any obstacles to Building My Strengths? – Yes, Your own reluctance.”
-Pg 127., On dangers of delusion, extremely insightful.
-Pg 160, “Can my themes reveal whether I am in the right career” – If you take the test to find a better path for your career, this would be a good read but it only supplements the real answers which you will have to discover on your own.