Now, Discover Your Strengths

Published by Margaux Smith on

Before I left Toronto and moved to London last year, friends, family and fellow fundraisers sent me off with words of wisdom, plenty of hugs, and a few thoughtful parting gifts, small enough to fit in my suitcase. Among those gifts was something that has fundamentally changed the way I see myself.

Because Paul Nazareth totally gets me, he sent me on my way with a USB stick containing about 15 business-related audiobooks, and over the past year and a half, they’ve been my commuting companions. I’ve learned about negotiation, confrontations, the dynamics of a strong team, and much more. But what’s made the biggest impression is a book called Now, Discover Your Strengths.

During a 40-year study of human strengths, a psychologist named Dr Donald Clifton and his research team interviewed 1.7 million professionals from different fields to try to identify the most common talents. The field of psychology was already full of ways to identify and describe what’s wrong with people, but they wanted to start a global conversation about what’s right with people.

So Dr Clifton and his team developed an assessment test, called the Clifton StrengthsFinder, to help people discover and describe their top 5 talents from a list of the 34 most common.

Now these aren’t specific talents like singing or playing hockey – they’re broader than that, like Empathy and Communication. Because they are core personality traits, these innate talents don’t tend to change over time. In fact, your personality at age 3 is remarkably similar to your adult personality.

Of course, knowledge, skills and practice are incredibly important for developing a true strength. So the purpose of StrengthsFinder is to help you find the areas where you have the greatest potential to develop strengths. Your talents are personality traits that represent your natural ways of thinking, feeling or behaving.

The most successful people start by identifying their dominant talents, and then add skills, knowledge and practice to the mix. When you multiply your talents with hard work, you develop your strengths and hone your ability to consistently provide near-perfect performance.

When you take the test, you can then focus on building on your strengths rather than focusing on weaknesses. Growing up, most parents and teachers put emphasis on the subjects where grades are poor, and largely ignore the classes where children excel. We’re taught to work harder at the things we’re not naturally good at.

But by identifying our strengths, we can focus our time and energy on what comes intrinsically, and this is especially important in the workplace. We spend more time at the office then many of us spend with our loved ones, so our happiness and fulfillment during those 40+ hours each week play a massive role in our wellbeing.

People who have the opportunity to focus on their strengths every day are six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs and more than three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life in general.

And having a manager who focuses on your strengths can make a big difference too.

If your manager primarily:      The chances of your being actively disengaged are:

Ignores you                                            40%

Focuses on your weaknesses            22%

Focuses on your strengths                  1%

Wow! Can you imagine if charities were running with 99% active engagement from their staff? The study also found that those who aren’t able to use their strengths at work tend to treat customers poorly and achieve less on a daily basis. I’m sure you’ll agree this seems like something charity managers should be trying hard to avoid!

So here’s the list of the 34 most common talents:

  • Achiever – one with a constant drive for accomplishing tasks
  • Activator – one who acts to start things in motion
  • Adaptability – one who is especially adept at accommodating to changes in direction/plan
  • Analytical – one who requires data and/or proof to make sense of their circumstances
  • Arranger – one who enjoys orchestrating many tasks and variables to a successful outcome
  • Belief – one who strives to find some ultimate meaning behind everything they do
  • Command – one who steps up to positions of leadership without fear of confrontation
  • Communication – one who uses words to inspire action and education
  • Competition – one who thrives on comparison and competition to be successful
  • Connectedness – one who seeks to unite others through commonality
  • Consistency – one who believes in treating everyone the same to avoid unfair advantage
  • Context – one who is able to use the past to make better decisions in the present
  • Deliberative – one who proceeds with caution, seeking to always have a plan and know all of the details
  • Developer – one who sees the untapped potential in others
  • Discipline – one who seeks to make sense of the world by imposition of order
  • Empathy – one who is especially in tune with the emotions of others
  • Focus – one who requires a clear sense of direction to be successful
  • Futuristic – one who has a keen sense of using an eye towards the future to drive today’s success
  • Harmony – one who seeks to avoid conflict and achieve success through consensus
  • Ideation – one who is adept at seeing underlying concepts that unite disparate ideas
  • Includer – one who instinctively works to include everyone
  • Individualization – one who draws upon the uniqueness of individuals to create successful teams
  • Input – one who is constantly collecting information or objects for future use
  • Intellection – one who enjoys thinking and thought-provoking conversation often for its own sake, and also can data compress complex concepts into simplified models
  • Learner – one who must constantly be challenged and learning new things to feel successful
  • Maximizer – one who seeks to take people and projects from great to excellent
  • Positivity – one who has a knack for bring the light-side to any situation
  • Relator – one who is most comfortable with fewer, deeper relationships
  • Responsibility – one who, inexplicably, must follow through on commitments
  • Restorative – one who thrives on solving difficult problems
  • Self-Assurance – one who stays true to their beliefs, judgments and is confident of his/her ability
  • Significance – one who seeks to be seen as significant by others
  • Strategic – one who is able to see a clear direction through the complexity of a situation
  • Woo – one who is able to easily persuade

The biggest problem is, of course, that most people are either unaware of or unable to describe their own strengths and the strengths of those around them. I found this out firsthand when I took the test. After reading the book and looking through the above list, I had a pretty good idea of what my top 5 personal themes would be. But I guessed one correct. The others I’d never even heard of! I certainly had no idea they were qualities that could give me an edge.

I think sometimes our strengths come so easily to us that we assume they’re easy for everyone. I’d always thought of these qualities as being universally human. I was completely unsure what I could bring to the workplace that was unique.

Since I took the test four months ago, I’ve completely changed the way I think of myself as a member of the team. I now understand what I bring and it’s made me more confident. I’ve also able to identify the times I’m using my strengths, and feel I’m enjoying those moments more. I’ve even asked my boss for new tasks that play on my strengths.

But unexpectedly, I have also become more understanding of my colleagues who have different strengths. I used to get so frustrated if someone didn’t have the same empathetic reaction as I did or the same desire for efficiency. I couldn’t understand why I was the only one who kept up with all the latest blogs, articles, videos, and lectures. Now I know it’s because my dominant talents are Empathy, Input, Activator, Maximizer, and Futurist.

The authors offer one important warning – watch for blind spots. These are cases of your talents being taken too far. For example, my talent Activator means I need to have everything be as efficient as possible BUT this can come across as bossy and impatient. My talent Input means I am constantly collecting knowledge BUT this can stop me from producing, as I spend all my time reading, watching, listening, etc. We have to ensure we use our talents to help make us the best we can be.

If you’ve read this far, I’m guessing the topic of discovering your strengths has struck some interest in you. I HIGHLY recommend taking the test but it’s not free. Each copy of the book comes with a one-time-use code that allows you to take the 30 min test online, but it was one of the best £10 I ever spent. I’ve also heard other fundraisers say that their boss bought them the copy as part of their professional development budget – great idea! The current version is called Strengths Finder 2.0 and you can find it here. The test reveals much deeper explanations of your 5 dominant talents and offers tips on how to make the most of them.

So if you do take StrengthsFinder or have done so in the past, please share your top 5 list in the comments. I’d love to hear your experience in the months that followed and whether you felt it had an impact on your work too. I’m fascinated by the topic of personal growth in the workplace and love discussing it so drop me a Tweet at @margauxs if you’d like!

Margaux Smith

Margaux is currently living in Sydney, Australia, working closely with incredible clients at Flat Earth Direct, creating digital and direct mail campaigns with them to help change the world. This Canadian fundraiser misses her compatriots in London and Toronto, where she learned almost everything she knows, but is enjoying the Australian sunshine a little too much to leave any time soon.


Emma Lewzey · December 10, 2012 at 19:07

Great post, Margaux! I agree, StrengthsFinder is an amazing personal and professional development tool – and a great way to better understand and work more effectively with your colleagues. Highly recommended.

P.S. My top five strengths are strategic, ideation, analytical, input and maximizer – we’d make a great team! :)

    Margaux Smith · December 10, 2012 at 22:59

    Thanks Emma! I’d love it if others in my workplace took the test so we could understand each other better. I’ll just have to forward them this link…lol

    And yes, we should definitely work together someday :)

Christina Attard · December 10, 2012 at 19:23

Glad you discovered this! It’s a very powerful tool. One of the biggest delights last January was learning that the person I would be managing had done her strengthsfinder test. I have my top 5 and hers pasted to my wall so that I can always remember where we complement and where she’s coming from when we’re on opposite sides of an issue.

My top 5 are: Communication, Input, Activator, Woo and Connectedness.

I’m suspicious that the fundraisers out there who comment will end up with some cross-over talents!

PS. There are even a few school boards who have brought the makers of Strenghtsfinder in to their schools to re-create the entire educational system around SF theories. It’s amazing to see that in action!

    Margaux Smith · December 10, 2012 at 23:06

    I’ve told my boss about my results but I think it sounds a bit like jiberish to those who haven’t taken the test. I’d love to hear her top 5 someday though.

    I think you’re so right that many of us will overlap. So far it seems that many of my Twitter-verse fundraising friends are Inputers too :) Makes sense! Before I took the test, I’d wrongly guessed that Woo and Communication would be on my list but alas.

    Can you imagine how different we’d all be if we’d identified our strengths in high school?? I’m not sure I would’ve even been able to grasp these concepts back then though..

Daan Schmidt · December 10, 2012 at 19:31

Dear Margaux,

A great article and thanks for sharing. It is a book that blessed me as well. We have three strenghts in common! My top 5 are Activator, Futuristic, Positivity, Maximizer and Significance!

    Margaux Smith · December 10, 2012 at 23:00

    Nice! I thought I’d get Positivity but I’d guess almost all of mine completely wrong :) A few months after taking the test, though, it makes more sense to me.

Rickesh Lakhani · December 11, 2012 at 02:26

Excellent post Margaux!

I recently took the test and it opened up my world. It is not only more productive to focus on your strengths, it is just psychologically a better feeling!

If you know how you are wired, then when you do come across something that is not one of your core strengths, you can either find someone to work wtih that complements you to get it done, delegate it to someone that is better suited to do it and would actually enjoy doing it, or if it must be you, discover ways to make it more meaningful for you.

What I also like is that none of the traits are defined as better or worse than others, just different. You wouldn’t want a group of all of the same anyway.

My Top 5 were:

I guessed 4 out of 5 of those after reading the descriptions!

Thanks for spreading the word – let’s destroy the culture of fixing “faults” by better understanding and embracing what we’re good at!


    Margaux Smith · December 11, 2012 at 08:24

    I completely agree! Not only are none better than others, but it’s saying that everyone is great at something :) I love that.

Anita Alexander · December 16, 2012 at 08:55

Great summary of the strengths approach to people Margaux. It’s a fundamental shift in perspective when we move from a weakness focus to a strengths approach to ourselves. This doesn’t mean we ignore weaknesses, it means we manage around them.

I would also recommend accessing your complete 34 strengths report. With this you will see your strengths 6-10 that are still available to you to use, as well as seeing your non-strengths so you can figure out if they are weaknesses or not.

Here is the link at the Gallup site https://www.gallupstrengthscenter.com/Purchase/

All the best with applying your talents to animal welfare. Let me know if I can help. I am a strengthsfinder coach and would love to give back in some way to causes I care about.

My top 5 strengths are Input, Connectedness, Communication, Strategic, Individualization

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