Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Now Discover your Strengths

If you read this regularly, you will have noticed that I try to focus on the positive and help people build on their strengths. A piece of this comes from Now Discover your Strengths, and somehow I've missed writing the book up. What this book does is validate things most of us know intuitively, but may be afraid to commit to.

In my case, math and science are noticeably easier for me than reading and writing, or at least it started out that way. :) Unfortunately, I was 32 before I allowed myself to use that information in relationship to my career. I also have a need to understand how things work and while that’s useful in lots of areas, I didn’t nurture that as part of my career until about the same time. This combination led to changing careers and embracing computers and systems development... More accurately, my previous careers hadn’t been all that successful, so when I chose a new path, I actually included this information in the equation. The result was a career in computers and development that lasted most of 30 years and that was very successful.

The point is not about me, but what happens when building a career based on strengths, which leads back to Now Discover your Strengths. One element in their process is an online test that can provide a view of your natural strengths. You can go straight to the test via , but context helps, so maybe you borrow the book and take the test. What you will get back from the test will be a list of the five areas of how you approach life and problem solving that are your strongest tools. For example my first one in “Ideation”, in this case it means I need to understand stuff, there’s more to it of course and you can look that up if you care, but the real point is that when I took the test 20 odd years after I switched into computers systems, I found something that actually had language around why my choice worked. Very powerful stuff.

When you take the test, it will not tell you what your career should be, “ideation” doesn’t tell me I should be a developer, but when I look at an opportunity, it allows me to evaluate my chances for success much more clearly and with significantly better tools. It will also help you understand the styles of work that will facilitate your success.

In Now Discover your Strengths Marcus Buckingham defines a strength as “consistent near perfect performance in an activity.” The level of performance must be consistent, which means you’ve done it before and can expect this when you do it again. One of Buckingham’s examples is Tiger Woods. Woods drives are amazing and consistent and he can (and does) rely on them. Realistically, there isn’t anyone who drives like Tiger, but driving is a strength for a lot of golfers and many of them build their games around their drives. In other words, “near perfect” is relative. What the test will give you isn’t a description of your drives, just a description of how you can optimize your approach to many things.

Using my own example again, “ideation” is my first strength, and “strategic” is my second. As a developer, I found I did a great job on new development and honestly struggled with maintenance work. My strengths translate to someone who is almost exclusively a top down thinker, and if I don’t understand context I struggle until I get the context. The strengths of a good new system developer includes an ability to understand the whole and to get the details right inside that whole. A maintenance developer works best if they don’t need the whole, just the three or four details required to fit the new code into a program/system etc. Prior to taking the test, I understood that my performance was distinctly different in maintenance mode vs development mode and I just could not figure out why. Taking the test made the reasons very clear and really drives me to focusing on one vs the other. What the test did for me was give me vocabulary to understand why one function was relatively easy and very satisfying while what seems to be a very similar track was just a major challenge and nothing but frustrating.

Equally important, the test results help me understand what would be a successful future choice. Moving from IT to career coaching, it’s clear to me that I need to base my coaching on my strengths… Actually it’s clear that I will base it on my strengths because I don’t know how to do it any other way. If that way is incompatible with career coaching then I need to come up with a plan B. Your particulars are different than mine, but you do work from your strengths or you struggle, just like me. Knowing what these are allows you to avoid a lot of frustration.

Start by reading the book and taking the test. The words it will come back with might not be all that familiar so read the descriptions. Think about how those apply to your work life. The descriptions will be describing things you did when you were successful, how can you build on these? How can you use more of these in your life? Your work?

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