What color is your parachute? Are you a 2 or a 7? P or J? Dominant or Conscientious?
As someone who is deeply fascinated by human behavior, I enjoy learning about the various personality assessments out there: Myers-Briggs, Enneagram, DISC, Birkman, and more. My favorite of all of these is the CliftonStrengths assessment (formerly called StrengthsFinder), because I find it to be the most action-oriented. It was designed by Gallup as a way to bring out the best in employees in a way that feels positive and productive (not punitive!). We all know that people are leaving their workplaces at unprecedented rates because they are tired of being miserable. It’s important that employers recognize that part of their job is creating environments that support mental health and wellbeing. When used well, CliftonStrengths can do just that.
Most of psychology is focused on what’s wrong with people: Are you anxious? Depressed? Narcissistic? Paranoid? CliftonStrengths, however, is the opposite. The Strengths approach is built on Positive Psychology, which is the study of what’s right with people.
Through a Strengths-based approach, people learn to “name, claim, and aim” their Top 5 Strengths towards their goals. Essentially, people learn about the tools in their personal toolboxes and gain strategies for knowing when and how to use them most effectively.
Imagine if I went to the hardware store and came home with a fancy looking toolbox. Do you think I’ll be a good carpenter? How would you know?
…It’s not really about the tools, right?
Even if they’re the highest quality tools, my success as a carpenter depends on how well I know how to use each one. A hammer is great, but only if I know how to use it effectively. Without that knowledge, I might end up hammering too hard, putting extra holes in my wall, or injuring my fingers (…I may or may not be referring to myself here).
It’s the same with our Strengths. When we aren’t using our Strengths well, they can work against us. The real learning is to adjust the dial on our Strengths and use them in the right amount, at the right time, and in the right environment. Self-awareness on this level is a lot of work!!
The Strengths approach also helps people find the environments where they’ll thrive and identify the types of activities they enjoy doing most. Strengths aren’t just what you’re good at doing; they’re also about what gives you energy when you do them.
Seeing ourselves through the lens of Strengths is about empowerment: who am I at my core, what do I want in the world, and how do I use my natural gifts to reach my goals in a way that feels authentic to me? This approach helps people move towards growth and fulfillment in their personal and professional lives. Specifically, I use it in my work with people around leading and managing teams, parenting, applying for schools, transitioning into new jobs, and more. CliftonStrengths is my favorite tool out there, because it helps us put language around who we are and make intentional and informed choices.
It’s still surprising to me that I didn’t learn about Positive Psychology until five years after getting a PhD in Behavioral Sciences! How much more effective could we be as health educators if we stopped fixating on brokenness and started focusing instead on empowerment?
In the CliftonStrengths tool, there are 34 Strengths, and they are organized into four overarching categories:
In most people’s Top 5, they tend to have a mix of Strengths in 2-3 categories. Every once in a while, someone has a Strength in each of the four categories, and even less often, someone has all five Strengths in one category.
One thing I especially appreciate about CliftonStrengths is that it’s not “boxy.” Instead, it’s about intersections. We are Venn Diagrams of our Strengths, and we know that we may use them differently in each environment. Most importantly, the focus is on recognizing our choice points and deciding how we put our Strengths into action.
Over the next several weeks, I’ll be posting something about each of the 34 Strengths. My goal is to help people learn more about themselves and understand those around them. If you want to learn about using your Strengths or how to use Strengths to get the best from your team, let’s talk more!
Interested in learning more about how to put Strengths to work for yourself or your team?