Find your strengths: Skills & Temperaments
So - knowing your strengths is vital, and you've probably made some mistakes in the past when examining your strengths. But how should you actually go about capturing a rounded view of your unique talents and assets?
This article looks at the first two areas of the "S.T.R.E.N.G.T.H." framework - Skills and Temperament. We will look in depth at exactly how to understand your strengths in these two critical areas. In a subsequent post we will look at the remaining 5 angles.
Finding Your Strengths (1): Skills
The most obvious place, perhaps, to start looking for strengths are with skills. Research suggests that the average person has from 500 to 700 different skills and abilities, but we want to focus on a fewer number here.
There are two approaches to investigate your skills:
- Bottom-up (a prioritised inventory of your skills)
- Top-down (completing a survey that assesses your overall bundle of skills)
I recommend you start with the bottom-up to avoid being biased by the results of a questionnaire-based approach. In other words, go straight to the primary data - your life experiences!
Bottom-up skills identification
There are two categories of skills:
- transferable skills (more general skills that can be applied in a number of contexts)
- domain-specific skills that are applicable in your current role.
For example, a transferable skill is “presentation skills” and a domain-specific skills is “using our company’s custom-built HR application”. Focus on transferrable skills for this exercise.
The excellent job-hunting book “What color is your parachute” by Richard N. Bolles (Amazon USA) has a good appendix with around 70 transferrable skills. I recommend buying the book (see the resource list at the bottom of the page) to get the full list but the rough categorisation is along the following lines.
- Physical skills
- Body skills (dexterity, coordination, …)
- Materials (craft skills)
- Objects (food, tools, instruments)
- Equipment (operating, maintaining,…)
- Nature skills (gardening, animal,…)
- Mental skills
- Ideation & data gathering (research, sensing, inventing,…)
- Detailed analysis (organising, planning,…)
- Holistic analysis (visualising, synthesising, recommending…)
- Storing & managing data (recording, retrieving…)
- Interpersonal skills
- Personal interactions (communicating, writing, training)
- Group interactions (communicating, performing, facilitating, leading)
Here is the exercise the book recommends:
1. Write seven stories about things you did that were fun, adventurous or satisfying. Note down:
- The goal
- The obstacle you had to overcome
- What you actual did, step-by-step
- The result
2. Examine each story for transferable skills, using the list above as a way to direct your thinking. Write the key skills down.
3. Look at the list of all the skills. Create a shorter list with your favourite skills that came up repeatedly.
4. Boil the list down to around 6 top skills.
Top down strength assessments
There are two top-down strength assessment tools I highly recommend.
Gallup’s Strength Finder (Amazon USA) is a ‘talent measurement’ questionnaire based on mining a database of over 100,000 talent-based interviews, which resulted in identifying 34 themes of talent.
The basic questionnaire identifies your top 5 themes and assesses how these interplay to create your unique mix of strengths.
The simplest way to access Strengths Finder is to buy the book (either physical or e-book version - see the resources section at the bottom for links). This gives you a unique access code enabling you to take the online survey, which results in:
- Your top five theme report, built around the new Strengths Insight descriptions. This will provide the key insight as to what are your strengths.
- 50 Ideas for Action (10 for each of your top five themes) based on thousands of best-practice suggestions
- A Strengths Discovery Interview that helps you think about how your experience, skills, and knowledge can help you build strengths
- A Strength-Based Action Plan for setting specific goals for building and applying your strengths in the next week, month, and year
You can pay extra for the entire ranking of all 34 themes, but I have found the top 5 version to be sufficient.
StandOut was created by Tom Rath who had previously worked at Gallup on the Strengths Finder assessment, and who wanted to develop the area further by providing (his words) “not just a descriptive tool, but a prescriptive tool”.
The stated purpose of the StandOut assessment is to pinpoint those few areas where you have a distinct advantage over most other people and then tell you how to capitalise on this advantage and “find your edge”.
The StandOut report aims to answer questions such as:
- What are your strengths
- How you can best describe yourself to others.
- How you can make an immediate impact on your team.
- How to take your performance to the next level.
- What pitfalls you should watch out for.
- In which careers you will have a meaningful edge.
- How you can win as a leader, a manager, in client service, or in sales.
StandOut is based around 9 “strength roles” that group together the most commonly correlated sets of strengths into distinct roles. The purpose of the assessment is to find your top two and consider the interaction between these. These two roles are where you will make your greatest contribution. In the words of the author, “they are your edge—where you have a natural advantage over everyone else—and your multiplier—where you can exert the most productive leverage.”
The strength roles are:
- Advisor. You are a practical, concrete thinker who is at your most powerful when reacting to and solving other people’s problems.
- Connector. You are a catalyst. Your power lies in your craving to bring two people or ideas together to make something bigger and better than it is now.
- Creator. You make sense of the world, pulling it apart, seeing a better configuration, and creating it.
- Equalizer. You are a level-headed person whose power comes from keeping the world in balance, ethically and practically.
- Influencer. You engage people directly and convince them to act. Your power is your persuasion.
- Pioneer. You see the world as a friendly place where, around every corner, good things will happen. Your power comes from your optimism in the face of uncertainty.
- Provider. You sense other people’s feelings, and you feel compelled to recognize these feelings, give them a voice, and act on them.
- Stimulator. You are the host of other people’s emotions. You feel responsible for them, for turning them around, for elevating them.
- Teacher. You are thrilled by the potential you see in each person. Your power comes from learning how to unleash it.
I went through the test and was very sceptical as I answered what I found to be some pretty hard questions (asking me to choose my top response to a variety of hypothetical situations). Surprisingly for this kind of test, it was not obvious which answer related to which strength role - the answers just seemed like a selection of sensible possible responses to a particular work situation. However my jaw dropped when the final evaluation appeared - it was bang on!
One of the benefits of the StandOut approach is that the terminology is short and memorable, helping to avoid the syndrome of a long and detailed report that never gets looked at. Once the terms are internalised, it is easy to remember that you are a “Creator-Stimulator” or whatever and know what that means. This is my current favourite strength finder style test and if you had to choose one I think it would be this.
Finding Your Strengths (2): Temperament
The next area of strength to explore is your personality, your temperament. The Myers-Briggs approach is the best known of these. While it has its limitations, I still find it a simple and insightful way to understand key elements of your personality and how they are core strengths.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Myers-Briggs, it is a personality classification based on your preferred positioning on four axes:
- Favourite World: Introversion (drawing their energy from the inner world) versus Extraversion (engaging the things, people, places and activities in the outside world for their energy)
- Information: Sensing (favouring clear, tangible data) versus Intuition (preferring more abstract, big-picture information and imaginative possibilities)
- Decisions: Thinking (favouring objective, logical, and analytical decisions) versus Feeling (favouring harmony and value-oriented decision-making)
- Structure: Judging (preference to order and structure the outside world) versus Perceiving (preference to experience and respond to the outside world)
This creates 16 combinations resulting in the Myers-Briggs personality types.
There are many free Myers-Briggs assessments online. I recently discovered a nice one at 16 Personalities. It is clean, seems accurate, and gives a fairly detailed report. It doesn’t require you to create an account, which is also attractive for many.
As an example of how to use Myers-Briggs to understand your core strengths and recurring themes, I recommend looking at the material on “Interaction Styles” at BestFitType.com. They assign different Myers-Briggs profiles to one of the following four styles:
- Chart-the-Course: The theme is having a course of action to follow. People of this style focus on knowing what to do and keeping themselves, the group, or the project on track.
- Behind-the-Scenes: The theme is getting the best result possible. People of this style focus on understanding and working with the process to create a positive outcome.
- In-Charge: The theme is getting things accomplished through people. People of this style are focused on results, often taking action quickly.
- Get-Things-Going: The theme is persuading and involving others. They thrive in facilitator or catalyst roles
Part of the benefit in these kind of things is the articulation of what you probably already know about yourself, but haven’t been able to put into words. That is why I recommend you write down the key words and “yes, that’s me!” moments as you read through your type description. It allows you to realise that it’s OK to be you. For example, you might be able to be CEO (an in-charge role) but actually flourish much more in a catalyst (get-things-going) role.
Being in a state of flow or extreme creativity will multiply the impact of everything else you do. Do what makes you happy and you will create a state of flow that is your best key to success. When you focus on your strengths, your work gives you energy. You are driven, it brings you joy, and you even stay up late because you’re having too much fun to stop.
Author, entrepreneur, former professional football player
In the next post in this series, we will continue to work our way through the "S.T.R.E.N.G.T.H. framework" and examine the other angles from which to consider your unique strengths.