STRENGTHS FINDER 2.0
THE NEXT GENERATION
In 1998, I began working with a team of Gallup scientists led by the late Father of Strengths Psychology, Donald O. Clifton. Our goal was to start a global conversation about what’s right with people.
We were tired of living in a world that revolved around fixing our weaknesses. Society’s relentless focus on people’s shortcomings had turned into a global obsession. What’s more, we had discovered that people have several times more potential for growth when they invest energy in developing their strengths instead of correcting their deficiencies.
Based on Gallup’s 40-year study of human strengths, we created a language of the 34 most common talents and developed the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment to help people discover and describe these talents. Then in 2001, we included the initial version of this assessment with the bestselling management book Now, Discover Your Strengths. The discussion quickly moved beyond the management audience of this book. It appears that the world was ready to have this conversation.
Over the past few years alone, millions of people have participated in StrengthsFinder and learned about their top five themes of talent—and Now, Discover Your Strengths has spent more than five years on the bestseller lists. The assessment has since been translated into more than 20 languages and is used by businesses, schools, and community groups in more than 100 nations around the world. Yet when it comes to creating strength-based families, communities, and workplaces, we still have a lot of work to do.
Over the past decade, Gallup has surveyed more than 10 million people worldwide on the topic of employee engagement (or how positive and productive people are at work), and only one-third “strongly agree” with the statement:
“At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.”
And for those who do not get to focus on what they do best—their strengths—the costs are staggering. In a recent poll of more than 1,000 people, among those who “strongly disagreed” or “disagreed” with this “what I do best” statement, not one single person was emotionally engaged on the job.
In stark contrast, our studies indicate that people who do 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.
Fortunately, our research also suggests that having someone at work who regularly focuses on your strengths can make a dramatic difference. In 2005, we explored what happens when managers primarily focus on employees’ strengths, primarily focus on employees’ weaknesses, or ignore employees. What we found completely redefined my perspective about how easy it may be to decrease the active disengagement, or extreme negativity, that runs rampant in organizations.
If your manager primarily:
The chances of your being actively disengaged are:
Focuses on your weaknesses
Focuses on your strengths
As you can see from these results, having a manager who ignores you is even more detrimental than having a manager who primarily focuses on your weaknesses. Perhaps most surprising is the degree to which having a manager who focuses on your strengths decreases the odds of your being miserable on the job. It appears that the epidemic of active disengagement we see in workplaces every day could be a curable disease…if we can help the people around us develop their strengths.
What’s New in StrengthsFinder 2.0?
Our research and knowledge base on the topic of human strengths have expanded dramatically over the past decade. StrengthsFinder 2.0 picks up where the first version left off, and it is designed to provide you with the latest discoveries and strategies for application. The language of 34 themes remains the same, but the assessment is faster and even more reliable. And, the results yield a much more in-depth analysis of your strengths.
Once you have completed the online assessment, you will receive a comprehensive Strengths Discovery and Action-Planning Guide that is based on your StrengthsFinder 2.0 results. This guide features an in-depth dive into the nuances of what makes you unique, using more than 5,000 new personalized Strengths Insights that we have discovered in recent years.
Going far beyond StrengthsFinder 1.0’s shared theme descriptions, which can be found in Part II of this book, these highly customized Strengths Insights will help you understand how each of your top five themes plays out in your life on a much more personal level. For example, even though you and a friend may both have the same theme in your top five, the way this theme is manifested will not be the same. Therefore, each of you would receive entirely different, personalized descriptions of how that theme operates in your lives. These new Strengths Insights describe what makes you stand out when compared to the millions of people we have studied.
You will also receive 10 “Ideas for Action” for each of your top five themes. So, you will have 50 specific actions you can take—ideas we culled from thousands of best-practice suggestions—that are customized to your top five themes. In addition, the guide will help you build a strengths-based development plan by exploring how your greatest natural talents interact with your skills, knowledge, and experience. And the new website includes a strengths discussion forum, an online action-planning system, group discussion guides, and several other resources.
While learning about your strengths may be an interesting experience, it offers little benefit in isolation. This new book, assessment, website, and development guide are all about application. If you want to improve your life and the lives of those around you, you must take action. Use the personalized development guide to align your job and goals with your natural talents. Share this plan with your coworkers, boss, or closest friends. Then help the people around you—at work and at home—develop their strengths. If you do, chances are you will find yourself in a much more positive and productive environment.
FINDING YOUR STRENGTHS—AN INTRODUCTION
THE PATH OF MOST RESISTANCE
At its fundamentally flawed core, the aim of almost any learning program is to help us become who we are not. If you don’t have natural talent with numbers, you’re still forced to spend time in that area to attain a degree. If you’re not very empathic, you get sent to a course designed to infuse empathy into your personality. From the cradle to the cubicle, we devote more time to our shortcomings than to our strengths.
This is quite apparent in the way we create icons out of people who struggle to overcome a lack of natural talent. Consider the true story of Rudy Ruettiger, the 23-year-old groundskeeper at Notre Dame’s stadium, who was the protagonist of the 1993 movie Rudy. At just 5'6" and 165 pounds, this young man clearly didn’t possess the physical ability to play big-time college football, but he had ample “heart.”
Rudy worked tirelessly to gain admission to Notre Dame so he could play football there. Eventually, after being rejected three times, he was accepted at Notre Dame and soon thereafter earned a spot on the football team’s practice squad.
For two years, Rudy took a beating in daily practices, but he was never allowed to join his team on the sidelines. Then, after trying as hard as he could for two seasons, Rudy was finally invited to suit up for the final game of his senior year. In the last moments of this game, with a Notre Dame victory safely in hand, Rudy’s teammates lobbied their coach to put him in the game. In the final seconds, the coach sent Rudy in for a single play—and he tackled the opposing team’s quarterback.
It was a dramatic moment and, of course, Rudy became an instant hero. Fans chanted his name and carried him off the field. Ruettiger was later invited to the White House, where he met President Bill Clinton, Colin Powell, and football legend Joe Montana. While Rudy’s perseverance is admirable, in the end, he played a few seconds of college football and made a single tackle…after thousands of hours of practicing.
The inspirational nature of this story actually masks a significant problem: Overcoming deficits is an essential part of the fabric of our culture. Our books, movies, and folklore are filled with stories of the underdog who beats one-in-a-million odds. And this leads us to celebrate those who triumph over their lack of natural ability even more than we recognize those who capitalize on their innate talents. As a result, millions of people see these heroes as being the epitome of the American Dream and set their sights on conquering major challenges. Unfortunately, this is taking the path of most resistance.
A Misguided Maxim?
“You can be anything you want to be, if you just try hard enough.”
Like most people, I embraced this maxim at a young age. Along with thousands of other kids, I spent a good chunk of my childhood trying to be the next Michael Jordan. Every day, I practiced shooting hoops for three to four hours. I went to basketball camps each summer and tried in every way possible to be a great player. No matter how hard I worked at it, though, becoming an NBA star simply wasn’t in the cards for me. After giving 100% of my effort for more than five years, I couldn’t even make the junior varsity team.
Embracing the “You-can-be-anything-you-want-to-be” maxim isn’t something we outgrow. Similar scenarios play out in the workplace every day. A star salesperson thinks she can be a great sales manager with enough effort. She interviews other managers to gain insight, reads every book on management she can find, and stays late every night trying to get the job done—at the expense of her family and even her health. Then, a few years into the job, she realizes that she doesn’t have the natural talent to develop other people. Not only is this a waste of her time, but chances are, she could have increased her contribution even more if she had stayed in the sales role—a role in which she naturally excelled. Yet if we want additional income, status, or responsibility, most organizational hierarchies force us into a very different role—instead of allowing for an entire career of progression within a specific role that fits our talents.
What’s even more disheartening is the way our fixation on deficits affects young people in the home and classroom. In every culture we have studied, the overwhelming majority of parents (77% in the United States) think that a student’s lowest grades deserve the most time and attention. Parents and teachers reward excellence with apathy instead of investing more time in the areas where a child has the most potential for greatness.
The reality is that a person who has always struggled with numbers is unlikely to be a great accountant or statistician. And the person without much natural empathy will never be able to comfort an agitated customer in the warm and sincere way that the great empathizers can. Even the legendary Michael Jordan, who embodied the power of raw talent on a basketball court, could not become, well, the “Michael Jordan” of golf or baseball, no matter how hard he tried.
This might sound like a heretical point of view, especially for those of us who grew up believing the essential American myth that we could become anything we wanted. Yet it’s clear from Gallup’s research that each person has greater potential for success in specific areas, and the key to human development is building on who you already are.
The following real-life example from Gallup’s economic development work in Puebla, Mexico, provides a basic yet powerful illustration of what can happen when people focus on their natural talents.
Hector had always been known as a great shoemaker. In fact, customers from such far-off places as France claimed that Hector made the best shoes in the world. Yet for years, he had been frustrated with his small shoemaking business. Although Hector knew he was capable of making hundreds of shoes per week, he was averaging just 30 pairs. When a friend asked him why, Hector explained that while he was great at producing shoes, he was a poor salesman—and terrible when it came to collecting payments. Yet he spent most of his time working in these areas of weakness.
So, Hector’s friend introduced him to Sergio, a natural salesman and marketer. Just as Hector was known for his craftsmanship, Sergio could close deals and sell. Given the way their strengths complemented one another, Hector and Sergio decided to work together. A year later, this strengths-based duo was producing, selling, and collecting payment for more than 100 pairs of shoes per week—a more than threefold increase.
While this story may seem simplistic, in many cases, aligning yourself with the right task can be this easy. When we’re able to put most of our energy into developing our natural talents, extraordinary room for growth exists. So, a revision to the “You-can-be-anything-you-want-to-be” maxim might be more accurate:
You cannot be anything you want to be—but you can be a lot more of who you already are.
THE STRENGTHS ZONE
Over the past few decades, Gallup has studied how talent can be applied in a wide variety of roles, from housekeepers to chief executives and from clergy members to government officials. We’ve researched almost every major culture, country, industry, and position. The good news is that we have found great examples of heroes who are soaring with their strengths in every single role. Across the board, having the opportunity to develop our strengths is more important to our success than our role, our title, or even our pay. In this increasingly talent-driven society, we need to know and develop our strengths to figure out where we fit in.
That being said, across all areas we have studied, the vast majority of people don’t have the opportunity to focus on what they do best. We have surveyed more than 10 million people on this specific topic, and approximately 7 million are falling short.
What happens when you’re not in the “strengths zone”? You’re quite simply a very different person. In the workplace, you are six times less likely to be engaged in your job. When you’re not able to use your strengths at work, chances are that you:
dread going to work
have more negative than positive interactions with your colleagues
treat your customers poorly
tell your friends what a miserable company you work for