The first time I took the StrengthsFinder instrument was my first year in graduate school, in the Fall of 2000. It was part of a battery of assessments we were going through to help all of us understand more how we were wired, and how we might put our graduate degrees to work at some point during or after school. I never had much experience at all with personality tests, temperament indexes, emotional measures, etc. So, the whole process felt a bit like being a lab rat with scientists poking me and watching my every move. We took this test, and that test, and tests that asked you if you heard voices. It was quite the process.
After each test we would have a group interpretation of our results, or a one on one session with a licensed counselor who would walk us through how we tested. As I started the process of self-discovery and increased self-awareness the immediate question asked was: “Ok, how does all this information translate into helping me answer the question, “What should I do with my life?” Really specifically, “What job would best fit my personality traits?”
Fast forward 12 years later: After having worked with dozens of organizations and thousands of individuals around their strengths and personality results, there is something I have realized: Everyone is asking the same question!
Everywhere I go people inevitably ask me, “So, you have seen my strengthsfinder results, so, what job should I do so I can apply my strengths to the larger part of my day? This usually indicates to me that these people may not be completely engaged in their current role, and a lot of their day is spent doing tasks that are not in their exact sweet spot and they are trying to improve this situation.
I am generalizing a bit, but this happens often. Why? Because many people would not say a majority of their day they get to do what they do best. What does this mean? This means that we have a lot of people in the workforce who are not highly engaged.
Back to the beginning
When I first started taking people through their strengthsfinder results, the temptation for me was to try and make the results into a formula and say A + B strengths = C job, or life change. That was easy, and wrong. Oh, so and so had Developer and Empathy? They have a to be a counselor. No! It is not that easy and that can be really unhelpful. We are so complex as people that we cannot be broken down in a formulaic way based on our strengthsfinder results. It is simply not that easy.
Why? We are all very unique. Just based on our strengthsfinder results we are as unique as 1 in 33 million based on the test. So, trying to make things into a simple formula is just missing the mark on how the test can best be used to help guide people on their life journey towards maximum engagement.
So What Do We Do Then?
If strengthsfinder is not a formula, how can the results be interpreted in a way that can help people gain more self-awareness around their natural gifts and talents and help point them in the right direction? This requires conversation, discovery and time.
In the last few years I have worked with a client who is the head coach of a division I women’s volleyball team. I have been able to work with their team a few times over a longer period of time. I was able to take the team through their strengthsfinder results and do one on one interviews around their strengths. But you know what was even better? I was able to come back six months later and go through a lot of review and check in with that group of talented ladies. What happened? They were at a whole new level of awareness and engagement around their strengths. The conversations I had with them the second time were much more rich, and their interactions as a group were fantastic. As a side note, their winning percentage as a team went up as well. This group was more engaged than when I first had the opportunity to work with them.
There is no magic formula with strengthsfinder. I don’t use it to put people in a box based on a few theme definitions. I use it as a fantastic tool to help people unlock their full potential and start a lifelong discovery process around where they can apply their gifts and talents into their daily lives.
Are there certain strengths that point people in a direction? Sure. Are their specific combinations that equal career paths? Not necessarily. Should people take strengthsfinder to help understand what they are strong at? Absolutely.
All of us are unique. There is no magic forumla or shortcut to success based on leveraging talents. But, you can start the process, and move along that path. Much like the picture at the beginning of this post, strengthsfinder can point you in a direction, but you will need to journey down the path.