How to Identify and Leverage Your Strengths

Using your strengths is critical to your success in work.

Most Americans do not know what their strengths are. When you ask them, they look at you with a blank stare, or they respond in terms of subject knowledge, which is the wrong answer.
– Peter Drucker

At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day? This is the question that The Gallup Organization asked of more than 1.7 million employees in 101 companies from 63 countries. The answer? Only twenty percent of employees working in the large organizations surveyed feel that they use their strengths in their work everyday.


The study later formed the basis for books written by one of the highest paid business consultants and speakers, Marcus Buckingham. Buckingham’s philosphy is built around the idea that the key to success is building on your strengths rather than trying to fix your weaknesses.

At the organizational level, this idea has been widely executed. Great companies, wrote Peter Drucker, “get their strengths together and make their weaknesses irrelevant.” In Good to Great, author Jim Collins reiterated this idea when he said that great companies focus on the few things they can be “the best in the world at.” Many organizations have implemented these ideas – Starbucks, Wal-Mart, Dell, Apple, Lexus, to name a few.

In business, some of the most successful companies are committed to becoming a strengths-based organization (Wells Fargo, Intel, Best Buy, Toyota, to name a few). Schools and non-profit organizations are also installing strengths-based programs (Princeton University and The U.S. Coast Guard are two examples).

At the individual level this idea is more recently being widely disseminated. A program developed by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton (co-authors of Now Discover Your Strengths) helps people identify their talents and build them in to strengths. Their book also outlines a process for designing a strengths-based organization.

The authors say that most of us have not been taught to think in terms of developing our strengths. Rather, our schools and employers are so “preoccupied with transferring knowledge and plugging skills gaps that developing awareness of natural talents is disregarded.”

The StrengthsFinder Profile is a tool to help you identify your five strongest themes of talent (among 34 identified themes). The first step – understanding how to distinguish your natural talents from things you can learn. Your strengths are a combination of your talents, knowledge, and skills. Talents are your naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior. While your themes of talent may not be strengths yet – they are, according to the authors, your areas of greatest potential.

Your strengths are those activities that make you feel strong. So the best way to identify your strengths is to pay attention to how certain activities make you feel. In Go Put Your Strengths to Work, author Marcus Buckingham identifies the four “telltale S.IG.N.s” for identifying your strengths:

S = Success (What are the things you do at which you feel most successful?)

I = Instinct (What activities are you drawn to repeatedly? How do you feel before you do the activity?)

G = Growth (What activities interest you and stimulate more growth and learning? How do you feel during the activity?)

N = Needs (What activities make you feel fulfilled, restored, after doing them? How do you feel after the activity?)

Since 2001, more than 2 million people have taken the Clifton StrengthsFinder Profile – which is the product of a 25 year multi-million dollar study to identify the most prevalent human strengths.

The 34 Themes of StrengthsFinder

· Achiever · Activator · Adaptability · Analytical · Arranger · Belief · Command · Communication · Competition · Connectedness · Context · Deliberative · Developer · Discipline · Empathy · Fairness · Focus · Futuristic · Harmony · Ideation · Inclusiveness · Individualization · Input · Intellection · Learner · Maximizer · Positivity · Relator · Responsibility · Restorative · Self-Assurance · Significance · Strategic · Woo

You can take the StrengthsFinder profile on the internet ( The web-based interview analyzes your instinctive reactions and presents you with your five most powerful themes that you lead with. When you buy one of the books (GO Put Your Strengths to Work, or Now Discover Your Strengths, you receive a code printed on the book jacket that enables you to login to the website and take the free StrengthsFinder profile.

An executive was interviewing a young man for a position in his company.

He wanted to learn something about his personality, so he asked, “If you could have a conversation with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?”

The young man quickly responded, “The living one.”

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