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Discover Your Strengths

Marcus Buckingham

The more you know about yourself, the better able you will be to make the choices in life that will ensure you’re doing the right work, taking your optimal path and ensuring you’re working up to your potential.

Same thing goes with people you manage, those you mentor or even your kids. If you learn what makes them tick and fills them with passion, they’ll have a spring in their step and achieve their greatest potential — and be in the right place in or out of your organization.

I’ve been assessed, probed, analyzed and dissected by the best. I’ve done the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI); Myers-Briggs; executive-level assessments from the behavioral consulting group Spencer, Shenk, Capers; and many more. Thousands and thousands of dollars have been expended on my behalf to figure out how my brain is wired and who I am.

Here’s the funny thing: my bride has never thought anything accurately assessed the essence of Steve Borsch until my executive coaches, George Johnson and Jeff Staggs, had me buy a $35 book and take the online test that comes with it. The book? Marcus Buckingham’s Now Discover Your Strengths and the online test done by the Gallup organization.

When I came back from George’s place on Lake Superior early last year having my assessment results in my hands, I sat down with Michelle and read her the five paragraphs which laid out my top five strengths. When I finished, she grinned and exclaimed, “Steve, that is THE best description of EXACTLY who you are that I’ve ever heard!

Oh how this knowledge has helped guide my client choices; ensured I turned down job offers I previously would’ve leapt at; and the result is that I’m significantly happier with my work today than ever before (and I can also look back at high achievement past jobs where I performed but was miserable…because I wasn’t capitalizing on my strengths).

powerlifterI love this part of the print out preceding the listing of my strengths:

Strength. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Who wouldn’t want strength? As you might expect, strength is the desired outcome of strengths development. But exactly what is a strength? What are we striving toward?

When you see a strength in action, you see a person’s ability to consistently provide near-perfect performance in a specific activity. When you see him or her perform that activity, you think, “She makes it look so easy!” or “He’s a natural!”

How can that be? How can they so consistently perform with such excellence? The answer is simple: It is easy for her. He is a natural. Each is performing at such a high level simply by building upon how he or she most naturally thinks, feels, and behaves: their greatest talents.

As unique individuals, we each have our own special ways of successfully approaching the people and events in our lives. And our greatest talents are always there for us. We instinctively use them in almost any situation.

After reading that on the first page I was damn eager to discover my strengths….so I quickly flipped the page and found these top five strengths:

world1) Strategic: The Strategic theme enables you to sort through the clutter and find the best route. It is not a skill that can be taught. It is a distinct way of thinking, a special perspective on the world at large. This perspective allows you to see patterns where others simply see complexity. Mindful of these patterns, you play out alternative scenarios, always asking, “What if this happened? Okay, well what if this happened?” This recurring question helps you see around the next corner. There you can evaluate accurately the potential obstacles. Guided by where you see each path leading, you start to make selections. You discard the paths that lead nowhere. You discard the paths that lead straight into resistance. You discard the paths that lead into a fog of confusion. You cull and make selections until you arrive at the chosen path-your strategy. Armed with your strategy, you strike forward. This is your Strategic theme at work: “What if?” Select. Strike.

Reading this I “got it” as to why I’m always looking out…far out into the future. I see threads in everything and how everything either informs or directly affects outcomes.

ligthbulb_on2) Ideation: You are fascinated by ideas. What is an idea? An idea is a concept, the best explanation of the most events. You are delighted when you discover beneath the complex surface an elegantly simple concept to explain why things are the way they are. An idea is a connection. Yours is the kind of mind that is always looking for connections, and so you are intrigued when seemingly disparate phenomena can be linked by an obscure connection. An idea is a new perspective on familiar challenges. You revel in taking the world we all know and turning it around so we can view it from a strange but strangely enlightening angle. You love all these ideas because they are profound, because they are novel, because they are clarifying, because they are contrary, because they are bizarre. For all these reasons you derive a jolt of energy whenever a new idea occurs to you. Others may label you creative or original or conceptual or even smart. Perhaps you are all of these. Who can be sure? What you are sure of is that ideas are thrilling. And on most days this is enough.

I laughed out loud that this was my #2 strength. My synapses explode in a frenzy of firing whenever I get into brainstorming sessions, kick around ideas with some client executive wrestling with a business problem, or have someone tell me a need. Seeing the phrase, “always looking for connections” is right-on and why my blog is “connecting the dots” I guess.

refresh3) Input: You are inquisitive. You collect things. You might collect information-words, facts, books, and quotations – or you might collect tangible objects such as butterflies, baseball cards, porcelain dolls, or sepia photographs. Whatever you collect, you collect it because it interests you. And yours is the kind of mind that finds so many things interesting. The world is exciting precisely because of its infinite variety and complexity. If you read a great deal, it is not necessarily to refine your theories but, rather, to add more information to your archives. If you like to travel, it is because each new location offers novel artifacts and facts. These can be acquired and then stored away. Why are they worth storing? At the time of storing it is often hard to say exactly when or why you might need them, but who knows when they might become useful? With all those possible uses in mind, you really don’t feel comfortable throwing anything away. So you keep acquiring and compiling and filing stuff away. It’s interesting. It keeps your mind fresh. And perhaps one day some of it will prove valuable.

So many people think I’m nuts when I tell them I scan over 1,000 article headlines per day; read two newspapers and have five books going at once; and seem to have bizarre and trivial facts always at the ready to spew forth! It’s just that I keep taking and taking and taking it in…just like when I tell people that I’ve looked at every Web 2.0 company on several lists every quarter for the last five quarters. “Why?”, they ask and it’s because I feel compelled to take in and see what’s up in the space I’m living and consulting within.

speech_bubble4) Woo: Woo stands for winning others over. You enjoy the challenge of meeting new people and getting them to like you. Strangers are rarely intimidating to you. On the contrary, strangers can be energizing. You are drawn to them. You want to learn their names, ask them questions, and find some area of common interest so that you can strike up a conversation and build rapport. Some people shy away from starting up conversations because they worry about running out of things to say. You don’t. Not only are you rarely at a loss for words; you actually enjoy initiating with strangers because you derive satisfaction from breaking the ice and making a connection. Once that connection is made, you are quite happy to wrap it up and move on. There are new people to meet, new rooms to work, new crowds to mingle in. In your world there are no strangers, only friends you haven’t met yet-lots of them.

George Johnson and I worked together in the 1990’s and, for example, we’d be at a tradeshow hotel when he’d come down to breakfast. I was usually early, grabbed my breakfast and would be chatting up some fellow trade show attendee. Later George would chuckle and ask, “I’ll bet he’s your new best friend, isn’t he?” and the answer was of course…and I’d rattle off his job, the possible connection, the cool work he does and so forth. Many of these people I’d never see again but some I’m still in contact with today.

Besides the ability and enjoyment in making connections, I love to persuade when something is worthy of persuasion. This strength allows me to engage people in a way that allows me to present information in a way they can accept and hear.

teachers_day5) Learner: You love to learn. The subject matter that interests you most will be determined by your other themes and experiences, but whatever the subject, you will always be drawn to the process of learning. The process, more than the content or the result, is especially exciting for you. You are energized by the steady and deliberate journey from ignorance to competence. The thrill of the first few facts, the early efforts to recite or practice what you have learned, the growing confidence of a skill mastered-this is the process that entices you. Your excitement leads you to engage in adult learning experiences-yoga or piano lessons or graduate classes. It enables you to thrive in dynamic work environments where you are asked to take on short project assignments and are expected to learn a lot about the new subject matter in a short period of time and then move on to the next one. This Learner theme does not necessarily mean that you seek to become the subject matter expert, or that you are striving for the respect that accompanies a professional or academic credential. The outcome of the learning is less significant than the “getting there.”

This is so perfect. I love to learn a new workflow, a new process, see where it’s inefficient or could be made better, and develop a level of mastery. Of course, the moment I feel any sense of mastery I’m on to the next thing. My only sadness in life is walking into a Barnes & Noble or looking at a world atlas and realizing I’ll never read all those books or visit every country in this lifetime…and I sure would love to do so!

When I look forensically back over my career, I see the high degree of success I had selling. Sometimes it fit my strategic and woo strengths, but rarely little else. I got bored quickly, even though I was in accelerators in my commission structure and could have made a boatload more of money had I doubled my selling efforts. However, I just had to be doing other stuff that was more interesting and thus was usually on internal company committees, helping product managers enhance the product, or working with marketing on development activities. Anything to learn more and be involved in something other than what I’d already mastered.

The best place was when I was at a strategic level and working with executives and/or business units to help them achieve their goals. It had to be new, fresh, changing, dynamic, filled with new people, fun and monetarily fulfilling too.


I wonder why schools and colleges don’t spend an inordinate amount of their time developing deep understandings of an individuals strengths. It’s important to a well rounded education to shore up weaknesses, but the emphasis needs to be on what excites people; why they’re on this earth; where they can achieve their greatest successes; what will make them grin when they think, “...and I get PAID for doing this?“.

If you’re at the beginning of your career right now please, oh please figure out your strengths. Look for what you’re passionate about and DO THAT. If you’re at the tail end of your career, live in your strengths NOW and ensure you’re aligning with them. It’s the only way you will be truly happy and at your absolute height of productivity.

About Steve Borsch

I'm CEO of Marketing Directions, Inc., a trend forecasting, consulting and publishing firm in Minnesota. Prior to that I was Vice President, Strategic Alliances at Lawson Software in St. Paul where I was responsible for all partnerships at this major vendor of enterprise resource planning software products and services. Read more about me here unless you're already weary of me telling you how incredible and awesome I am.

Comments

  1. You have a lot of useful information that you’ve acquired through your life experiences. I enjoyed reading through your posting.

  2. Daily Report for July 6, 2007

    Team Collaboration SharePoint at SimCorp … Tony offers a case study of how SimCorp uses SharePoint for its corporate intranet, including how to offer up-to-date content, employee and competence search, and more. He also talks about how SimCorp organi…

  3. EDWARD PORTER says:

    Steve You were always THREE steps ahead of me on NEW Techology, but I could always sell more T.V.’s
    Each time I go past BEST BUY ( and its very easy to a Best Buy Store) I think of their start as a business ,and it seems you have done even better

  4. “I wonder why schools and colleges don’t spend an inordinate amount of their time developing deep understandings of an individuals strengths.” I’ve wondered that myself. Imagine how many more people would graduate, and be a bigger part of their school? It’s immeasurable. I wonder if it’s just ignorance or complacency, or what. When I was in school, I worked with counselors, did Meyers-Briggs, but I got nowhere. I picked my major by process of elimination, not by specification. Now, I’m changing directions to follow MY strengths. Better late than never!

  5. Our district is beginning to focus on the strengths of its staff and students to try to provide a better education for our students. All of our staff and students in grades 5-12 have taken the StrengthsFinder and we’re working to find ways to help students (and staff) develop their strengths to help them excel. It’s great stuff and a great way to not only motivate people but individualize and differentiate instruction.
    -Ideation, Learner, Futuristic, Strategic, Competition-

  6. I’m late to the game but trying to figure out what to do with this…

    – Ideation, Strategic, Connectedness, Self-Assurance, Maximizer –

    A blog post is in here someplace 😉

  7. Brandon Croke says:

    I’m in love with the strengths test, it is my new philosophy on life. First of all…

    -Ideation, Adaptability, Activator, Futuristic, Connectedness-

    I find it funny that a lot of you all have ideation in your top 5. I feel that part of the reason I love the book so much is because it “provides the best explanation behind the most events”. Although I have been trying to get other people to take the test and what not I wonder if it is not as enjoyable for them because they don’t have the Ideation theme.

    I am in college now and see so many students disengaged wasting their potential trying to fit into majors and career paths for shallow unrealistic idealized visions of what the job will be like. Of course never taking into account their unique skill set they bring into the world.

    I think this is revolutionary and must be implemented to colleges across the country.

  8. Riddhi Mittal says:

    Found your blog while googling the book you mention, and started reading it !

    While I’m yet to take the test, your five qualities amaze me, and make me look forward to seeing those as my first five ! 🙂

  9. Is that all the strengths there are?? Cause I don’t think I fit into any of them. 🙁

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