Many if not most of you have heard of the StrengthsFinder. If not, take the test online and discover, or perhaps better said, verify the strengths you already recognize. The premise behind this testing is to first identify your strengths and then pursue opportunities to use those strengths in your career.
I love one of the StrengthsFinder author’s statement that:
After years of working on my weaknesses, I moved from terrible to really bad.
Play to your strengths rather than focusing on trying to improve your weaknesses. It makes sense.
So, How Does That Work in Practice?
My career extends well prior to the establishment of the StrengthsFinder. But as I examine my career development path, I find that my favorite and most effective bosses readily tapped into my strengths. Here’s what I observed and, hopefully, you’ll be able to see some parallels in your own career development. Better yet, perhaps you’ll be able to take advantage of your unique strengths on your PathForeWord.
Strength #1 — Learner
Technical Sergeant David Grow cast a somewhat unusual figure on the dry, dusty turf of Cannon Air Force Base in eastern New Mexico. It was the late 1960s and he was quickly abandoning electron tubes for transistors, integrated circuits, and digital computing. He wasn’t just along for the ride to complete twenty years and retire. Instead, he challenged himself and his students. He was my instructor on the F-111 autopilot system and solid state electronics.
Since I love to learn, I was certainly paying attention in his class. However, sometime around fifth grade I had gotten into so much trouble with various teachers that I took the attitude in any class that it was best to maintain a cloak of invisibility. He broke through that by quickly challenging us to actively participate in tracing electrical circuit diagrams throughout this complex aircraft. If we didn’t, he’d lead us down an erroneous path until we were so confused we couldn’t find our way to the coffee urn.
He served to reactivate my learner strength that became a key throughout my career. He set challenges and demanded that I meet them. In the final analysis I’m not sure if he tapped my strength but instead brought it to the forefront so that it could shine. Hmmm, I guess that is tapping it afterall.
Strength #2 — Analytical
Deputy Chief Scout Executive Mike Hoover earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology prior to entering a professional career in Scouting. Scouting professionals are superb nonprofit executives trained to get you to give them your volunteer time, your money, and your children! Mike was superb at all three but he further grew into a corporate leadership role and literally transformed several national level aspects of the Boy Scouts of America during his tenure
Before my first day on the job as director of the publishing division, he challenged me to get the division into shape by accurately tracking the nearly two thousand projects it completed each year. But tracking, of course, wasn’t enough. We also needed to complete them on time and within budget. He’d actually set up the publishing system to charge internal customers for our work so that they, in turn could better manage their priorities while top management didn’t have to get in the way to break ties. If our customers had the budget, we needed to get the work done.
That framework suited me just perfectly. If customers wanted something, we had to make it happen. And, since they were financing it, we had the funds to find the resources needed. Plus, it gave me plenty of measures to gauge our performance and track our progress in meeting aggressive goals. As one example, on time every time was our delivery goal. He tapped into my analytical strength and as a result I was able to deliver superb performance in my role with the BSA.
Strength #3 — Focus
Doug Bonham started as a courseware developer for the Capitol Radio Engineering Institute (CREI) who was by and far the top home study electronics school in the 1960s and 1970s. From there he went on to help build Heathkit Educational Systems into a top-notch producer of compact home study courses for the hobbyist.
He hired me since I’d taken nearly all the CREI courses, was teaching electronics, and had written a book for an amateur radio publisher. He saw my focus on getting things done. But the next step is where he made a difference in tapping my strength.
On arrival at my first writing job, I started cranking out page after page of material for my assignments. After a few months, Doug could see my industry but my writing was poor. It was then that he sat down with me side-by-side and went over every single word and sentence to help me make the transition from hack writer to wordsmith. Only through tapping my focus strength could he have helped drive me through that transition.
Strength #4 — Responsibilty
Harry Carson graduated from Texas A & I (now Texas A & M Kingsville) with an undergraduate degree in physics and masters degree in electrical engineering. During a career with Schlumberger he was transferred to their newly acquired Heathkit as the HR director. Years later after Zenith purchased Heathkit, Harry remained and ran their engineering services. It was there that I reported to Harry as the manager of computer publications.
He was a unique character in 1980s Michigan with his cowboy boots and homespun wisdom. One of his favorite sayings was “I want you to be a like a duck on a June bug.” Meaning I’d better get after the most recent developing problem he’d uncovered.
It was in that mindset that one day he peppered me with endless questions about the writing team’s ability to develop user documentation and service manuals for five new Zenith Data Systems computers that would be delivered to customers within the next few months. After I’d addressed every single question, he looked me in the eye and said “dammit Wilson, squirm!” He was trying to find the hole in my thinking or worse determine that I wasn’t prepared as well as he thought I should be.
I was prepared. But it was after much angst, head scratching, and finally pulling together a large Gantt chart that laid out exactly how our relatively small staff of writers was going to get everything accomplished. That chart came together on my kitchen table one late night well before Harry showed up in my office.
Harry tapped and tested my responsibility strength. I truly loved working for him as he always searched for problems and many times he’d toss them my way to solve. It was a personal point of pride that he could rely on me.
Strength #5 — Significance
Joe Van Loan graduated from Cal Poly with a BSEE and went on to a long career as a consultant. When I met him he was the Nebraska Education Television Network’s director of their nine television transmitters positioned around the state. He hired me for my first job after the U.S. Air Force as a television transmitter engineer. That particular job has much in common with a lighthouse keeper. It can be very boring making sure that the transmitter is on in time for the first showing of Sesame Street and runs afterward until sign-off.
But, as a learner, I took advantage of the time to work on home study courses in electronics. When I was first seeking out the right course to take, Joe offered me some of the best advice I’ve encountered. I was looking at a simple course and Joe suggested instead that I take the CREI courses noted above. Now those were massive courses at a very high level. I felt that they were probably beyond my reach. He encouraged me to stretch for significance.
Over time, I completed nearly every course CREI offered and went on to take proctered college-level exams through the New York Institute of Technology to earn 60 semester hours in their Bachelor of Technology program. That helped me to leverage my study into a position as an electronics instructor and eventually line up with former CREI faculty to work in my first job as a writer at Heathkit.
The significance strength lines up with a strong desire to seek recognition and achievement. Joe tapped that strength to help me make a huge difference in my career—a difference that substantially expanded the horizons of what I could go on to achieve.
My Favorite Bosses — Did I Miss Someone?
If you were one of my bosses and were left out of this listing, please don’t feel that it means that you didn’t contribute great things to me and my career. You most certainly did and I thank you. These were the stories that readily lined up with the focus of this blog post.
Strengths and Your Job Search
In your job search efforts I recommend tying in your strengths to your pre-packaged interview stories about how you found and addressed key challenges. I’ve written extensively about this at Interview Tips where my first suggestion is to develop what I call STAR stories: Situations you’ve encountered, Tasks that you tackled, Actions that you initiated, and the Results you achieved. Use your strengths to demonstrate that this type of behavior is inherent in everything you do and part of the package you’ll be bringing to the interviewer’s organization.
I also recommend that you bring your Strengths to your LinkedIn profile. Some include them in their summary section. I’ve included them in a special entry called Test Scores. Don’t just list the strengths. Spell out what they mean to your work. Here’s what I’ve entered on my LinkedIn profile.
Based on Gallup research over the past five-decades, they identified the 34 talents that people bring to the workplace and to their lives. This proven assessment identifies each individual’s top five areas where their greatest talents are found. My assessment found the following top five talents: Learner, Analytical, Focus, Responsibility, Significance. I’ve added a brief description of what that means when I’m involved in work, volunteer activities, and recreation.
1 – Learner.
I thrive in dynamic work environments where I’m asked to take on short project assignments and expected to learn a lot in a short period of time, then move on to the next project.
2 – Analytical.
I’m logical and rigorous. I search for patterns and connections in the data to find objective facts to clearly see the situation before taking action. I sort through the clutter.
3 – Focus.
I set goals that determine my priorities and guide my path. I instinctively evaluate each action to determine if it will move me toward my goals. This is a critical strength in bringing projects to a successful conclusion.
4 – Responsibility.
I take ownership of my commitments. If I tell you I will do something, you can count on it.
5 – Significance.
I seek recognition and achievement in my work and life. I constantly strive for excellence in all I do.
This is easily my longest blog post to date. I don’t usually recommend such long posts. But, if you’ve gotten this far, perhaps it was of benefit. Best wishes to you in your PathForeWord.