Books: StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath

There's actually not a whole lot to this book. There's some intro material and then you're prompted to use the code in the back of the book to log on to the Web site and take the assessment. Which I did. More on that later.

The general idea here is that we spend too much time trying to get better at things we just have no natural aptitude for. Instead, we should pinpoint our strengths and capitalize on them. This makes complete sense to me; it's why I always say, if I don't know something, I go find someone who does. If I can't do something, I find the person who can. We can none of us be everything. Much as we'd like to be. We are not islands. And it's been shown time and again that effective leaders are the ones who know how to delegate. They know their own strengths and weaknesses and they build teams whose strengths and weaknesses complement one another, adding up to an efficient whole.

Still, I was skeptical about the assessment. How accurate can these things really be? I've done Myers-Briggs and Keirsey and Big Five, and really it always seems that one can find ways to relate to all the outcomes. "Yes, this is me," one says. "At least, it's me today. It's me sometimes. It describes me that one time I did this particular thing." Like horoscopes, all these can be generalized enough to fit anybody.

Too, one has to take into account the test-taker's mood at the time. I tried to answer as generally as I could, but I've been struggling with my work lately and feeling pretty morose. Would I answer differently on a day I'm feeling confident? A day when I received an acceptance rather than a rejection?

The StrengthsFinder assessment does try to cut down on waffling by giving you only 20 seconds to answer each question. "Go with your gut" is the rule. But I still had difficulty. A lot of the items—you choose a range between two endpoints—were not mutually exclusive, and I felt they equally described me. On those I was forced to leave the indicator directly in the center.

There are 34 "Themes" for StrengthsFinder and the assessment lets you know your top 5. Mine were/are:

  1. Strategic
  2. Futuristic
  3. Intellection
  4. Input
  5. Ideation

I have to say, when I read the descriptions, yes, it all sounds like me. But if I go to the book and begin reading about other Themes, I wonder if I wouldn't be able to say, "But this also sounds like me!" . . . I haven't. Yet. Again, sort of like reading other horoscope signs and thinking, "I dunno, I may be a Sagittarius, but I had kind of a Pisces day today." (I actually could do a whole post on why that might legitimately happen, but that's something else again.)

Anyway, with each of these Themes I've been given "Ideas for Action." In other words, ways to put my strengths to good use. A lot of them I already do, so this part of the book is less useful to me. I really want to know how to be successful, and I already know using my strengths will help with that, but . . . I need the opportunities to use my strengths in a way for others to notice them. And I don't seem to get many of those. What good is all this natural talent if no one is looking? Yeah, it sounds vain, but it's true. You can be great at your job but if no one notices . . .

Maybe the work should be its own reward. But that's not the way I'm built. I'm partially satisfied when I know I've done good work. But I'm only completely satisfied when that work gets recognized and rewarded. Blame the school system. Years of working for that gold star and teachers' acknowledgement have taken a toll.

And then sometimes the Ideas for Action are kind of . . . Well, for example, I'm encouraged to engage people in philosophical debate and discussion. I love that kind of thing. Too bad it's almost impossible for me to find other people willing to have long discussions like that. Most of them are only willing to talk about what they did over the weekend.

As ever, easier said (or written) than done. But it is a neat little resource. And I agree overall with the idea that people should play to their strengths. After all, how many people love doing stuff they know they suck at? Life is generally happier when you figure out what you do well and then do more of it.

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