Now, Discover Your Strengths: How To Develop Your Talents And Those Of The People You Manage (Marcus Buckingham)

Now, Discover Your Strengths – by Marcus Buckingham

How strongly I recommend it: 9/10
See my lists of books for more.

Go to the Amazon page for details.
You will be able to identify your innate talents through a test, and it will provide you the tools you need to make a difference in your career.
I’ve had this book pending for a long time, and I should’ve read it before. Being honest, this book will change the way you look for new skills to develop. It will help you to excel in your field, giving you an accurate definition of your innate talents to create new strengths.


Introduction: The Strengths Revolution at Work
Workplaces around the world, each one of us has been encouraged to identify, analyze, and correct our weaknesses in order to become strong. This advice is well intended but misguided.
Most bizarre of all, the longer an employee stays with an organization and the higher he climbs the traditional career ladder, the less likely he is to strongly agree that he is playing to his strengths.
Most organizations are built on two flawed assumptions about people:

1. Each person can learn to be competent in almost anything.

2. Each person’s greatest room for growth is in his or her areas of greatest weakness.

These are the two assumptions that guide the world’s best managers:

1. Each person’s talents are enduringand unique.

2. Each person’s greatest room for growth is in the areas of his or her greatest strength.

Few organizations, however, have developed a systematic process for the efficientuse of their human resources. (They may experiment with inpidual development plans, 360-degree surveys, and competencies, but these experiments are mostly focused on fixing each employee’s weaknesses rather than building his strengths.)
The real tragedy of life is not that each of us doesn’t have enough strengths, it’s that we fail to use the ones we have.

I – The Anatomy of a Strength

Chapter 1: Strong Lives

(Warren Buffet)

“If there is any difference between you and me, it may simply be that I get up every day and have a chance to do what I love to do, every day. If you want to learn anything from me, this is the best advice I can give you.”

He is a world-class investor because he deliberately plays to his strengths; he loves what he does because he deliberately plays to his strengths.

Look inside yourself, try to identify your strongest threads, reinforce them with practice and learning, and then either find or, as he did, carve out a role that draws on these strengths every day. When you do, you will be more productive, more fulfilled, and more successful.

By defining strength in this way, consistent near perfect performance in an activity, we reveal three of the most important principles of living a strong life.


, for an activity to be a strength you must be able to do it consistently. And this implies that it is a predictable part of your performance.


, you do not have to have strength in every aspect of your role in order to excel. Pam is not the perfect candidate for her role. Neither is Sherie. The people we described above are not exactly suited for their roles. None of them is blessed with the “perfect hand.” They are simply doing the best they can with the cards they were dealt.

Third, you will excel only by maximizing your strengths, never by fixing your weaknesses. This is not the same as saying “ignore your weaknesses.” The people we described did not ignore their weaknesses. Instead, they did something much more effective. They found ways to manage around their weaknesses, there by freeing them up to hone their strengths to a sharper point. Each of them did this a little differently. Pam liberated herself by hiring an outside consultant to write the strategic plan. Bill Gates did something similar. He selected a partner, Steve Ballmer, to run the company, allowing him to return to software development and rediscover his strengths’ path. Sherie, the dermatologist, simply stopped doing the kind of medicine that drained her. Paula, the magazine editor, turned down job offers.

We want to help you do the same—to capitalize on your strengths, whatever they may be, and manage around your weaknesses, whatever they may be.

Three Revolutionary Tools:

1. The first revolutionary tool is understanding how to distinguish your natural talents from things you can learn.

The question isn’t whether or not you can improve at these activities. Of course you can. Human beings are adaptable creatures, and if it is important enough for us, we can get a little better at virtually anything.The question is whether you can reach consistent near perfect performance in these activities through practice alone. The answer to this question is “No, practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect.” To develop a strength in any activity requires certain natural talents.

To answer these questions you need a simple way to differentiate between what is innate and what you can acquire with practice. Three carefully defined terms:


are your naturally recurring patterns ofthought, feeling, or behavior. Your various themes of talent are what the Strengths-Finder Profile actually measures.


consists of the facts and lessons learned.


are the steps of an activity.

These three—talents, knowledge, and skills—combine to create your strengths.

2. The second revolutionary tool is a system to identify your dominant talents.

There is one sure way to identify your greatest potential for strength: Step back and watch yourself for a while.

Try an activity and see how quickly you pick it up, how quickly you skip steps in the learning and add twists and kinks you haven’t been taught yet. See whether you become absorbed in the activity to such an extent that you lose track of time. If none of these has happened after a couple of months, try another activity and watch—and another. Over time your dominant talents will reveal themselves, and you can start to refine them into a powerful strength.

3. The third revolutionary tool is acommon language to describe your talents.

It is possible that you know exactly what you mean by “selling skills,” “strategic thinking,” “people skills,” and “self-motivated.”

But what about the people around you? They may use the same words but give them very different meanings. This is the worst kind of miscommunication. You finish the conversation and think you are both on the same page when in fact you aren’t even speaking the same language.

Chapter 2: Strength Building

Each person’s strengths are created—developed from some very specific raw materials. You can acquire some materials, your knowledge and skills, with practice and learning; others, yourtalents, you simply have to hone.


Let’s just say that the purposes of building your strengths, there are two distinct kinds of knowledge. You need both, and, fortunately, both can be acquired.


, you need

factual knowledge

, which is content. Factual knowledge such as this gets you into the game.

The second

kind of knowledge you need is


, which isn’t taught in classrooms or found in manuals. Rather, it is something that you must discipline yourself to pick up along the way and retain.

Every environment offers chances to learn. Clearly, to develop your strengths it is your responsibility to keep alert for these opportunities and then to incorporate them into your performance. Some experiential knowledge is more conceptual. Take the most obvious examples: your values and your self-awareness.


Skills bring structure to experiential knowledge. What does this mean? It means that, whatever the activity, at some point a smart person will sit back and formalize all the accumulated knowledge into a sequence of steps that, if followed, will lead to performance—not necessarily great performance but acceptable performance nonetheless.

Great speakers always seem to start by tellingthe audience what they are going to say. Then they proceed to do exactly that. Then they close by reminding the audience about what they have heard. This sequence becomes the most basic skill of public speaking:

1. Always start by telling people what you are going to tell them.

2. Tell them.

3. Tell them what you have told them.

Follow this sequence of steps, and you will be a better public speaker.

Our smart person might then take this insight and formalize it into the second skill of public speaking.


Write down any story or fact or example that resonates with you.


Practice telling it out loud. Listen to yourself actually saying the words.


These stories will become your “beads,” as in the beads of a necklace.


All you have to do when giving a speech is string your beads in the appropriate order, and you will give a speech that seems as natural as conversation.


Use 3-by-5 cards or a clipping file to keep adding new beads to your string.

Skills enable youto avoid trial and error and to incorporate directly into your performance the best discoveries from the best 

performers. If you want to build your strengths, whether in selling, marketing, financial analysis, flying, orhealing, you will need to learn and practice all the relevant skills available. But be careful.

Skills are so enticingly helpful that they obscure their two flaws.

The first flaw is that while skills will help you perform,

they will not help you excel.

The second flaw is that

some activities, almost by definition, defy being broken down into steps.

How the minds works

– Steven pinker


Your talents are those recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior that you can productively apply. Skills determine if you can do something, whereas talents reveal some thing more important:how well and how often you do it.

Although learning through repetition may result in a few new connections, it will not help you create any new superfast Tl lines. Without underlying talent, training won’t create a strength.

Your talents, your strongest synaptic connections, are the most important raw material for strength building. Identify your most powerful talents, hone them with skills and knowledge, and you will be well on your way to living the strong life.

II – Discover the Source of Your Strengths

Chapter 3: StrengthsFinder

The Traces of Talent

“How can you identify your own talents?”

First, if you want to reveal your talents, monitor your spontaneous, top-ofmind reactions to the situations you encounter.

These top-of-mind reactions provide the best trace of your talents. They reveal the location of strong mental connections.

While your spontaneous reactions provide the clearest trace of your talents, here are

three more clues to keep in mind

: yearnings, rapid learning, and satisfactions.


reveal the presence of a talent, particularly when they are felt early in life.

These childhood passions are caused by the various synaptic connections in your brain. The weaker connections manage little pull, and when well-intentioned mothers (or other terrible circumstances) force you down a particular path, it feels strange and makes you cry. By contrast, your strongest connections are irresistible. They exert a magnetic influence, drawing you back time and again. You feel their pull, and so you yearn.

Needless to say, social or financial pressures sometimes drown out these yearnings and prevent you from acting on them.


: first approach: when I was young I could sell everything. I started sellings DVDs and after that parts of whatever gave me cash. I was a good seller, if I was interested on the product or the benefit itself. SELLING IDEAS.

Your yearnings may not prove quite as inexorable as those of Grandma Moses, but they will exert a consistent pull. They have to. Your yearnings reflect the physical reality that some of your mental connections are simply stronger than others. So no matter how repressive the external influences prove to be, these stronger connections will keep calling out to you, demanding to be heard. If you want to discover your talents, you should pay them heed.

Rapid learning

offers another trace of talent. Sometimes a talent doesn’t signal itself through yearning. Fora myriad of reasons, although the talent exists within you, you don’t hear its call. Instead, comparatively late in life, something sparks the talent, and it is the speed at which you learn a new skill that provides the tell tale clue to the talent’s presence and power.

You may have had a similar experience. You start to learn a new skill—in the context of a new job, a new challenge, or a new environment—and immediately your brain seems to lightup as if a whole bank of switches were suddenly flicked to “on.” The steps of this skill fly down the newly opened connections at such speed that very soon the steps disappear. Your movements lose the distinctive jerkiness of the novice and instead as sume the grace of the virtuoso. You leave your classmates behind. You read ahead and try things out before the curriculum says you should. You even become unpopular with the trainer as you challenge him with new questions and insights. But you don’t really care because this new skill has come to you so naturally that you can’t wait to put it into practice. Of course, not everyone has experienced eureka moments that determined the direction of their lifelong career, but whether the skill is selling, presenting, architectural drafting, giving developmental feedback to an employee, preparing legal briefs, writing business plans, cleaning hotel rooms, editing newspaper articles, or booking guests ona morning TV show, if you learned it rapidly, you should look deeper. You willbe able to identify the talent or talents that made it possible.

Satisfactions provide the last clue to talent. As we described in the previous chapter, your strongest synaptic connections are designed so that when you use them, it feels good. Thus, obviously, if it feels good when you perform an activity, chances are that you are using a talent. This seems almost too simple, much like the advice that “if it feels good, do it.”

Almost all of them liked their job when they met a challenge and then overcame it. However, when we probed a little deeper, thepersity—what they actually meant by “challenge”—emerged.

We are all woven so uniquely that each of us experiences slightly different satisfactions.

What we are suggesting here is that you pay close attention to the situations that seem to bring you satisfaction.

If you can identify them, you are well on your way to pinpointing your talents. How can you identify your sources of satisfaction? Well, we need to tread carefully here. Telling someone how to know if she is genuinely enjoying something canbe as vacuous as telling her how to know if she is in love. On some level the only sage advice is “You either feel it or you don’t.” We will take a risk however, and offer you this tip: When you are performing a particular activity, try to isolate the tense you are thinking in. If all you are thinking about is the present—”When will this be over?”—more than likely you are not using a talent. But if you find yourself thinking in the future, if you find yourself actually anticipating the activity—”When canI do this again?”— it is a pretty good sign that you are enjoying it and that one of your talents is in play.


Spontaneous reactions, yearnings, rapid learning, and satisfactions will all help you detect the traces of your talents. As you rush through your busy life, try to step back, quiet the wind whipping past your ears, and listen for these clues. They will help you zero in on your talents.

The StrengthsFinder Profile

“How does it work, andhowdo I complete it?”

How Does It Work?

Probably the best way to pinpoint your talents is to monitor your behavior and your feelings over anextended period of time, paying particular attention to the clues we described above. It would be hard for any profile or questionnaire to compete with this kind of focused analysis. However, as many of us do, you may struggle to find the time and the objectivity to analyze yourself in this way. You are too busy and too close to the action. TheStrengthsFinder Profile was designed to help you sharpen your perception. It presents you with pairs of statements, captures your choices, sorts them, and reflects back your most dominant patterns of behavior, thereby highlighting where you have the greatest potential for real strength.

I know that I am doing a good job of listening if the other person keeps talking.

Chapter 4: The 34 themes of StrengthsFinder

1) Intellection / Thinker

You like to think. You like mental activity. You like exercising the “muscles” of your brain, stretching them in multiple directions. This need for mental activity may be focused; for example, you may be trying to solve a problem or develop an idea or understand another person’s feelings. The exact focus will depend on your other strengths. On the other hand, this mental activity may very well lack focus. The theme of Intellection does not dictate what you are thinking about; it simply describes that you like to think. You are the kind ofperson who enjoys your time alone because it is your time for musing and reflection. You are introspective. In a sense you are your own best companion, as you pose yourself questions and try out answers on yourself to see how they sound. This introspection may lead you to a slight sense of discontent as you compare what you are actually doing with all the thoughts and ideas that your mind conceives. Or this introspection may tend toward more pragmatic matters such as the events ofthe day ora conversation that you plan to have later. Wherever it leads you, this mental hum is one of the constants of your life.

Intellection sounds like this:

Lauren H., project manager:

“I suppose that most people who meet me in passing presume that I am a flaming extrovert. I do not deny the fact that I love people, but they would be amazed to know how much time alone, how much solitude I need in order to function in public. I really love my own company. I love solitude because it gives me a chance to allow my diffused focus to simmer with something else. That’s where my best ideas come from. My ideas need to simmer and ‘perk.’ I used this phrase even when I was younger; ‘I have put my ideas in, and now I have to wait for them to perk.’ “

Michael P., marketing executive: “It’s strange, but I find that I need to have noise around me or I can’t concentrate. I need to have parts of my brain occupied; otherwise, it goes so fast in so many directions that I don’t get anything done. If I can occupy my brain with the TV or my kids running around, then I find I concentrate evenbetter.”

Jorge H., factory manager and former political prisoner: “We used to get put into solitary confinement as a punishment, but I never hated it as the others did. You might think that you would get lonely, but I never did. I used the time to reflecton my life and sort out the kind of man I was and what was really important to me, my family, my values. In a weird way solitary actually calmed medown and made me stronger.”

2) Ideation / Solution Finder

You are fascinated by ideas. What isan idea? An idea isa concept, the best explanation ofthe 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.

Ideation sounds like this:

MarkB., writer: “My mind works by finding connections between things. The other day I was hunting down the Mona Lisa in the Louvre museum. I turned a corner and was blinded by the flashing of at hous and cameras snapping the tiny picture.

For some reason I stored that visual image away. Then I noticed a no flash photography sign, and I stored that away, too. I thought it was odd because I remembered reading that flash photography can harm paintings. Then about six months

later I read that the Mona Lisa has been stolen atleast twice inthis century. And suddenlyI put it all together. The only explanation for all these facts is that the real Mona Lisa is not on display in the Louvre. The real Mona Lisa has been stolen, and the museum, afraid to admit their carelessness, has installed a fake. I don’t know if it’s true, of course, but what a great story.”

Andrea H., interior designer: “I have the kind of mind where everything has to fit together or I start to feel very odd. For me, every piece of furniture represents an idea. It serves a discrete function both independently and inconcert with every other

piece. The ‘idea’ of each piece is so powerful in mind, it must be obeyed. If I am sitting in a room where the chairs are somehow not fulfilling their discrete function—they’re the wrong kind of chairs or they’re facing the wrong way or they’re pushed up too closeto the coffee table—I find myself getting physically uncomfortable and mentally distracted. Later, I won’t beable to get it out of my mind. I’ll find myself awake at 3:00 a.m., and I walk through the person’s house in my mind’s eye, rear ranging the furniture and repainting the walls. This started happening when I was very young, say seven years old.”

3) Significance / Recognition

You want to be very significant in the eyes of other people. In the truest sense of the word you want to be recognized. You want to be heard. You want to stand out. You want to be known. In particular, you want to be known and appreciated for the unique strengths you bring. You feel a need to be admired as credible, professional, and successful. Likewise, you want to associate with others who are credible, professional, and successful. And if they aren’t, you will push them to achieve until they are. Or you will move on. An independent spirit, you want your work to be a way of life rather than a job, and in that work you want to be given free rein, the leeway to do things your way. Your yearnings feel intense to you, and you honor those yearnings. And so your life is filled with goals, achievements, or qualifications that you crave. Whatever your focus—and each person is distinct—your Significance theme will keep pulling you upward, away from the mediocre toward the exceptional. It is the theme that keeps you reaching.

Significance sounds like this:

Mary P., health care executive: “Women are told almost from day one, ‘Don’t be too proud. Don’t stand tall. ‘That kind of thing. But I’ve learned that it’s okay to have power, it’s okay to have pride, and it’s okay to have a big ego. And also that I need to manage it and drive it in the right directions.”

Kathie J., partner in a law firm: “Ever since I can remember I have had the feeling that I was special, that I could take charge and make things happen. Backin the sixties I was the first woman partner in my firm, and I can still recall walking into

boardroom after boardroom and being the only woman. It’s strange, thinking back. It was tough, but I actually think I enjoyed the pressure of standing out. I enjoyed being the ‘woman’ partner. Why? Because I knew that I would be very hard to forget. I knew everyone would notice me and pay attention to me.”

John L., physician: “All through mylife I felt that I was onstage. I am always aware of an audience. If I am sitting with a patient, I want the patient to see me as the best doctor he or she has ever had. If I am teaching medical students, I want to stand out as the best medical educator they have ever had. I want to win the Educator of the Year Award. My boss is a big audience for me. Disappointing her would kill me. It’s scary to think that part of myself-esteem is in other people’s hands, but then again, it keeps me on my toes.”

4) Command

Command leads you to take charge. Un like some people, you feel no discomfort with imposing your views on others. On the contrary, once your opinion is formed, you need to share it with others. Once your goal is set, you feel restless until you have aligned others with you. You are not frightened by confrontation; rather, you know that confrontation is the first step toward resolution. Whereas others may avoid facing up to life’s unpleasantness, you feel compelled to present the facts or the truth, no matter how unpleasant it may be. You need things to be clear between people and challenge them to be clear-eyed and honest. You push them to take risks. You may even intimidate them. And while some may resent this, labeling you opinionated, they often willingly hand you the reins. People are drawn toward those who take a stance and ask them to move in a certain direction. Therefore, people will be drawn to you. You have presence. You have Command.

Command sounds like this:

Malcolm M., hospitality manager: “One reason I affect people is that I am so candid. Actually, people say that I intimidate them at first. After I work with them a year, we talk about that sometimes. They say, ‘Boy, Malcolm, when I started working here, I was scared to death.’ When I ask why, they say, ‘I’ve never worked with anyone who just said it. Whatever it was, whatever needed to be said, you just

said it.'”

Rick P., retail executive: “We have a wellness program whereby if you consume less than four alcoholic beverages a week, you get $25; if you don’t smoke, you get $25 a month. So one day I got word that one of my store managers was smoking

again. This was not good. He was smoking in the store, setting a bad example to the employees, and claiming his $25. I just can’t keep stuff like that inside. It wasn’t comfortable, but I confronted him with it immediately and clearly. ‘Stop doing that,

or you are fired.’ He’s basically a good guy, but you can’t let things like that slide by.”

Diane N., hospice worker: “I don’t think of myself as assertive, but I do take charge. When you walk into a room with a dying person and his family, you have to take charge. They want you to take charge. They are a bit in shock, a bit frightened, a bit in denial. Basically, they’re confused. They need someone to tell them what is going to happen next, what they can expect; that it’s not going to be fun but that in some important ways it will be all right. They don’t want mousy and soft. They want

clarity and honesty. I provide it.”

5) Activator / Iniciator

“When can we start?” This is a recurring question in your life. You are impatient for action. You may concede that analysis has its uses or that debate and discussion can occasionally yield some valuable insights, but deep down you know that only action is real. Only action can make things happen. Only action leads to performance. Once a decision is made, you cannot not act. Others may worry that “there are still some things we don’t know,” but this doesn’t seem to slow you. If the decision has been made to go across town, you know that the fastest way to get there is to go stop light to stop light. You are not going to sit around waiting until all the lights have turned green. Besides, in your view, action and thinking are not opposites. In fact, guided by your Activator theme, you believe that action is the best device for learning. You make a decision, you take action, you look at there sult, and you learn. This learning informs your next action and your next. How can you grow if you have nothing to react to? Well, you believe you can’t. You must put yourself out there. You must take the next step. It is the only way to keep your thinking fresh and informed. The bottom line is this: You know you will be judged not by what you say, not by what you think, but by what you get done. This does not frighten you. It pleases you.

Activator sounds like this:

JaneC, Benedictine nun: “When I was prioress in the 1970s, we were hit by the energy shortage, and costs skyrocketed. We had 140 acres, and I walked the acreage every day pondering what we should do about this energy shortage. Suddenly I decided that if we had that much land, we should be drilling our own gas well, and so we did. We spent $100,000 to drill a gas well. If you have never drilled a gas well, you probably don’t realize what I didn’t realize: namely, that you have to spend $70,000 just to drill to see if you have any gas on your property at all. So they dug down with some kind of vibratory camera thing, and they told me that I had a gas pool. But they didn’t know how large the pool was, and they didn’t know if there was enough pressure to bring it up. ‘If you pay another $30,000, we will try to release the well,’ they said. ‘If you don’t want us to, we’ll just cap the well, take your $70,000, and go home. ‘So I gave them the final $30,000 and, fortunately, up it came. That was twenty years ago, and it is still pumping.”

Jim L., entrepreneur: “Some people seems impatience as not wanting to listen to the traps, the potential road blocks. What I keep repeating is ‘I want to know when I am going to hit the wall, and I need you to tell me how much it is going to hurt. But

if I choose to bump into the wall anyway, then, don’t worry, you’ve done your job. I just had to experience it for myself.’ “

6) Futuristic

“Wouldn’t it be great if…” You are the kind of person who loves to peer over the horizon. The future fascinates you. As if it were projected on the wall, you see inde tail what the future might hold, and this detailed picture keeps pulling you forward, into tomorrow. While the exact content of the picture will depend on your other strengths and interests—a better product, a better team, a better life, or a better world—it will always be inspirational to you. You are a dreamer who sees visions of what could be and who cherishes those visions. When the present proves too frustrating and the people around you too pragmatic, you conjure up your visions of the future and they energize you. They can energize others, too. In fact, very often people look to you to describe your visions of the future. They want a picture that can raise their sights and there by their spirits. You can paint it for them. Practice. Choose your words carefully. Make the picture as vivid as possible. People will want to latch on to the hope you bring.

Futuristic sounds like this:

Dan F., school administrator: “Inany situation I am the guy who says ‘Did you ever think about… ? I wonder if we could … I don’t believe it can’t be done. It’s just that nobody has done it yet Let’s figure out how we can. ‘I am always looking for options, for ways not to be mired by the status quo. In fact, there is no such thing as the status quo. You are either moving forward, or you are moving backward. That’s the reality of life, at least from my perspective. And right now I believe that my profession is moving backward. State schools are being out-serviced by private schools, charter schools, home schools, Internet schools. We need to free ourselves from our traditions and create a new future.”

Dr. Jan K., internist: “Here at the Mayo Clinic we are launching a group called the Hospitalists. Rather than having patients handed off from one doctor to another during their stay in the hospital, I envision a family of providers. I envision fifteen to twenty MDs, of various genders and races, with twenty to twenty-five nurse practitioners. There will be four to five new hospital services, most of which will work with surgeons and will provide paraoperative care as well as care for the hospitalized elderly. We are redefining the model of care here. We don’t just take care of the patients when they are in the hospital. If a patient comes in for a knee replacement, a member of the Hospitalist team would see him before the surgery, follow him from the day of surgery through the days of hospitalization, and then see him when he comes in six weeks later for hispost operative check. We will provide patients with a complete episode of care so that they don’t get lost in the hand offs. And to get the funding I just saw the detailed picture in my head and kept describing this picture to the department chair. I guess I made it seem so real that they had no choice but to grant me the funds.”

III – Put Strengths to Work

Chapter 5 – The Questions You’re Asking

To clear our skewed perspective, however, we must remember that casting a critical eye on our weaknesses and working hard to manage them, while sometimes necessary, will only help us prevent failure. It will not help us reach excellence. What Seligman is saying—and what many of the excellent performers we interviewed are telling us—is that you will reach excellence only by understanding and cultivating your strengths.

Your natural talents are gifts from God or accidents of birth, depending on the articles of your faith. Either way, you had nothing to do with them. However, you have a great deal to do with fashioning them into strengths. It is your opportunity to take your natural talents and transform them through focus and practice and learning into consistent near perfect performances.

So what? Really, what is the worst that could happen? So you identify a talent, cultivate it into a strength, and fail to perform up 

to your expectations. Yes, it hurts, but it shouldn’t undermine you completely. It is a chance to learn and to incorporate this learning into your next performance, and your next. And what if these next performances still fail to meet your standards? Well, it hurts some more. But it should also tell you something: You might be searching for your strengths in the wrong places. Despite the hurt, you are at least freed up to redirect your search more productively. As the wit W. C. Fields advised: “If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Then quit. There is nopoint making a fool of yourself.”

The philosopher Baruch Spinoza said that “to be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life.”

When asked to describe their strengths, people rarely refer to their natural talents. Instead, they talk about external things that they have gathered during their life, such as certificates and diplomas, experiences and awards. Here is the “proof that they have improved themselves, that they have acquired something valuable to offer.

Like the New Yorker who no longer hears the sirens and the horns, we are so close to our strengths that we don’t see them anymore.

The old maxim says that you can’t see the picture when you are inside the frame. Well, you spend your whole life inside the frame of your strengths, so perhaps it is little wonder that after a while you become blind to them. We hope that by revealing your five 

signature themes we have shown you that your instinctive reactions to the world around you—those things that “you can’t help 

but…”—are not mundane, commonplace, obvious. On the contrary, your instinctive reactions are unique. They make you different from everyone else. They make you extraordinary.

You need to be consciously competent. To achieve this conscious competence with even five themes of talent is quite a challenge.

No matter what your profession, the secret to consistent near perfect performance lies in these kinds of subtle refinements. To achieve these refinements demands expertise. You will need to study your strongest themes of talent and figure out how they 

combine to create your strengths.

However, we advise you not to place too much emphasis on the order of your signature themes. First, the actual difference be tween your number one theme and your number five theme, and those in between, may well be infinite simally small. In the world 

of mathematics, the differences exist, but inthe real world, they may be meaningless.

So try not to examine each of your themes in isolation. Instead, examine how each modifies the others. Figure out the combination effects. There in lies the secret to real self-awareness.

“I am the kind of guy who dreads going to parties but who is suddenly at my best once I’m there.”

You may not be able to rewire your brain, but by acquiring new knowledge and skills you can redirect your life. You can’t develop new themes, but you can develop new strengths.

By focusing on your top five themes you will actually become stronger, more robust, more open to new discoveries and, importantly, more appreciative of people who possess themes very different from your own.

Do you live



Unsure of who we really are, we define ourselves by the knowledge we have acquired or the achievements we have racked up along the way. By defining ourselves in this way we become reluctant to change careers or learn new ways of doing things because then, in the new career, we would be forced to jettison our precious haul of expertise and achievement. We would have to jettison our identity.

Furthermore, unsure of who we really are, we become reluctant to investigate who others really are. Instead,we resort to defining

others by their education, their sex, the irrace, or similarly superficial markers. We take shelter in these generalizations.

By focusing on your top five themes you can learn who you really are. You can learn that you are not making up your life as you go along. You can learn that your successes and achievements are not accidental. Your signature themes are influencing every single choice you make. Your top five themes explain your successes and achievements.

By refining your understanding of your own signature themes you can consider similarly dramatic career shifts or perhaps lateral moves within your organization, sure in the knowledge that you will be bringing your best along with you.

By focusing on your distinct themes, you will gain the self-confidence to appreciate the themes of other people. Why? Because the more expert you become in recognizing how your signature themes combine, the more secure you will be in your own uniqueness.

Counterintuitively, the greater your expertise in the intricacies of your own themes, the more you will be able to identify and then 

value the intricacies of other people. Conversely, the less respectful you are of your own combination of themes, the less respectful you will be of other people’s.

Hence, the best advice is not to focus on your strengths and ignore your weaknesses but, rather, to focus on your strengths and find ways to manage your weaknesses.

Weakness is anything that gets in the way of excellent performance.

As you strive to build your life around your strengths, we advise you to steer clear of this definition for one very practical reason: Like all of us, you have countless areas where you lack proficiency, but most of them are simply not worth bothering about. Why? Because they don’t get in the way of excellent performance. They are irrelevant. They don’t need to be managed at all, just ignored.

As soon as you find yourself in a role that requires you to play to one of your non talents—or area of low skills or knowledge—a weakness is born.

So once you know you have a genuine weakness on your hands, a deficiency that actually gets in the way of excellent performance, how can you best deal with it? The first thing you have to do is identify whether the weaknessis a skills weakness, a knowledge weakness, or a talent weakness.

Go and acquire the skills or knowledge you need.

If, after acquiring the knowledge and skills you feel you need, your performance is still subpar, then by process of elimination the missing ingredient must be talent. At which point you should stop wasting time trying to study your way to excellence and, instead, turn to a more creative strategy.

Five creative strategies for managing a talent weakness:

  1. Get a little better at it:

This first one doesn’t sound very creative, but in a few specific instances it is the only workable strategy. Some activities are baseline requirements for almost any role: being able to communicate your ideas, for example; or listening to others; or organizing your life so that you are where you need to be on any given day; or taking responsibility for your performance. If you do not possess dominant themes in these areas—Communication, Empathy, Discipline, or Responsibility—you will need to hunker down and work to get a little better. For all the reasons we described in previous chapters, you may not enjoy this

hunkering, and you will most certainly not reach excellence if this

is all you do, but you need to do it nevertheless. Otherwise these weaknesses may well undermine all your great strengths in other areas. If working to get a little better proves too draining, try the next strategy: Design a simple support system to neutralize your weakness.

  1. Design a support



Every morning before Kevin L. puts on his shoes, he takes a moment to imagine himself painting the word “What” on his left shoe and the word “If on his right. This odd little ritual is his support system for managing around a potentially devastating weakness. Kevin is the national sales manager for a software company, and, rather unsurprisingly, one of his responsibilities is to create the national sales strategy. Kevin brings many talents to this role—he is analytical, creative, impatient—but, unfortunately, the theme Strategic isn’t one of them. This means that although he is smart enough to anticipate the obstacles that might derail his plans, his mind doesn’t naturally take the time to play out all alternative paths and visualize in detail where they might lead. His early morning shoe scribbling is the best technique he could concoct to remind him to ask the “What if?” questions and so anticipate the obstacles. During our research these kinds of idiosyncratic support systems kept cropping up. We heard from a congenitally disorganized manager whose support system was the commitment she made to herself that she would always clean out her desk completely once a month. We interviewed another person, a teacher, who was cursed with such a chronically short attention p that she found it virtually impossible to stay focused enough to mark

all of her students’ papers. Her support system? A rule never to mark more than five papers at a time. Mark five, then get up and make a cup of coffee. Mark another five, then feed the cat. You probably have your own system that serves as a crutch for one of your persistent talent weaknesses. It might be as straight forward as buying a Palm Pilot to help you keep track of your life or as peculiar as imagining your audience naked in order to calm your nerves before a speech. But whatever it is, don’t underestimate its usefulness. You have only a certain amount of time to invest in yourself. A system that stops your worrying about a weakness is freeing up time that can be better spent figuring out how to refine a strength. Sometimes you don’t have to look very far to find the right support system because it can be provided by one of your strong themes. Hence this next strategy.

  1. Use one of your strongest themes to overwhelm your


Thinking back, he realized that just before starting to read, he had looked out over the crowd, seen their faces, and felt… energized. Slowly and then with increasing certainty it dawned on him that he loved being on


combination of Significance and Communication, in


language. The pressure of performing in front of hundreds of people, so frightening to some, was positively uplifting to him. Whereas some people froze in front of crowds, he actually loosened up. His brain seemed to work faster, and the words came more easily. Onstage he was able to do what had always eluded him in real life: He was able to free the thoughts trapped inside his head. He was able to express himself.

Mike took this strength discovery and applied it to his life offstage.


he spoke to


the school yard, in the car on the way home, on the


imagined that he was speaking in front of two hundred people. He would picture the scene, see the faces, organize his thoughts carefully, and all of a sudden the words would begin to flow. From that moment on, at college, in his places of employment, with friends and family, he was never again known as “M-M-M-Mike.”

Mike stands as an example of the power of strengths to trump weaknesses. After a decade of being defined by his weakness, of desperately trying and failing to fix it, Mike was fortunate to recognize the talents that, properly cultivated, could free him. As you strive to manage around your weaknesses, keep your mind open for the talents that could do the same for you.

  1. Find a



By contrast, among the excellent performers we interviewed, we found thousands who had become experts in the art of complementary partnering. They not only could describe their strengths and weaknesses in vivid detail but also identified someone close by whose strengths matched their weaknesses. Some of these weaknesses were knowledge or skills weaknesses, and so the matching strengths were quite easy to spot. We found “numbers-blind” entrepreneurs who had deliberately partnered with “numbers-mad” accountants, and gene-splicing geniuses who had sensibly sought out a legal expert who knew how to secure approval for their miracle drug.

However, the most impressive examples were those part

nerships built on complementary themes of talent

. There was the senior executive who understood the concept that each of his direct reports was different but also realized that he lacked the talent (the theme Inpidualization) to identify exactly how each person was different. Rather than trying to fake it, he hired a human resources professional whose primary role was to help him understand each person’s idiosyncracies. There was the trial lawyer who delivered compelling arguments in the court room but detested researching case law in the library (the theme Context). As he built his practice, he knew that his most important recruit would be someone whose passion for researching legal precedent matched his own passion for presentation. He quickly found someone whose eyes lit up at the prospect of long days reading small print, and together they have built a flourishing practice. Then there was the charming but meek flight attendant who recoiled at the thought of confronting a boisterous passenger or even of giving a pleasant passenger bad news (the theme Command). And so on every flight, before the passengers board, he quietly asks around to see if any of his fellow crew members are good at

maintaining their composure when announcing canceled flights, seat mix-ups, or other equally grim tidings. He doesn’t always find the perfect partner, but he often does, and to hear him tell it, these partnerships have helped him avoid those situations where in the past he would get flustered, lose his cool, and upset the passenger. What is impressive about these examples is not the depth of analysis required—in fact, in each of these instances the missing theme(s) was fairly obvious. Rather, what is impressive is simply each person’s willingness to admit his imperfection. It takes a strong person to ask for help.


: Describe which talents I lack of and define them in order to find a partner with my talent’s weaknesses.

  1. Just stop doing


This strategy is a last resort, but when for one reason or another you are forced to try it, you may be surprised by how empowering it can be. Many of us lose a great deal of time, trust, and respect trying to learn how to do things we simply don’t need to do. Why? Because we are encouraged to. Over eager human resources departments insist on defining roles by how the work should be done rather than by what the work should achieve. They legislate style rather than outcome, thus condemning each employee to learn the desired style. Hence, you find employees who lack the theme Futuristic rehearsing their vision statements because someone has decreed that every employee should have vision. Or you see unfunny managers practicing their jokes in hopes of getting a little wittier because somewhere it is written that “Uses humor appropriately” is a required management competency. Our interviewees rejected this stylistic conformity. Their advice on how to deal with a particularly persistent weakness? Stop doing it and see whether anyone cares. If you do, they said, three

outcomes may surprise you. First, how little anyone cares. Second, how much respect you earn. And third, how much better you feel.

Mary K., a manager who lacked the talent for Empathy, used this strategy. After yet another day of trying and failing to penetrate the mysteries of each person’s emotional state, she took a stand. She confessed to each ofher employees that she lacked Empathy, saying, “From now on I am not going to try to fake it anymore. I am never going to understand you intuitively, so if you want me to know what you are feeling, you are better off just telling me. And don’t think that telling me once at the beginning of the year is enough. How you are feeling is not something that sticks in my memory easily, so you need to keep reminding me; otherwise, I’ll never remember.” This confession was met with relief. Her employees knew her 

to be a basically goodperson, but it wasno surprise to them that she lacked the talent for Empathy. They might have used the word aloofor distant rather than unempathic, but their meaning would have been the same. As one of them said: “Maryis so confused by the world of emotion that she could be your best friend and never know it.”

It takes courage, but by confessing her weakness and announcing that she was giving up on it, Mary took a significant step forward as a manager. In the eyes of her employees she became a more authentic person—she was flawed but aware of the flaw—and therefore a more trustworthy manager. Her behavior lost its insincere, “acting” quality and instead became predictable—imperfect, but predictably so. Her employees liked that. By confessing one of your weaknesses and announcing your intention to give it up, you may net the same outcome. Confess that you have lost the battle with your unfixable weakness, and you may well win the trust andrespect of those around you.

No matter which strategy you use, never lose your perspective. These strategies do not transform your weaknesses into strengths. They are designed to help you manage around a weakness so that it doesn’t get in the way of your strengths.

Can My Themes Reveal Whether I Am in the Right Career?

First, have you chosen the right field for who you are (healthcare, education, mechanical engineering, computer science, fashion, and so on)?

Second, are you playing the right role for you? Should you be a sales person, a manager, an administrator, a writer, a designer, an 

advisor, an analyst, or some unique combination?

If you choose the right role but the wrong field, you might end up as a natural sales person selling services youdon’t believe in or 

as a genius designer of products that leave you cold. Likewise, honor your passion for aparticular field but forget about selecting 

the right role, and you might find yourself administering schools when you’d rather be teaching in them, or editing newspaper articles instead of writing them.

You will need to find your field in the same way—by listening tothe yearnings that pull you and then seeing what moves you. If you don’t feel a strong pull, you will need to experiment in school orin your first years inthe working world and narrow your focus by elimination.

That is why we said that StrengthsFinder doesn’t serve to funnel you into a particular field.

Your signature themes will not necessarily help you choose between being a retailer, a lawyer, oreven acarpenter. What they can help you do is make the most of whatever field you choose.

Command, Activator, and Competition were talents frequently found in the top five of the sales people we interviewed, enabling them to thrill to the challenge of confrontation and persuasion, and to the opportunity to measure their effectiveness against their peers. Despite these discoveries, however, you need to be careful about drawing too straight aline between aparticular theme and a particular role. We suggest caution because our research interviews indicate that thousands of people with very different theme

combinations nonetheless play the same role equally well.

Each of these examples reminds us that no matter what the role, there are many routes to excellence. Yes, some themes seem to fit certain roles. But, no, you shouldn’t necessarily decide that you are miscast just because some of your themes do not at first glance match your role.

Our research into human strengths does not support the extreme, and extremely misleading, assertion that “you can play any role you set your mind to,” but it does lead us to this truth: What everyou set your mind to,you will be most successful when you craft your role to play to your signature talents most of the time. We hope that by highlighting your signature themes we can help you craft such a role.

Chapter 6: Managing Strengths

However, neither will you necessarily succeed. To excel as a manager, to turn your people’s talents into productive powerful 

strengths, requires an additional, all-important ingredient. Lacking this ingredient, nomatter how diligently you set expectations, 

communicate purpose, correct mistakes, or praise good performance, you will never reach excellence. The all-important ingredient is Inpidualization.

“Everything comes down to knowing your people. I always start by asking each new employee, ‘Are you a people person or a box person?’ In other words, is this person drawn to strike up a conversation with our customers, or does he love arranging the merchandise so that each product looks as if it’s about to jump off the shelf? If he is a people person, I will keep watching to see whether he is just a natural smiler, in which case I’ll probably put him on a checkout register or in customer service, or whether he also has the talent to sell, in which case I’ll set him up to give multiple presentations of our newer, more complicated products during our busiest times.

“I am not a master-class director. I am not a teacher. I am a coach. I don’t have a methodology. Each actor is different. And on the film set you have to be next to them all, touching them on the shoulder, saying, ‘I’m with you. I know exactly how you’re working.’

In your role as manager you have the same opportunity. You will need to focus on who each employee is. You will need to learn 

each one’s behavior and, as Sam Mendes did, find the right language “to suit their brain.” The expectations you set will be slightly different for each person. The way you set them will also be different for each, as will the way you talk about your company’s mission, the way you correct a mistake, the way you nurture a strength, and the way you praise, what you praise, and why.

All your moves as a manager will need to be tailored to each inpidual employee. Daunting though this may sound, there is no getting around it. Each employee is wired just a little bit differently. If you are to keep your talented employees and spur each of them on to greater performance, you will have to discern how each one is unique and then figure out ways to capitalize on this uniqueness.

If you are trapped in an organization that tries to train employees in the same role to acquire exactly the same style, your attempts to inpidualize will always meet resistance. However, we can address the second reason, lack of time. Let’s explore a

few ideas about how to manage inpiduals with different signature themes.

Chapter 7: Building a Strengths-based Organization

1. Each person’s talents are enduring and unique.

2. Each person’s greatest room for growth is in the areas of the person’s greatest strength.

  • Since each person’s talents are enduring, you should spend a great deal of time and money selecting people properly in the first place.

This will help mitigate the “I don’t think I have the right talent for the role” problem.

  • Since each person’s talents are unique, you should focus performance by legislating outcomes rather than forcing each person into a stylistic mold.

  • Since the greatest room for each person’s growth is in the areas of his greatest strength, you should focus your training time and money on educating him about his strengths and figuring out ways to build on these strengths rather than on remedially trying to plug his “skill gaps.”

  • Since the greatest room for each person’s growth lies in his areas of greatest strength, you should devise ways to help each

person grow his career without necessarily promoting him up the corporate ladder and out of his areas of strength.