If someone asked you what your strengths are, what would your answer be? Surprisingly, many of us are not very clear about what we are best at. Strengths are our unique potentials for excellence in thought, emotion and action. On the other hand, strengths finders aim to help us know ourselves better by filling in these gaps in our own self-knowledge.
As psychometric instruments, strengths finders have now become mainstream. They are part of the positive psychology movement; which has gathered substantial momentum over the past 20 years. The basic idea behind strengths finders is that we are happier, more engaged and more likely to achieve our goals when we are doing what we are good at.
Research suggests that people who work from their strengths will be more engaged; more likely to achieve their goals; will be happier; become more confident; will build stronger relationships; and will ultimately progress their careers.
What Strengths Finders are Out There?
It stands to reason that to do what we are good at, we have to know what we are good at. There are now numerous strengths finders available with varying degrees of complexity.
Broadly speaking, there are two approaches to any strengths finder psychometric assessment. The first is the theoretical approach which aims to establish a more thorough understand of the question and come up with answers that are more universally applicable. The second is the practical approach which aims to structure the instrument in order to achieve some practical end.
The theoretical approach is typically more open ended and speculative. On the other hand, instruments that adopt the practical approach have more clearly defined and “value-loaded” categories. These classify responses towards pre-defined constructs that aim to be practically useful.
I have taken the time to compile a list of some of the most commonly used strength-finder psychometric assessments. The majority of those listed adopt the practical approach rather than the theoretical approach.
Red Bull Wingfinder
The Wingfinder was developed by Red Bull and a team of psychology professors based in the University College London and Columbia University. The instrument aims to help individuals identify the things that they are naturally good at.
Wingfinder is free and tries to adopt a playful approach. The assessment has lots of picture, story and problem solving elements in it. The primary design principle was to create an accurate instrument that is fun and easy to use. The instrument assesses you against the four key areas of creativity, thinking, drive and connections. The output of this instrument is a 19-page feedback report that is personalised to you.
The report aims to provide you with a coaching plan that will help you develop towards maximising how you use your strengths. The coaching plan comes in the form of a set of suggestions for you to start doing, stop doing and keep doing. The wingfinder also build on each of your strengths by giving you a set of helpful suggestions for each of your strengths.
High 5 Test
The High 5 test is blend of the theoretical and the practical approaches. The instrument is based in theoretical research in the field of positive psychology at large but aims to translate theory into practical implications.
The High 5 test defines strengths as the recurring patterns of thought, action, decision and feeling that satisfy the following 5 criteria:
- You feel natural at using
- Provides you with positive energy
- Other people perceive it as a strength
- You perceive is as a strength
- Satisfies your inner needs
The output of the free test is a snapshot of your 5 strengths, your high 5. In order to get access to the rest of your strengths you need to pay for the full report which gives an indication of what you should focus on, leverage, navigate and delegate. This is helpful when determining what sorts of task you should take on yourself and which should be delegated to others.
The Gallup/Clifton Strengths Finder
In their own words, the Gallup Clifton Strengths Finder test aims to uncover your “talent DNA”. Don Clifton deliberately framed this instrument to look at talents rather than strengths. These are not necessarily things that you can become exceptional at if you invest a sufficient amount of time and attention into.
Talents, Clifton wrote, are your “naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behaviour.” Talents are innate abilities that you can productively apply and become exceptional good at with practice. To turn talents into strengths however, you need to invest time and attention into them.
The formula of talent x investment = strength is at the heart of this strengths finder instrument. The framing is thus unique in that it aims to identify the things that would become strengths if you invest in them. This means you need to invest in a talent for it to become a strength, which is the right way of framing the problem.
The CliftonStrengths report ranks you with regards to the 34 CliftonStrengths themes. The assessment is made up of 177 pairs of self-descriptors that lie on a continuum. You will choose the descriptor that you feel describes your personality the best within a limited time frame. This report is not free and costs $49.99 USD.
VIA Character Strengths Survey
The VIA survey is a free, scientifically validated survey that is regarded as a central tool for positive psychology. Researchers value it as as a research tool because it has adopted the theoretical approach. They have adopted this instrument in hundreds of research studies and over 11 million individuals in over 190 countries have completed the survey.
In addition to the free survey, it is possible to pay for a more comprehensive report. The report provides a deeper and richer assessment of your unique strengths; and provides guidance on how you can harness those strengths effectively in your life.
The VIA survey is comprised of 24 character strengths. The instrument assumes that we all have these character strengths in varying degrees. It is the unique constellation of these that make up our unique character. Each of the character strengths falls under one of the six broad virtue categories of Wisdom, Justice, Humanity, Courage, Temperance & Transcendence. The 24 character strengths include:
Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence; Bravery; Creativity; Curiosity; Fairness; Forgiveness; Gratitude; Honesty; Hope; Humility; Humour; Good Judgement; Kindness; Leadership; Love; Love of Learning; Perseverance; Perspective; Prudence; Self-Regulation; Spirituality; Social Intelligence; Teamwork; and Zest
The theoretical approach is evident in the articulation of these character strengths. The VIA survey is clearly more calibrated towards more abstract questions of character than the other assessments I listed.
The VIA survey has been criticised on a number of counts, including overlap of character strengths. It probably has too much repetitive details. But this is not necessarily a bad thing because every detail provides the opportunity for reflection.
Using Strengths Finders and Care & Growth
A good Strengths Finder assessment is a very useful tool. I have personally been able to organise my work life more effectively by making use of them. One of their most profound uses however is as a tool to enable your direct reports when you occupy a leadership position.
We argue that the job of every leader is Care & Growth. This is first and foremost an assertion about the leaders intent rather than their actions. A leader earns legitimacy by making his people and their growth his end, because he cares. Under these conditions you earn legitimacy because your people give it to you.
They do so when they recognise that you can be trusted. This means that they recognise that you are sincere with them; you do not see them as a means to your end. This sincerity of your intent to serve your people is demonstrated over time. However, this trust is also quite a fragile thing and can be easily broken.
It is possible to break this trust even when you are sincerely trying your best for the person. This tends to happen when you fail to develop a proper understanding of who the person is and what they are best suited to be doing. This is part of the reason why leaders should invest time in getting to know their people well. Strengths finders are an excellent tool for getting to know your people and avoiding this potential pitfall.
Using Strengths Finders When Assigning Tasks
In my own experience, leaders very often struggle with identifying meaningful growth paths for their direct reports. Firstly, one of the most obvious mistakes a leader can make when trying to grow someone is to try and force them into a role that does not suite them. Leaders do this all the time. Indeed I am guilty of making this mistake on numerous occasions. I have thrown subordinates into roles that are really not a natural fit for them out of a zealous enthusiasm for their growth.
The outcome of this is predictably messy. Clearly, smashing a square peg into a round hole damages both the peg and the hole. If this is what you consistently try to do with a person, then neither the job nor the person are going to appreciate you for it in the long run. You even run the risk of damaging trust; even if your sincere intent is to grow the person. It is actually possible to undermine your own intent like this.
Eloquently navigating this challenge as a leader starts with getting to know your people. You need to know their abilities and you need to understand where they have an ability ceiling. More importantly, you need to understand under what conditions they will truly flourish. When you understand this, you will be able to set them up for success and ultimately build trust. Strengths finders are immensely helpful for this.
Using Strengths Finders When Setting up Tasks
Remaining clear on what growth can mean is very difficult in results orientated environments. Unfortunately, most corporate environments are results orientated.
Typically, in a results orientated environment, roles & responsibilities are set up solely in relation to the desired result. Leaders set roles and responsibilities up in an impersonal manner. They don’t explicitly think about how the tasks involved contribute to the growth and development of the person who actually does the job. This does not mean that they have no concern for employee development. But, it does mean that this is not their main priority. The leader sets up tasks like this because his/her main priority is achieving a result.
Unfortunately, this limits the options for what growth can mean for the person doing the job. Therefore, when the leader then works very hard at having developmental discussions with his/her people, the outcomes of those discussions will be limited. The leader who does this has already limited the possible growth paths simply by the way he/she has set up the task. The most that can be done is to move a person around between different, rigid roles.
This approach unfortunately disables the possibilities of setting role & responsibilities up in a way that delivers the results, whilst consciously harnessing the strengths of the person doing the job. We open up a whole host of possibilities that are otherwise hidden when we introduce this dimension into the discussion. This opens up the possibility that we can set the task up to play on a person’s strengths and produce the same result. Strengths finders are wonderful instruments to facilitate this sort of discussion.
This beautifully reflects a transition in the intent of the leader. The leader now demonstrates the intent to grow the person in the way he/she sets up the task.