Why Your Strengths Don’t Look Like Their Strengths

I’m new to Leadership Vision and new to the idea of Strengths. As part of my onboarding, I’ve been asked to write something about the things I’m learning. As I have been taking in all sorts of information about StrengthsFinder, one thing that jumps out is the uniqueness of each individual.

Often, teams or individuals will take the StrengthsFinder assessment, compare and contrast the Strengths present on their teams, and then move on with a superficial understanding. While this is a great starting point, strengths can show themselves differently in a colleague, spouse, or teammate. Your Activator may look very different from a friend’s, which is where a deeper understanding of the Themes of Strength is so important. This is why we, at Leadership Vision, apply a descriptive approach to understanding individuals’ Strengths. It reminds me of the groundbreaking research work led by Brian Nosek, a University of Virginia professor.

THE REPLICATION CRISIS

In August 2015, Nosek published the results of a study spanning decades of scientific research that would incite what’s become known as the “replication crisis.” This report, titled “Estimating the Reproducibility of Psychological Science,” revisited 100 of the most popular experiments in social psychology, and attempted to reproduce the results. Studies initially administered on the East Coast were replicated in California, a study on racial bias originally conducted in the American south was reproduced in Italy, etc. Of the 100 studies replicated, only thirty-nine brought about the same conclusions as the original studies!

Emotions ran high in the scientific community, and the world struggled to figure out how the scientific method could yield such disparity.

University of Pennsylvania professor, Eric Bradlow wasn’t so concerned. Bradlow raised the question of the environment in which the experiments were administered. In an interview with NPR’s Shankar Vedantam, Bradlow said, “requiring studies to match more-or-less perfectly before you believe that either is true is like requiring two reporters to cover a basketball game and come back with nearly identical stories. Exact replication is one of those mythological ivory tower things that doesn’t exist.

In measuring the human experience, there is no way to perfectly replicate a study, because there are no two environments that are the exactly same.

A woman in Costa Mesa has experienced a very different world than a man in Berlin. An upper-middle-class baby boomer is nostalgic in a way that may be foreign to a middle-class millennial. A CEO, and mother of two, and a bachelor sales rep on the same team may have grown up in different environments with different ethics, and have seemingly opposing objectives for their futures.

These differences in background and history are extremely significant when it comes to your StrengthsFinder results. A person with the StrengthsFinder Theme of Woo is typically labeled as outgoing and loud, but this social influence is only one way Woo presents in individuals. Someone who finds the word “Deliberative” in their [StrengthsFinder] results is typically labeled a “slow decision maker,” but paired with Strategic, this may not be the case. To prescribe a one-size-fits-all approach to individual Strengths misses all of the uniqueness of personal background, wiring, and environment.

Thus, at Leadership Vision, we steer away from this “prescriptive” interpretation of Strengths and instead focus on how the results help to better “describe” each individual.

DESCRIPTIVE NOT PRESCRIPTIVE

The odds that you share the same top five Themes of Strength as a friend are one in 33.4 million! But even among those with whom you share an identical top five, there are countless many factors that can cause your Talents (the building blocks in a Theme) to present themselves differently, and into a Strength.

No one will ever operate in their Strengths in quite the way you do. You cannot be replicated! Your upbringing, family structure, and culture all have a  profound impact on the way your Strengths have developed in you. Your dreams, goals, and how you’ve aligned yourself toward those things are all better understood through your Strengths. Similarly, they also affect how your Strengths continue to shape and mold your personality.

Instead of prescribing to companies which skill set to look for in the perfect accountant or which Strengths profile to promote through the ranks, our descriptive approach helps each member of each team we work with to perceive, celebrate and draw out the Strengths of their teammates and themselves. There are few things more disengaging than being pigeonholed based on one or two insights about yourself. Few things are more energizing than being understood for who you are as you grow in a working relationship with a group.

WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT YOU

Strengths provide us the relevant framework to begin a conversation about what’s good about you. When this framework is used as a foundation for individual-based team development, engagement grows. Though we all come from different backgrounds and have different dreams, everyone thrives when we operate in our Strengths. Everyone grows when we give each other permission to be the best versions of ourselves. When we focus on “what’s good” about each member of our team, our entire team can operate at a greater capacity. Additionally, individuals can find greater fulfillment in the work they do.

How has your unique personal climate shaped how your Strengths present themselves in your world today? How is your team leaning into the uniqueness of each individual based on Strengths?