Strengths are shaped by outside forces. Strengths are dynamic, not static; always shifting and moving, always growing and developing, always connecting and reconnecting. Strengths adapt and react to the shaping influences around them – the people, places, patterns, and processes in which you participate.
One of the greatest shaping influences that contribute to the maturing of my Strengths is a simple piece of furniture: a table.
When I was 22 years old, my mentor invited me to join him on a Wednesday morning at a local urban restaurant. When I approached the table for the first time, I was surprised to find four other men seated with my mentor. In front of each man was a cup of coffee, a notebook, random books, and pens and pencils. My mentor introduced me to the group and said, “Brian, we come here every Wednesday to help each other write our sermons.”
For the next five years, I sat at this table as much as I could. I felt alive, invigorated, challenged, and often confused. Each of these men were practicing pastors or priests with Ph.D.’s. They were experts in their field or professionals at the top of their game, and yet they practiced asking one another for help. They came from different cultures, different faith traditions, different educational systems, and different philosophical perspectives. Each man took his turn presenting a sermon topic, asked for help, and listened. All voices were heard, all perspectives were shared, and all had a shaping influence on each of the sermons being written. This weekly practice dramatically shaped me as a person, the way I think, and how I collaborate.
I am deeply grateful.
How My Strengths Took Shape at the Table
It was unknown to me then, but each of my Strengths were being shaped in a profound way while I was seated at this table. I did not contribute much to the conversations, but instead, sat there and wrote everything down. I am certain about one thing: what happened at the table shaped my thinking and influenced my leadership in ways no other life event has. Below are several examples of how my Strengths were shaped at the table.
My StrengthsFinder Theme of Futuristic was engaged because the very practice of sitting at the table was centered on an event in the future. The Strength of Futuristic orientates one’s current perspective by how clearly it sees the Future. From the moment we began our conversation, everything pointed to a future we were all trying to achieve. I knew that by the time we left the table, we would all be closer to a future reality by helping each other out. I experienced how future-focused decision making is done with others and not alone. My Strength of Futuristic learned to ask others to help make my vision a reality.
My StrengthsFinder Theme of Connectedness came to life because of all of the differences represented at the table. The Strength of Connectedness searches for meaning in the midst of dissimilarities and diversity. Perhaps the greatest shaping experience of all was the unique differences these men brought to the table. For me, the more diversity the better. At the table, my Strength of Connectedness found a place where differences were not only welcomed and embraced, but relied upon to create the best possible outcomes.
My StrengthsFinder Theme of Intellection was on overload because of the number of topics we discussed. The Strength of Intellection thinks and spins multiple thoughts at the same time, refining them in the process. The depth and complexity of the conversation was without limit, which fueled my thinking unlike any other context of my life. I learned to allow myself to think wildly and let my Strength of Intellection ‘loose’ to think into almost any topic without restriction.
My StrengthsFinder Theme of Strategic watched as these four men made quick decisions over and again, helping each other to refine the direction of their thinking. The Strength of Strategic enjoys making decisions among several variables. At the table, the men discussed options and opinions, challenged each other, then made decisions about their sermon topics, content, leadership, spouses, and family members. By being a member at this table, I was able to watch patterns of decision making emerge that influenced my Strengths of Strategic to this day.
My StrengthsFinder Theme of Competition enjoyed being at a table where everyone was playing the same game, yet in vastly different contexts. The Strength of Competition compares first to determine when and how to enter into something. At the table, we compared ideas, stories, philosophies, and experiences. There was an objective and collective push to work harder and become better each week. I found myself constantly comparing each man’s uniqueness to myself and pushing myself to improve week by week. This purposeful practice sharpened and shaped my own beliefs, writing, and professional parameters for being with and in front of people.
How to Take a Seat at the Table
A table has profoundly shaped my Strengths. My experience at this table also shaped why I believe strongly in our team sharing their perspectives, challenging each other, and openly asking for help as we work together in collaborative partnership. Symbolically, there is a large oval table in the center of our office space around which members of our team gather each day to share thoughts, ideas, laughter, and stories.
What have been the shaping influences of your Strengths? The experiences and people which shaped both your identity and direction of your life. I invite you to think not only of the experience, but also the people, the place, and the period of time the experience happened.
I also encourage you to think of the younger version of yourself – late teens, early to mid-twenties. Then reflect on the following questions and share your answers with someone at your ‘table’:
- What experience has both shaped your identity and influenced your direction?
- Who was involved and what was the lasting impression of this experience?
- Name three of your Strengths that benefited the most from this experience and why.