Having met a significant milestone in a multi-year project, it’s time to assess whether I am doing what I do best and where I do it best. For me, this involves re-assessing my talents using several “go-to” resources and to consider a tune-up with a career coach.
One of those go-to resources is Gallup’s work and that of Don Clifton, the father of strengths-based psychology. Gallup’s and Clifton’s research reached many of us via two books: (1) First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently (Simon and Schuster, 1999) by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman and (2) Now, Discover Your Strengths (The Free Press, 2001) by Buckhingham and Don Clifton.
Gallup uses surveys to collect metrics on employee engagement, retention, productivity, and other variables impacting workplace performance. One extensive survey included the statement “At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.” A key findings was that getting to do what you do best–i.e., where you recognize your talents, use them, and develop your strengths–is the sweet spot for engaged exceptional performance. Several other findings that resonate strongly with my own experience and work with others:
- Our talents don’t change, they tend to sharpen and deepen.
- It’s more powerful to know our strengths than our weaknesses.
- A strength is defined as anything that energizes us-it’s not just something we are good at.
The framework for doing what you do best is defined by talents, which are your naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior; knowledge, which consists of facts and lessons learned; and skills, which are the steps of an activity.
So what’s the first step in knowing what we do best? I suggest one or all of these starting points:
- For the price of the book Now, Discover Your Strengths (The Free Press, 2001), you can use the code provided to avail yourself of the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment that reveals your talent themes. Another useful (and free) resource is Martin Seligman’s “Authentic Happiness Signature Strengths” survey, which identifies what he calls your signature strengths. You will likely find a strong correlation between the two instruments.
- Conduct your initial exploration with a traditional, hands-in-dirt (or panning for gold!) exercise using the “Seven Stories” exercise found in What Color Is Your Parachute (Ten Speed Press, 2010) by Richard Bolles. Choose seven significant life stories-professional or personal-where you had a sense of accomplishment. Career coach Barbara Herzog, Herzog Career Consulting, advises adding “[accomplishment or work] that you enjoyed doing” which aligns beautifully with Clifton and Gallup’s strength-based focus. For each story describe:
- The Goal: What I Wanted to Accomplish;
- The Hurdle/Obstacle or Constraint;
- What I Did, Step by Step;
- The Outcome/Result; and
- A Measurable, Quantifiable Statement about the story.
If you find your current work mix does not line up with what you are discovering, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to change careers or jobs. Begin to focus on shifting the mix in your current work. We are still going to have some tasks we might not prefer, but they don’t have to dominate our workday, nor become ours by default simply because we are good at them or we are in the habit of doing them. You might do as I’ve done (and periodically continue to do): engage a specialist–a career coach–to help you further refine your talents and name the fertile ground where you naturally flourish.
So, it’s time for me to get started with my professional talent inventory. How about you?
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