with Your Strengths
By Donald O. Clifton
& Paula Nelson
When I picked this book
out at the library, I thought it was a new one in the “strengths” series
book begins with a parable of the rabbit who went to animal school.
He did great at running and jumping, but climbing wasn’t so good,
flying wasn’t even a possibility, and swimming not only terrified and nearly
drowned him, but it humiliated him in front of all the other animals.
He went home hoping his parents would understand and help, but they said
he had to get a diploma. So, the
next day, he went in to talk to the guidance counselor.
The counselor diagnosed that he didn’t like school because he wasn’t
doing well in swimming, so she arranged for him not to go to running any more
(after all, he was doing fine there), and to take TWO periods of swimming!
Of course, the parable
illustrates the point that the
Chapter 3 starts with the
story of John Portman, internationally acclaimed architect (
How many principals would
say that today?
What would such a young
person’s decision do his system’s test scores?
How many systems still
have such courses available?
Hints of strengths:
Pick an area that
utilizes strengths and pursue it. “It
may sound charming that young Mary or Tom is active in a dozen different
activities, but it is the child who develops an area of talent and perfects it
who excels, not the dilettante.” P.
60. And, according to college
admissions officers, it’s the child who focuses who presents the best
Any strength worth
pursuing is worth pursuing to excess. Dr.
Benjamin Bloom’s work at Northwester suggested 10-17 years from the beginning
of the pursuit of an activity to world cass competency.
Practice it. Visualize it.
Remember and relive successes. Write
about it. Talk about it. Stay on the
manage to minimize impact
Hints of weaknesses:
Do it as little as possible.
Find ways to engage others for
whom it is a strength.
Develop and use support systems
and tools to compensate, e.g. – become a zealot for a time management system
if action is a weakness
Find an alternative approach
that employs a strength
“Mark Twain told a
wonderful story about one man’s searc for the world’s greatest general.
The man spent an entire lifetime looking for the general and finally the
day came for him to travel on. When
he arrived in heaven he walked over to St. Peter and said, ‘I’m looking for
the world’s greatest general.’”
“St. Peter said, ‘I
know, I know, we’ve been expecting you, and I have good news.
If you’ll look right over there, you will see the world’s greatest
“The old man excitedly
looked over and said, ‘That is not the world’s greatest general.
That man was a cobbler on main street in my hometown!’”
“St. Peter responded,
“But had he been a general, he would have been the greatest general ever.”
As parents, Teresa and I
have tried to help our boys find the places, activities, and subjects where they
excel. I suspect that’s what most
parents, when we parent the best, want for our children.
And it’s what society wants for all children.
Shouldn’t schools seek to help students find their strengths and manage
their weaknesses? If a student gets
to the end of his senior year and
has the school failed?
Should that student graduate? What’s
the minimum performance in algebra that should be acceptable for him to be
called a high school graduate?
Chapter 5 (p. 105) makes
the point that strengths develop best when employed in an endeavor to which the
individual has a great deal of emotional commitment – a mission.
Great business leaders recognize this also.
Ray Kroc said that, to be successful at McDonald’s, you had to be able
to see the beauty in a hamburger bun. Mission
is the source of passion, that elusive element that David Maister points to as
setting some groups of professionals apart from the rest.
Chapter 6 (p. 123)
suggests that strengths develop only in relationships.
The authors suggest we could all use a “personal board of directors”
and give nine principles for managing relationships.
I understand these as:
When faced with a
negative relationship, ACT! Either
get out, or manage it to minimize its impact on you, the other, and those around
you. Management can include
minimizing contact, changing a communication method, new job description or
anything else that restructures the relationship so both parties stop damaging
Magic or Catalyst
President George W. Bush
has made “the soft bigotry of low expectations” famous.
The federal law known as “No Child Left Behind” has school systems
across the country in an uproar as educators and board members bash it as
unrealistic in its expectations. I’ve
had board members tell me they believe it is a Republican attempt to destroy
public schools. But I have also had
some with inside knowledge say that the Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) provisions
that are creating much of the anguish were actually demanded by Senators Kennedy
and Lieberman at the urging of “liberal” groups.
These groups did so not to force schools to fail, but out of the
“expectations as magic” mind set: if
we just expect all students to be average or better at reading and math, they
magic; they cannot create strengths. How
many parents have expected their child
to share their strengths, or to have the strengths they didn’t, only to be
disappointed (!) in that child?
But when a perceptive and
significant person sees a strength in us, even one that has not yet fully
revealed itself in our actions, their expressed expectations can call that
strength forth. That is the power of
expectation. And, on the other hand,
the expectation that we will not show a strength can give us the excuse we need
to avoid the risk and effort of engaging a strength.
Here’s where the “soft bigotry of low expectations” rings so true.
celebrate, dance to the music!”
Finally, in chapter 8,
the authors focus on the importance of celebrations as both recognition and
reward for strengths put to productive use.
Or, as I suggest, Three Dog Night
had it right.
We all need to be
recognized for doing “our thing”, and doing it really well.
One of the beauties of the strengths format
1986, Nancy Philips, who was clearly a whiz at the computer keyboard, moved into
a data entry position at SRI Gallup. After
several months, we put in a computerized measurement program to track the number
of strokes inputted each month.
Celebrate what is
important in an organization. Find
ways to measure it, and make sure the celebration is of real achievement.
Acknowledge and attend to achievement in many ways, but be scrupulous
about focusing on REAL achievement, not pretend or politically motivated
Keeping it real requires
measurement: count it, survey it,
evaluate it against standards or in rank order, set goals for it.
And make sure “it” is something that is truly important in the