Several decades ago, Dr. Don Clifton, considered the father of positive psychology, posed the question: “What will happen when we think about what is right with people rather than fixating on what is wrong with them?”

From this question, he developed the 177-question survey now known as the CliftonStrengths Assessment (formerly Gallup StrengthsFinder). It’s still a bit of a novel concept. Too often we are told to work on improving weaknesses rather than playing to our strengths. For many years, standard business practice and employee evaluations focused on what people needed to improve. CliftonStrengths takes a different approach – understand what you’re not good at, intentionally focus on what comes to you naturally, and your success will increase exponentially.

What Dr. Clifton and his team identified were 34 distinct talent themes that we all have. Out of the 34, our top 10 talents are our superpowers and they determine how we approach tasks, interact with others and think. The advantage this tool has over other “personality” tests is that it is not, in fact, a personality test. What the results tell you is how YOUR brain is wired to perceive the world around you.

As a Strengths Coach, I help you interpret those results. While the completed survey provides a report and a variety of tools to further deepen your knowledge, those tools will not really help you understand how your talent themes work in concert. We are complex beings and the CliftonStrengths assessment lends credence to that.

While you may be able to put into words how you do what you do, the assessment gives you neutral language to explain your processes, so when you go into a job interview, or a career planning discussion, you can easily provide robust, concrete examples of your superpowers. Empowered with this information, you will also be able ask the right questions to identify and avoid situations that will not allow you to play to your strengths.

For example, if you’re reading this, it means I finally finished the blog Tami asked me to write for her website…over a month ago. Why has it taken me a while to get this done? Well, here’s the thing – even though I have a degree in Rhetoric & Professional Writing, the talent theme of Communication is not one of my top Strengths. This surprised me when I first completed the assessment. How can that be, I thought, when I successfully completed a writing degree? Yes, but the Strength of Communication means you can easily put your thoughts into words, you enjoy talking and expressing your thoughts. Me, not so much! Can I write? Sure, but I actually prefer to edit existing material. And I lead with Learner as my #2 strength, I am more inclined to communicate tangible information that I feel is of value. It does take me a bit to think through what to convey, and when I do figure it out, I’m communicating from the Teacher aspect of Learner to share knowledge.

But being asked to write this post did make me ponder — how did I get here? I am finally in a role that absolutely plays to my strengths and makes me feel like a valued contributor. For much of my professional life, I’ve had imposter syndrome. You know that feeling where you’ve managed to somehow convince people you can do a task, but once you’re doing it, you start thinking, do I actually know what I’m doing? And even more importantly, is this really what I WANT to do?

My checkered educational and professional journey was the product of not fully embracing my strengths, partly because I didn’t completely understand them and partly from operating in the blind spot of Learner that is always worried about getting bored. I’ve learned that we all continue to develop and grow, and even though it’s taken time, I’m now in a place where what I’m doing plays fully to my strengths. Besides Learner, Arranger and Analytical, I lead with relationship building strengths. I thoroughly enjoy reviewing client’s profiles and helping them understand their superpowers and how they are applying them, whether with intent or subconsciously. My “why” is helping people understand that it’s okay to go down a not so fitting path, because once you understand your Strengths, you can figure out what path is right for YOU. And even with a high level of self-awareness, your Strengths profile provides a tangible way to get to the next level, so you can go in the direction that maximizes your innate abilities and leads you to success and fulfillment. Self-awareness is layered and multi-faceted, and helping others understand the full scope of their natural abilities and how to intentionally apply them brings me deep fulfillment.

I’m beyond grateful that someone pointed me towards an opportunity that played to my strengths, and above all that I had the courage to make the change. The best use of my superpowers is helping others understand their own and how to apply them to reach their full potential. My top 10: Arranger – Learner – Responsibility – Individualization – Analytical – Connectedness – Relator  – Harmony – Developer – Input.

Bio: With 20+ years as a professional in the corporate environment, Renate has had the fortune of working with a wide range of experience levels since becoming a coach, from student interns to upper-level managers with accolades from both. Tailoring her approach to each person and bringing to light their own natural gifts and how to apply them is her priority for clients striving for fulfillment in both career and life.


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