What are your strengths and how can they impact your work? It’s important to learn how to sell using your talents and strengths to maximize your unique potential. In this podcast, I talk to Soar CEO and Global Strengths Evangelist, Paul Allen, about the importance of identifying and developing strengths.
In this article:
- Who Is Paul Allen?
- How Allen Discovered the Global Strengths Movement
- Why Did the Strengths Movement Begin?
- Development of StrengthsFinder Assessment
- What Are Talents and Strengths?
- How Do You Turn a Talent into a Strength?
- Busting Myths
- What Are the Four Talent Themes?
- What Differentiates Strength Finders from Other Similar Strengths Assessment?
- Success Stories
- Where Do You Start?
What Are Your Strengths? | Understanding and Using Your Strength in Sales
Strengths-Based Management and Leadership Approach Definition: A management and leadership strategy developed by psychologist Don Clifton. It aims to highlight people’s talents and empower them to use these to achieve success in the workplace. These talents are determined by an online assessment Clifton designed called StrenghtsFinder (now known as CliftonStrenghts).
Who Is Paul Allen?
Allen is modest about his beginnings, he shares that he was an “accidental entrepreneur” who had an insatiable love of learning and school. For a time, he was a professional student who aspired to be an educator like his parents.
But when he got married, he realized he finally needed a job. So, Allen got a part-time job working for his brother’s company, Folio.
Allen’s experience in his brother’s company led him to his path as an entrepreneur. Allen shares, “but six months into that job, a friend of mine offered to teach me programming, and within a year I became the top data processing engineer for the company, and so, that was my start in the high tech world.”
A few years after that, Allen started his first company.
Working at Folio, a search engine software company, taught Allen you can put all of the world’s information in a single data or info base. With the internet boom in the mid-90s, Allen recognized the untapped potential of the world wide web.
He put two and two together and came up with the search engine, ancestry.com.
How Allen Discovered the Global Strengths Movement
Allen confesses that he wasn’t aware of the strengths movement. He shares, “I’ve started 7 companies over 22 years and I had never heard of StrengthsFinder.”
After successfully launching We’re Related, a Facebook app with over 120 million users, Gallup, the company behind StrengthsFinder, contacted Allen. They wanted Allen to help make StrengthsFinder viral.
Allen remembers his amazement when he first took the StrengthsFinder test. After years in the industry, he’s never encountered a personality assessment with that kind of precision and insight.
“I mean I was in my mid-40s and I had never read anything about me that was so accurate. I’m like, this report knows me better than my wife, my mom, my best friend, my business partners,” Allen shares.
Allen started on as a consultant at Gallup. He connected them with social network companies in Silicon Valley and helped promote the movement worldwide.
Things were looking up for the company, but Jim Clifton, Donald Clifton’s son, had other ideas in mind. It wasn’t enough that StrengthsFinder was becoming viral.
Jim Clifton believed that a follow-up and coaching was integral to the movement. Allen explains, “It’s about people who can give you conversations and feedback and coach you on how you can use your strengths.”
So Allen’s mission took a bit of a turn. Instead of focusing on making StrengthsFinder become viral, he now had the task of recruiting a million coaches around the world who could help them enact their vision.
Why Did the Strengths Movement Begin?
Allen shares that the strengths movement aims to flip the conventional notions and perspectives held about human development and growth. He believes that human potential and growth are of the utmost importance, and yet there aren’t many organizations dedicated to nurturing these.
Drawing from his own experiences as a student and educator, Allen believes that over-standardization of our current educational system is flawed.
He shares, “Schools have a standardized, factory-model, cookie-cutter, you kind of march everybody through. They didn’t assess how much talent or potential you had at age five or even when you start college.”
Allen also adds that the movement was also in response to the traditional, sometimes skewed practice of modern psychology. Allen explains, “Psychiatrists are trying to figure out: what’s wrong with you, when did you get messed up, how do we fix you, and medicate you?”
Donald Clifton was aware of this and wanted to make a change. Instead of focusing on what was wrong with people, he wanted to find out what was right in them.
Donald Clifton pioneered the Strengths Theory as a psychology graduate student in 1952 and worked on it for over 50 years. He studied thousands of successful people and hundreds of different occupations to create a taxonomy of human talent.
Building on what Donald Clifton created, Allen and Gallup are harnessing the power of artificial intelligence, StrengthsFinder, and coaching to help millions of people around the world maximize their gifts and reach their unique potential.
Development of StrengthsFinder Assessment
Interestingly, Allen shares that StrengthsFinder actually started out as a 90-minute interview. Donald Clifton and his colleagues would converse with people and use the information they gained to identify their talents.
Unfortunately, this initial method of assessing strengths was difficult to replicate. A Harvard professor advised Donald Clifton to build an Internet assessment that could be completed in 30 minutes.
That’s what lead to the StrengthsFinder we know today.
What Are Talents and Strengths?
Allen defines talents as: “How do you think, act, and feel, naturally, without even trying in ways that could be productively applied.”
Essentially, talents are patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that come naturally to individuals. The StrengthsFinder assessment will help you identify your talents.
In Clifton’s model, talents can be transformed into strengths over time. Strengths are basically your talents in action.
Allen describes strengths as, “Repeated near-perfect performance in some area, so there’s really literally millions of strengths.”
How Do You Turn a Talent into a Strength?
Understanding and identifying your talents is an important first step, but you need to work on them constantly to reach your full potential. As an example, Allen shares that it takes 10-17 years of investment before you can become a world-class musician, chess player, athlete, or mathematician.
Allen believes, as Clifton did, that focus is an essential ingredient in reaching one’s potential. Allen stresses Donald Clifton’s advice about this:
- Identify and understand your talents
- Double down and invest in those areas
- Focus on what you’re good at and do more of it
- Identify your weaknesses and work around them
- Find partners or systems that can complement your strengths and make up for your weaknesses
Donald Clifton believed that if you invest in your strengths, excellence and recognition is inevitable. However, the first step is to answer this question: what are your strengths?
When you understand the strengths movement, you start to question and challenge common notions about human potential. According to Allen, a testament to this is the myth about people (especially Americans) believing they can be anything they want to be if they try hard enough.
Allen understands it’s a positive sentiment, but one that’s ultimately flawed and misleading. This kind of thinking neglects other factors to success, including:
It’s not just about hard work. These factors, along with others outside one’s control, determine success.
Allen clarifies that this isn’t a call not to work hard. For him, it’s just a message of becoming the best you by working within your strengths and potential.
Even if your great dream doesn’t pan out, there’s still room to achieve greatness, rewards, and recognition just by being the best version of yourself.
What Are the Four Talent Themes?
In this model, four talent themes serve as categories for the 34 talents:
- Strategic thinking
- Relationship building
Allen shares that he has many talents in the first category. Strategic thinking encompasses talents such as learning, ideation, intellection, and analytical thinking.
Allen believes that the relationship building category is an important one. People who have talents under this category are people-people who possess a great capability for empathy and who are likely to foster deep friendships.
Both Allen and I love working with people who have talents that fall under “executing.” People who possess talents under this theme, especially the “achiever” talent, love to-do lists and are experts at getting things done.
The fourth theme, “influencing,” is especially important for those who would like a career in sales. According to Allen, talents under this theme are really powerful in a sales role.
Communication and activator are examples of talents under this category, but the “woo” talent is especially interesting for salespeople.
Allen explains, “Woo is a famous one — winning others over. You like to be liked, you like to start conversations with strangers, you love to break the ice.”
But Allen explains that you don’t have to have a lot of influencing themed talents to be a successful salesperson. He shares resources that can be used to maximize their uniquely personal strengths.
Allen recommends the books, Strengths Based Selling and Discover Your Sales Strengths. These books allow you to modify your sales approach based on your unique set of talents.
Allen believes that salespeople should avoid simply copying the top salesperson in their company. He explains, “you’re wired different form them, [so] play to your strengths by understanding how you can use them in selling.”
What Differentiates StrengthsFinder from Other Similar Strengths Assessment?
Unlike other strengths assessment, StrengthsFinder is unique because of the support and follow-up services that are available. Allen believes that the advantage of Gallup is the availability of follow-up services through Soar.com.
Allen stresses, “You can’t do it on your own. You need an outside expert who’s really fluent in what ‘strengths’ is and how it plays out in different roles and in different teams.”
He shared that they’ve seen people who hired a Soar coach increase their productivity by 10% to as much as 30% after a few sessions.
One of Allen’s favorite success stories is Graham Weston, the 17-year Chairman of Rackspace. Weston claims that he’s been transformed by the Strengths Movement.
Weston discovered Donald Clifton’s Soar with Your Strengths in the 90s when his company only had 150 employees. After reading the book, Weston realized he could use the Strengths Approach with all of his employees.
It was life-changing for Weston and his business. He took it a step further and brought StrengthFinders and the philosophy of high-performing teams to his entire San Antonio community
Today, Rackspace has 7,000 employees and was sold for $4 billion last year.
Where Do You Start?
All of the information provided can be overwhelming, but Allen believes that you can start by reframing how you view human potential. He believes that it all begins with looking for what you and others already possess.
Allen suggests that it begins with the idea that every single person in your life, including yourself, have amazing talents and gifts and most of them are invisible.
It’s important to avoid focusing on the negatives. Even in performance reviews, the focus should be on what your employees are doing right.
Specifically, for managers or corporate leaders, Allen suggests:
- Give your team a chance to describe their successes or best moments
- Identify your team’s talents and figure out why they succeeded in those moments
- Give them opportunities to do more of what they’re good at
- Stop trying to change people into what you want them to be or into something they’re not
Allen shares, “I think that’s the root cause of most stress and burnout in the world — people expect us to be something that we’re not. And they ignore the best aspects and traits that we have and we don’t get to use them.”
Allen believes that many problems in organizations and in society would be solved if people were allowed to work on their talents. He also believes that a lot of talents go unnoticed, undetected, undeveloped, and unused, and sees this as a big problem.
We hope this post has helped you understand more about the Strengths Approach to Leadership and Management. This strategy calls for a change in mindset and practices—focusing on strengths instead of weaknesses—when motivating and evaluating employees. Start by answering this question: what are your strengths and how can you use these to make an impact in your organization?
What’s your take on the strengths philosophy? Do you find it useful for you and your team? Let us know in the comments section.
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Links and Resources Mentioned in This Episode: