Many years ago, I took a strengthsfinder and career path test. This seemed weird at the time because I was 17 and had pretty much no idea what I wanted to do.
Each question was very bizarre:
- “Do you like to write?”
- “Do you enjoy being around animals?”
- “Do you feel good while using clay to sculpt?”
- “Are you passionate about kids?”
My results were equally as peculiar: Male Nurse, Architect, Engineer, and Concrete Mason.
These results were supposed to show my strengths and provide a career path. Instead, the test just threw out a bunch of random jobs that looked like the lineup for the Village People based on the interests of a 17-year-old kid.
The problem with these tests is they are designed for individuals who are unchanging and static. For the average Joe or Jane who watches 6 hours a TV every day and goes to a job they tolerate for 40+ years and then retires; they work fine.
These tests focus on who you are right now. Not who you want to be and what you want to do. They don’t integrate important factors such as your values and the environment you grew up in.
If you are a dynamic and constantly developing person than you are going to need a different solution.
What follows below is a strengthsfinder for the dynamic, growing leader who understands who they are today and they will be in 10 years is massively different.
If you actually do the exercises and spend some time with these questions, you’ll have a solid understanding of your unique strength profile. So when new opportunities come up, such as a job offer, business deal or entrepreneurial opportunity, you will know if it is right for you and if you will succeed in the new environment.
Doing these exercises will also allow you to understand those around you so that you can build a team of people who complement your skill-set and push you to the next level.
What Are Your Strengths?
We all understand that the easiest path to success is following the career which builds upon your distinctive strengths.
You don’t have to look any further than the Forbes 100 List to find a group of people who stick to their guns and build their careers around areas of expertise.
It doesn’t make any sense for someone who hates numbers and is bad at math to be an accountant. Likewise, it makes no sense for someone who is an extroverted people-person to spend a life in cubicle-isolation. There are so many examples of people who get good at the wrong things and then spend a lifetime tolerating a job that just to "pay the bills."
Need An Example?
Mark Cuban has built his career around strength. He is utterly fantastic at a few valuable (and rare) skills and admittedly comically bad at others.
What most people don't realize he is very disorganized (especially for a billionaire investor). While starting his first company, his accounting techniques consisted of a shoe box of receipts, which lead to a series of accounting disasters.
Even today he wakes up and has no idea what’s on his schedule until his assistant tells him. Cuban sticks to his strengths (selling and technology) and let’s other people handle his weaknesses (organization). In his 20’s, he understood this weakness and found business partners who complimented him. His results speak volumes about this approach.
A Combining Old and New Strategies
The problem with most strengths-based finders is that they look exclusively at the person you are today, excluding your developmental years and forgetting your future goals. This approach is different and builds off the programs, courses, and books I have used to help clients figure out their unique strengths and build a career around them.
The goal of this exercise is to create a small list of qualities, values, interests that will help guide you as you progress in your career.
Use the diagram and the steps below to get started.
Step 1. Get Clear About Your Unique Personality
A while back my buddy Martin from Idea Lemon sent me a Myers-Briggs personality test that could be done in less than 15 minutes. I thought “there is no way this can tell me anything about myself,” but I did it anyway.
After looking at the results, I thought “this is SO not me”... (Especially when I found I had the same personality as John Cusack) From there I asked my girlfriend, and she immediately started laughing.
Her response? “This is SO you!”
I was staring at my own personality and didn’t even recognize it.
Most people have the same reaction when they see their results; it’s only after bringing it to a close friend or family member that it clicks.
The best way to do it? Take the Personality Test at 16personalities.com after reading this article. In exactly three weeks take the same test but in a different mood and compare the results.
If you get the same results, you’re set.
Now you have a great set of personality characteristics to build on. This will also give you a breakdown of your unique strengths based on your Myer's Briggs Personality.
INSIDER TIP: Use Evernote to keep track of these findings. It's a great tool for referencing documents, ideas and thoughts later.
Step 2. Removing Mr. Wonderful Syndrome With Compliments From Strangers
One of my friends has an appalling sense of entitlement. He believes he is God’s gift to the world and should have 6-figure job offers fall out of the sky onto his feet, while he rides through the streets of downtown on a chariot made of platinum (he is currently unemployed).
To make matters worse, he believes that he is a fantastic interviewer.
Because he assumes a high level of talent where he has none, he refuses to practice, prepare or do the work necessary to actually get a job. I find this strange considering he has been on 10+ interviews, 20+ coffee networking sessions and received exactly 0 job offers.
After every interview, he tells everyone “I nailed it” only to find out later that he didn’t get the job.
In other words, he is selling himself, but no one is buying.
If you grew up in modern western culture where you were praised for just about everything from taking a shit, to combing your hair, to drawing a few scribbles on a piece of paper, and every single day someone told you how special you are…. you probably have Mr. Wonderful syndrome.
If you watch Shark Tank, you know where this is going…
We’ve all seen the naive person from the small town who thinks they are going to become the next millionaire go on Shark Tank. Because a few friends have told them their product is a smash, they believe that they’ll be a millionaire, only to get eaten alive by Mr. Wonderful (Kevin O'Leary).
He doesn’t hold back and tells them everything they need to hear.
He points out every glaring weakness, makes fun of their business plan, throws in a semi-related story about Greek mythology, tells them their company has no value and then follows it up with a Canadian-cold “I’m out.”
Most of us have similar blind spots which must be removed. We mistake weakness for strength and don’t understand why. Because we are all magnificently bad at this, we need a different approach.
Ask yourself “ What have multiple strangers complimented me on?”
The beauty is in the simplicity of the question.
Strangers don’t know you. They are not invested in your future, don’t have to deal with you every day and have little to gain from you. They are perhaps the only group of people in your life, who can provide honest compliments (your mom doesn’t count). Their comments come as unbiased, unfiltered feedback.
Strangers see you the exact same way the rest of the world does.
For example, my buddy Andrew get’s consistently complimented on his maturity, smile and ability to speak clearly. This means he’s got great interpersonal skills and people like talking with him (strength). He’s probably not going to perform his best if he spends 8+ hours each day in a cube, by himself facing a screen and not interacting with people (weakness).
Once again, ask yourself “ What have multiple strangers complimented me on?”
Think about it and write down 3-5 compliments you consistently get from strangers.
Step 3. Through Feedback Analysis
According to Peter Drucker of the Harvard Business review, there is only one way to determine your strengths and that’s through feedback analysis. It’s hard to disagree with a man that essentially created the modern MBA.
Here’s how to do it: Keep a running journal or use a spreadsheet to track your thoughts. Before making any decision (especially big ones) write down your thoughts and predictions about what’s going to happen. Especially write down your thoughts about people and your gut reaction to them. 3-6 months later, compare what happened compared to what you thought would happen.
So for example, before taking a job at a new company, write down the different factors, questions, and predictions that weigh into the decision. Do you like the people? What do you think will happen? What will your contribution be? How does the organization value you? How do you fit in? Etc.
“Practiced consistently, this simple method will show you within a fairly short period of time, maybe two or three years, where your strengths lie - and this is the most important thing to know. This method will show you what you are doing or failing to do that deprives you of the full benefits of your strengths. It will show you where you are not particularly competent. And finally, it will show you where you have no strength and cannot perform.”
Drucker admits that it will take a few years but in the end, you’ll have the best gift of all, a firm understanding of who you are. From there you can continue to build your career around strength.
Step 4: Find Your values
Your strengths must be in alignment with your values. This final piece of the puzzle is often overlooked and is the most important.
Perhaps the best middle linebacker of the past decade retired at age 29. Patrick Willis is an absolute freak of nature. He looks like a cartoon character, runs like Usain Bolt and hits with the force of an 18 wheeler. Patrick Willis was made to play football by the athletic gods and has played at the highest level for nearly a decade. There’s just one major issue.
His values have changed.
Willis no longer wants to play football because he values his longevity, health (both mental and physical) and wellness over collecting a paycheck for 10 million USD each year. He understands that there is more to life than being a pro athlete.
His values have changed. So even though his strengths lead him to football, he no longer values that career path.
This happens to many of us. We get good at the wrong things and spend a lifetime doing work that conflicts with our values.
If you are going to build the good life, your career, strengths, and values must be in alignment.
Your values are a signpost and act like a guiding light in dark times. When you are challenged with a tough decision, look at your values and then ask yourself does this decision put me in alignment with my values? Or is it taking me away from them?
So, what are your values?
You find your values by understanding how you judge yourself and other people. Look at the qualities you admire in other people and the one’s you like about yourself. This question will provide a good set of criteria for finding your own values.
Ask yourself: What type of person do I want to see in the mirror each morning?
It is going to take some time, but well worth it. Write down your values on the same sheet of paper (or in Evernote) from the steps listed above. Start with a list of 5 core values and plaster it to a wall near where you work.
Your unique strengths and career path is where all of these intersect (see diagram above). In this intersection, you’ll find strength, passion, and wealth while creating a career that lasts.
The best business people, entrepreneurs, athletes and spiritual leaders all follow this general formula. People like Steve Jobs, Michael Jordan, Richard Branson, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates built their careers around their unique strengths. If you hope to have a career that resembles theirs, it starts with strength.
Step 1: Take the Myer's Briggs Personality test at 16Personalities.com
Step 2: Remove Mr. Wonderful Syndrome and ask yourself: "What have multiple strangers complimented me on?"
Step 3: Keep a daily journal and use feedback analysis to find your strengths and areas of incompetence.
Step 4: Write down your values. Start with a list of 5 core values and plaster it on your wall.
This is not a sexy 5-minute abs solution. It takes time and energy to figure out your unique strengths, but it’s worth the effort.
As the Ancient Chinese proverb goes:
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is NOW.“ Start planting tomorrow's seeds today and reap the rewards down the road.
Find your strengths and build your career, life, relationships around them.
- Drucker, P. (2008). Managing oneself. Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business Press.
- Drucker, P. (2001). The essential Drucker: Selections from the management works of Peter F. Drucker. New York: HarperBusiness.
- [Television series episode]. In Shark Tank.
- Cuban, Mark (2012). Winning At the Sport of Business
- Free personality test, type descriptions, relationship and career advice | 16Personalities. (n.d.). Retrieved May 12, 2015, from http://www.16personalities.com/