I’ve just finished reading a provocative book entitled, The StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath, who heads up the Gallup organization’s workplace consulting business.
In this role, he guides Gallup’s practices and research on employee engagement, selection, strengths-based development, leadership and well-being. His first book, How Full Is Your Bucket?, was a New York Times bestseller. StrengthsFinder 2.0 and a follow-up book, Strengths-based Leadership, have been big hits, too.
Back in 1998 a prominent psychologist, Donald O. Clifton, PhD (1924-2003), along with Tom Rath and a team of scientists at Gallup, created the online StrengthsFinder assessment, which they included in the first edition of Now, Discover Your Strengths, in 2001. Then in 2007, Rath and the Gallup scientists released a new edition of the assessment program and website, dubbed StrengthsFinder 2.0, which is the only exposure I have had to the StrengthsFinder program. I think it is fascinating and full of good insights for anyone looking for career or personal advice or for those in managerial positions working with others.
One of the sad things that seems to be occurring in all industries today is the lack of mentoring. It seems that everyone is too busy in their jobs to take the time to help others advance their careers.
The thesis of the StrengthsFinder programs has to do with helping people discover their strengths so that they can live fuller and more productive lives. All of us have weaknesses, but according to Rath we seem too often to spend more time shoring up our weaknesses when we should be spending more time developing our strengths.
For instance, many salespeople and sales managers are not good numbers people, but they are good with people and they know how to get in to see customers and make sales. Too often a sales manager will get upset with a salesperson because she doesn’t do a good job of adding up her expenses, instead of helping her maximize her gifts at her real job.
According to Rath, Gallup has surveyed more than 10 million people worldwide on the topic of employee engagement. According to its findings, only about a third of those surveyed would strongly agree with the statement, “At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.” If that statistic is accurate, think of the waste of manpower and productivity that represents.
But there is more troublesome data. In a poll of more than 1,000 people, among those who “strongly disagreed” or “disagreed” with that “what I do best” statement, not one person was emotionally engaged on the job. That figure should give all of us pause! How many caregivers do you think on a day-to-day basis are actually emotionally engaged in their work? It's something to think about and just maybe accounts for the fact there are so many medical errors made in our healthcare institutions.
Thank goodness there is another side to this matter. Rath tells us that people who do have the opportunity to focus on their strengths every day are six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs and more than three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life in general. That also proves to me that an organization’s culture can have a profound effect on employee attitudes. If it is a positive culture, then all kind of things can be accomplished. If it’s negative, progress is impossible.
The Gallup research also shows that managers who focus on people’s strengths can make a dramatic difference in the workplace. In a study done back in 2005, Gallup compared what happens when managers primarily focus on employees’ strengths, on their weaknesses or just plain ignored employees. It was found that if a manager totally ignored employees, 40 percent of them will be actively disengaged in their jobs. If a manager focuses on employees’ weaknesses, 20 percent will be disengaged. Only 1 percent of workers will be disengaged if the boss focuses on employees’ strengths.
The problem is that too often, bosses are trained to focus on employees’ weaknesses, not their strengths. Negative reinforcement is a fact of life in many corporations, mainly because it is easier to see shortcomings than assets. Positive mentoring, based on maximizing skills and knowledge, is quite rare.
Rath’s book is filled with all sorts of ideas about how to improve on one’s strengths and live a fulfilling life by following your dream. People should pursue careers that play to their strengths but fulfill their deepest desires. Nobody should retire wondering why he spent so much time pursuing a career that wasted so much precious time on Earth.
We should all be aware that we as individuals can have a great deal of influence on others’ lives whether they be friends, colleagues or family. By helping others recognize their strengths, we can help people fulfill their destinies and that, after all, should be great satisfaction for any of us.
“Most people think they know what they are good at. They are usually wrong...And yet, a person can perform only from strength.”
– Peter Drucker (1909-2005)