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EarthAsylum Weblog by Kevin Burkholder Thursday, April 9, 2009
Strengths, Talent and the One Thing Kevin Sunday, July 1, 2007 On strengths A strength is a naturally occurring talent multiplied by knowledge and skill. Knowledge is that which is learned. Skill is knowledge put to practice. Knowledge and skill increase with experience, education, and use. Content

On strengths

A strength is a naturally occurring talent multiplied by knowledge and skill.

Knowledge is that which is learned.

Skill is knowledge put to practice.

Knowledge and skill increase with experience, education, and use.

Talent is inborn. It is a natural propensity. It cannot be learned.

Talent alone is not enough. A person may have a natural propensity towards music (or art, or sports) but without practice and education, the talent goes to waste.

You may have a talent towards communication but without practical use, experience, knowledge and skill, your talent does little for you.

Strengths, weaknesses and the 80/20 rule.

Spend 80 percent of your time working on strengths (talent), 20 percent on weaknesses.

In the time you spend on your own development, concentrate most of your time (80%) on your natural talents. This will bring you the greatest success, satisfaction and fulfillment. Spend 20% of that time becoming aware of and overcoming your weaknesses.

Not everyone can be successful at anything. The old (American) adage that “if you work hard enough you can be whatever you want” is false. You can do anything you have talent for. You can achieve high levels of success in areas in which you can apply your talents. Wanting isn’t enough - unless what you want coincides with your talent or you can use your talents in achieving what you want.

Strengths, life and the path of least resistance.

As in nature, all things follow the path of least resistance; your path of least resistance is in your talents. It is what comes natural to you. It is the calm waters with the wind filling your sail taking you to your best possible self.

Discover and do what you are meant to do. It is the easiest and most rewarding path you can take.

Step outside of this path and you struggle. It’s the stormy waters, it’s sailing against the wind. It’s working, struggling, fighting for little gain or satisfaction.

We all have to do things that we are not talented at, in which we have a weakness, or which we just don’t like. If these things are taking too much of our time, we are off course, we are off of our path, and we are being dragged down. These things take our energy and give little reward.

The one thing you need to know

For Sustained Individual Success (from Markus Buckingham’s book “the one thing you need to know”)

Discover what you don’t like doing and stop doing it

What is Sustained Individual Success?

  1. Sustained Success is making the greatest possible impact over the longest period of time.
    1. Requires that you take your natural talents and your enthusiasm and apply yourself to learning role-specific skills and knowledge. [Strength = Talent (Knowledge + Skills)]
    2. “Something special must leave the room when you leave the room.” – P. Drucker

Contenders for the “one thing”

  1. Find the right tactics and employ them.
    1. Doesn’t tell you how to avoid becoming a commodity.
    2. You have different strengths, weaknesses, interests, background, and experience.
    3. Your individuality, not the process, must be the focus.
  2. Find your flaws and fix them
    1. The most commonly held view in the US.
    2. Falsely assumes your greatest room for growth is in your areas of weakness.
    3. You will not, in fact, learn the most in the areas of your weakness.
    4. You will not feel most energized and challenged when fixing your flaws.
  3. Discover your strengths and cultivate them.
    1. Strengths are a consistent part of your personality.
    2. You are most successful when your strengths mesh with the challenge facing you.
    3. Focusing on strengths will lead to success. Finding roles that play to, or building your roles around your strengths will bring about success.
    4. Success will bring about changes – new challenges, responsibilities, and opportunities. Many tempting, but few that continue to use your strengths.
    5. Those changes that don’t play to your strengths, innocuous as they may seem, will actually start to drag you off your best path.
    6. To sustain your success, you must keep yourself alert to subtle changes and take action to correct your course.


  1. It doesn’t matter if you like your work; you just have to be good at it.
    1. You may well be good at activities you don’t enjoy, but your enjoyment is the fuel to keep practicing, to keep stretching, investing, and pushing yourself to greater levels.
  2. You need a little difficulty in your life, a little grit. No grit, no pearl.
    1. Grit will only grind you down. Time spent in an activity that grates on you is poorly invested time. You will learn little and it will leave you weaker.
  3. Only those already successful have the luxury of cutting their dislikes out of their job.
    1. This is backwards. People who are successful became so because they were unwilling to tolerate aspects of their jobs they didn’t like. Their intolerance caused their success.

What percentage of your day do you spend doing those things you really like?

  1. To sustain your success, assess where and how you are spending your time.
  2. When the answer to this question is below 70 percent, identify the activities getting in the way and take action to remove them.
  3. The more effective you are at this, the more creative, resilient, valuable, and thus the more successful you are.

Quit the role, tweak the role, seek out the right partners, or find an aspect of the role that brings you strength. The longer you put up with aspects of your work you don’t like, the less successful you will be. So, as far as you are able, and as quickly as you can, stop doing them and then see what the best of you, now focused and unfettered, can achieve.


My Strength Themes Kevin Friday, June 1, 2007 According to the Gallup StrengthsFinder assessment, my top 5 strengths or strength themes are Intellection, Adaptability, Connectedness, Strategic, and Input. So, what is a “strength” or a “strength theme”? Tale Content

According to the Gallup StrengthsFinder assessment, my top 5 strengths or strength themes are Intellection, Adaptability, Connectedness, Strategic, and Input.

So, what is a “strength” or a “strength theme”?

Talent is, according to Gallup, a naturally recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior. Knowledge is that which is learned, and skill is knowledge put into practice.

Strength is talent multiplied by knowledge and skill.

When we speak of a “strength” or “strength theme” we’re speaking of one of the 34 “themes” developed by Gallup for their StrengthFinder assessment. Although, using our definitions above, these are really “talent” themes as apposed to “strength” themes. The StrengthsFinder is designed to identify “naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior”.

That there is only 34 defined themes does not limit the population to a specific set of strengths or talents. I’m sure there are other people in the world with the exact same top 5 strength themes as myself. Does that mean that they’re the same as me?

Hardly. Discovering your strength themes is only the beginning. It’s opening the door to further exploration and insight. Everybody develops and uses their strengths in accordance with their own personality, life style, and circumstances. Thus these “themes” are just that – themes or underlying qualities.

To truly understand your strength themes takes, first, awareness, then continued observation of your own actions and preferences as well as reflection on how your strengths manifest themselves in your daily life.

While I won’t go into all 34 themes in this article, here is a list of those themes and you can find out more at The Clifton StrengthFinder Center.

As I discuss my strength themes, first let me say that the definitions and discussions offered by Gallup go into much greater detail than the short descriptions I’m providing here.

1. Intellection

“People strong in the Intellection theme are characterized by their intellectual activity. They are introspective and appreciate intellectual discussions.”

2. Adaptability

“People strong in the Adaptability theme prefer to "go with the flow." They tend to be "now" people who take things as they come and discover the future one day at a time.”

3. Connectedness

“People strong in the Connectedness theme have faith in the links between all things. They believe there are few coincidences and that almost every event has a reason.”

4. Strategic

“People strong in the Strategic theme create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.”

5. Input

“People strong in the Input theme have a craving to know more. Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information.”

My first two thoughts after reading a bit about these strength themes were 1) in regard to Intellection – isn’t everybody like this? And 2) in regard to Adaptability and Strategic – aren’t these a contradiction?

Particularly with our top strength theme, it may be so ingrained in us that we pretty much assume that it is a natural human quality and not something that is unique to ourselves.

While, on one hand, I may say “isn’t everybody like this?” Others will say “wow, there’s really people like that.”

In regard to the Adaptability and Strategic themes – this was an early eye opener for me. I know I’m a very adaptable person. I easily “go with the flow” and rarely make detailed plans in my daily life. Days have a life of their own and even if I plan out my day, early on those plans go out the window because things happen and I adapt.

On the other hand, I also know that I can be very strategic. I see the potential future results of plans and actions taken today and can base decisions on what I see in the future. Throw Connectedness into it, I can see (connect) plans with results that others may think are totally unrelated.

In most cases, Adaptability trumps Strategic. What I learned was that, when necessary, I had to be deliberately strategic. I had to consciously put aside my adaptable tendencies in order to allow myself to be strategic.

Input and Intellection kind of go hand in hand and I see them manifesting themselves on a daily basis. I like to read and I like to read about new things that, for whatever reason, pique my interest and give me reason to think.

Here’s an example of what very often happens... I’m looking up information about a particular open-source software package on the Internet. I find the site I’m looking for and I’m reading all about the software (far more than I needed to know at that time). As I’m reading, I come across the bios on the developers. I find out one of the developers is from Vienna, Austria. The next thing I know, I’m reading the history of Austria when I finally shake my head and say “wait a minute, all I needed to know was how to use a certain function in the software.”

Now let me tell you about the “circle of death”.

My “Input” theme means, for me, that I like information. In particular, I like information about people. I like to talk with people. Actually, I like to listen to people – especially when they’re telling me something about themselves.

My “Intellection” theme, in this case, makes me think about what someone has told me. After a conversation, I will most likely be thinking about what you said and reflecting on the information you gave me.

And, of course, I’ll “Connect” that with other things that I know about you or other situations we’ve shared together or past conversations we’ve had together.

After all of this reflection, I may adapt myself to the “new” information I now know about you and I may treat you, react to you, or think about you differently (this shouldn’t be construed as a bad thing, rather this is a better understanding of who you are).

I may also develop new “Strategies” for the future of our relationship (depending on what that relationship is, of course).

Lastly, given all of this new information, I’m going to want to know more. I need more input. And the cycle starts over.

Chances are, if I let this out of control, you’re going to get tired of me, even frustrated with me (some of you know exactly what I mean). On the other hand, when I keep this to a healthy level, we are very likely to develop a decent inter-personal relationship and a good understanding of each other.

Something I value but maybe others don’t. So I have to adapt.

I hope these examples show both the value and the detriment of Strengths. Remember, talent is a “naturally recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior”. As such, strengths are what comes naturally. It is important and advantageous to learn what your talents are and to develop them in to strengths. It’s equally important to know when and how to use your strengths to achieve the greatest effectiveness in your life. Something I’m still learning (and adapting to) every day.


Coffee Break - Strengths Kevin Friday, June 1, 2007 “A true friend knows your weaknesses but shows you your strengths; feels your fears but fortifies your faith; sees your anxieties but frees your spirit; recognizes your disabilities but emphasizes your possibilities.” -- William A Content

“A true friend knows your weaknesses but shows you your strengths; feels your fears but fortifies your faith; sees your anxieties but frees your spirit; recognizes your disabilities but emphasizes your possibilities.”

-- William Arthur Ward

“At times, our strengths propel us so far forward we can no longer endure our weaknesses and perish from them.”

-- Friedrich Nietzsche

“Success is achieved by developing our strengths, not by eliminating our weaknesses”

-- Marilyn vos Savant

“Nothing can be more absurd than the practice that prevails in our country of men and women not following the same pursuits with all their strengths and with one mind, for thus, the state instead of being whole is reduced to half.”

-- Plato

“Enter every activity without giving mental recognition to the possibility of defeat. Concentrate on your strengths, instead of your weaknesses... on your powers, instead of your problems.”

-- Paul J. Meyer

“If human beings are perceived as potentials rather than problems, as possessing strengths instead of weaknesses, as unlimited rather that dull and unresponsive, then they thrive and grow to their capabilities.”

-- Barbara Bush

“In examining the potential of individuals, we must focus on their strengths and not just their mistakes. We cannot be limited by what they may have spilled in the kitchen.”

-- William Pollard

“A man who has never lost himself in a cause bigger than himself has missed one of life's mountaintop experiences. Only in losing himself does he find himself. Only then does he discover all the latent strengths he never knew he had and which otherwise would have remained dormant.”

-- Richard M. Nixon

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

-- Charles Darwin

“Some of the best business and nonprofit CEOs I've worked with over a sixty-five-year consulting career were not stereotypical leaders. They were all over the map in terms of their personalities, attitudes, values, strengths, and weaknesses.”

-- Peter Drucker

“Willingness to change is a strength, even if it means plunging part of the company into total confusion for a while.”

-- Jack Welch

“There are two ways of exerting one's strength: one is pushing down, the other is pulling up.”

-- Booker T Washington

“When I dare to be powerful - to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid”

-- Audre Lorde

“"Great management is not about changing people. Great managers take people as is and then focus on releasing their talents.”

-- Marcus Buckingham

“The best strategy for building a competitive organization is to help individuals become more of who they are.”

-- Marcus Buckingham

What Are Your Strengths? Kevin Friday, May 4, 2007 There seems to be a renewed focus, in some circles, on strengths and “the strengths revolution”. Mostly caused by Marcus Buckingham’s new book “Go Put Your Strengths To Work” and his promotional tour.I had the opportunity to attend one of his ea Content

There seems to be a renewed focus, in some circles, on strengths and “the strengths revolution”. Mostly caused by Marcus Buckingham’s new book “Go Put Your Strengths To Work” and his promotional tour.

I had the opportunity to attend one of his early seminars in this tour and was quite impressed with his passion and his presentation.

One of the more depressing facts that he brought out was that since he and Donald Clifton started this so-called strengths revolution, the numbers have gone down.

For example, in 2000, when asked, “which do you think will help you be most successful?” Only 41% of the respondents answered “building on your strengths” while 59% answered “fixing weaknesses”.

In 2006, the numbers were 37% and 63% respectively.

A 2005 survey showed that only 17% of people spend most of their day playing to their strengths.

In 2006, the number was 14%.

And here’s the one that really kicked me... When asked “When you talk with your manager about your performance what do you spend most time talking about?” - this is what we see:

Only 24% even talk about their strengths.

It’s surprising, yet it’s not. What I’ve seen is that, when being honest, people can readily tell you what their weaknesses are, what they don’t do well. But ask them what their strengths are, and they really have to think about it to come up with an answer.

Our obsession with weaknesses is so ingrained in us that we can’t break away. It started in childhood - whenever there was something that you weren’t good at in school, it became the focus of your (and your parent’s and your teacher’s) attention. Which gets more attention, the A or the F?

(Here’s a thought for parents... find out what strengths were used to produce that A and then figure out how to use those strengths to help pull up the F – don’t ask “why the F?”, ask “why the A?”).

I’ve spent a fair amount of time talking with people about strengths. Particularly, strengths at work. During my conversations, most people seem to understand the power and benefits of focusing on strengths yet nothing gets done. It’s not today’s priority. It’s not a hot item to work on. Yet it’s been shown time and time that focusing on strengths can increase productivity, increase profitability, increase customer satisfaction, decrease employee turnover, and decrease safety incidents – dramatically!

So we just don’t get it. Or maybe we get it, we just don’t know what to do with it. Many of you may have heard my criticism in the past that all of the books from Gallup and Buckingham that focus on strengths always tell us what we need to do – but they don’t tell us how to do it. I think that’s where we get stuck. It makes sense, but how do we implement a strengths based performance program? What does it mean to “discover your strengths”? How can I focus on my strengths when I have to get this (whatever “this” may be) done today?

I think that maybe the best way I can help answer some of these questions is to share my own strengths and my own observations (positive and negative).

I’ll go through my 5 top strengths – according to the Clifton Strengths Finder assessment – and share some of the experiences I’ve had in regard to those strengths...

(Intellection, Adaptability, Connectedness, Strategic, and Input) month.

In the mean time, let me share a few more statistics from Buckingham’s presentation...

Why did you take your current Job?

How often do you feel an emotional high from your work?

Do you have the freedom to modify your job to fit your strengths better?

It seems that conventional wisdom tells us that building on strengths at work may be an appealing theory but it won’t actually work. Too many people would be running to their manager or to Human Resources and complain that they’re hindered from sculpting their job in a manner that best suites their strengths, or that they’re simply in the wrong position and that they should be transferred (say, to CEO, or something more suitable).

However, when a national sample of the workforce were asked what their ideal job is, 60% answered “what I’m doing now with increased responsibility” or “a specialized subset of what I’m doing now”. Only 31% indicated a different job.

Asked why they took their current job and most answer “a greater opportunity to do more of what I like to do.

Asked how often they feel an emotional high, and 51% say “about once a week.

Ask them whether they have had the chance to modify their role to fit their strengths and 50% agree that they do.

What this says is that we’re really not that far off. Sure many of us are grossly miscast. But most of us have at least some control over our own activities and most of us are in suitable roles for our strengths.

What the numbers show is that organizations don’t need to re-align jobs and individuals don’t need to hold out for the perfect or “dream” job. Instead, the challenge is:

“How can we gradually but deliberately increase how often each person plays to his strengths? How can we get people from ‘once a week’ to ‘most of the time’?

The Abilities of Peak Performers Kevin Friday, May 4, 2007 According to a 19-year study conducted by Charles Garfield, Author of the widely acclaimed Peak Performance trilogy: Peak Performers, Team Management and Second to None, there are ten make-or-break abilities that all peak performers have.Mr. Garfield sta Content

According to a 19-year study conducted by Charles Garfield, Author of the widely acclaimed Peak Performance trilogy: Peak Performers, Team Management and Second to None, there are ten make-or-break abilities that all peak performers have.

Mr. Garfield started by asking executives and managers to name the most outstanding leaders in their fields. He then conducted in-depth interviews with the 310 persons who were most frequently mentioned and as a result he identified the following ten attributes of peak performers.

1. Setting Goals

Peak performer, according to Garfield, set long-range goals and chart-detailed plans to achieve them. They analyze the steps they will need to achieve their goals, and what’s involved in each.

2. Upgrading Goals

Peak performers don’t just meet their goals. They constantly upgrade the goals once they met them. They use a progressive goal-setting method. As soon as one target or quota is met, they set a new, more difficult goal. They are always looking for ways to get out of the comfort zone.

3. Seeking Feedback

Peak performers seek expert advice and feedback more often than the average. They build a far-flung network of experts to rely on. They ask a lot of questions before making decisions and they are not shy in seeking the opinions of other people.

4. Risk Taking

Most good managers begin by researching a risk thoroughly. Some also turn to their support network asking for advice. The peak performers, however, go two steps further. First, they identify the worst possible outcome of taking the risk and see if they can live with it. This helps them to move ahead without having self-doubt. Secondly, they ask what would be the worst thing that could happen if they didn’t take the risk. Having these two questions answered is most helpful in making the decision.

5. Self Confidence

Garfield says, “Interestingly, I never heard the word ‘failure’ during my research. I heard ‘glitch’ or ‘screw up’ but never ‘failure.’ Peak performers develop a higher self-confidence because : 1. They so thoroughly prepare for all consequences. 2. They keep a running inventory of their strong points, and think back of times when their strengths helped them come through.

6. Pushing Ideas

Peak performers push longer and harder to get good ideas implemented. They don’t take the first, or second, no for an answer. The reason for this is that they have done sufficient research to be committed to their stake in the idea.

7. Responsibility and Control

Peak performers are always on the prowl for ways to expand the boundaries of their job well. They look for new ways to do their, and others’, jobs better.

8. Solving, Not Blaming

When something goes wrong, the average manager rushes to find a culprit, and affix blame. The result is that people around her/him become adept at protecting themselves. The peak performer approaches problems with a focus on solutions, not punishment. This encourages creativity in people.

9. Rehearsing

Peak performers rehearse much more than the average performers. “The actor who has rehearsed it 50 times is more likely to give a winning performance than the one who has gone over it three times.”

10. A Sense of Mission

without exception, the peak performers Garfield studied had a strong sense of mission. It isn’t money, fame, or glory they’re driven by. Rather, the most immediate impetus is a deep enjoyment of their work. A passion for work is what fuels true greatness.

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