Can I Just Focus on my Strengths for Success?

Can I Just Focus on my Strengths for Success?

It is in vogue these days to focus on our strengths rather than try to get better at our weaknesses. This trend began with the book Strength Finders pioneered by Don Clifton, written by Tom Rath and published by Gallop. The premise of the book is that we all have strengths and weaknesses, but we would be better off if we spend our time and energy getting better at our strengths rather than working hard at bringing our weaknesses up to snuff. The book recommends that out of the 34 strengths tested, you should focus on your top five. This is where you will make the greatest contribution to your team and have the most success. Thousands of people have adopted this approach and have found great value and freedom.

I am not a critic of Strength Finders and their approach. I have gained awareness of my strengths and have learned how my team functions best when we work together. I have also grown in my strengths by embracing my strengths and pursing activities that enhance those strengths. Three of my five strengths fall in the “strategic” category which is why I am drawn to new ventures and startups. I am a fan of any tools that can bring about self-awareness.

The TotalSDI suite of assessments also talk about strengths but approach the subject quite differently. This is understandable because the SDI was designed to develop self-awareness that facilitates relationships primarily. Foundational to the SDI approach is facilitating trusting relationships with communication that is delivered to the heart of a person that enables success to take place. The SDI identifies 28 strengths (7 for each of the primary Motivational Value System’s) that are related to the MVS of a person. When taking the SDI, you are asked to order the 28 strengths on 9 lines to develop a diamond picture-graph. Those strengths that are on the top are your preferred strengths and most like you, those on the bottom are strengths you don’t use often and are least like you, and the ones in the middle are somewhat like you – are used occasionally.

Unlike Strength Finders, SDI emphasizes the need to use all the strengths, not just the ones that are “most like you”. For instance, you may be a person who is Confident and a Risk Taker, but to accomplish a task as a team, you may need to embrace a strength that you don’t find easy to embrace or exhibit – i.e. Methodical. Methodical looks at all the facts and may even require a lack of confidence if there was no process. This may be a stretch for such a person, but your team’s make up might value strengths that are different than your own. The lack of “Methodical” may derail your goals.

SDI places high value on relationships, because it is through relationships that things get done. Learning how to navigate relationships successfully will require an approach to strengths that embraces that which is neither natural nor easy. This is a skill that can be learned and improved upon.

One way to grow in the ability to use strengths that are not natural or easy but are needed to accomplish a goal, is to grow in understanding that strengths can be used by different people to accomplish different results. SDI teaches that each strength is used by different Motivational Value Systems for different reasons. By recognizing this, one can lean into using a difficult strength knowing it will accomplish their heart goal (MVS). For instance, a person motivated by People, might embrace the strength “Risk Taking” even though it is not natural or easy for them. Why? Because they can “risk” so that people will be helped by the results that could be achieved. It is in this reformatting of the use of the strength according to their MVS that helps the willingness to adopt a different strength.

For those who have had SDI training in understanding other people, please understand that the power of SDI is not just in understanding other people, but also in learning to utilize strengths that are not natural or easy for you. We can’t expect that everyone else will simply adapt to your preferences. Biblically, this concept is looking after the interest of others over your own interests (Phil 2).

God has created everyone uniquely. Both SDI and Strength Finders acknowledges this uniqueness and calls each person to understand their own unique strengths. I find great wisdom in working in my areas of strength as indicated by Strength Finders rather than spending my time trying to be stronger in my weaknesses (which I will probably always we weak). But I also understand that I must learn to use strengths that are not like me nor easy for me for the sake of my team and relationships. It is through relationships that most things are accomplished in life. This is particularly true in ministry contexts. May we learn to do this with humility and grace.

Bruce Terpstra

Our President, Dr. Bruce Terpstra, has 36 years of pastoral ministry experience. He is a veteran of 17 years in denominational leadership and developed more than 70 new churches in the New York metro area and has given oversight to almost 400 pastors. He holds a doctorate in Leadership Development and is also the founder of 3KeyCoaching and the author of Three Passions of the Soul.