Three steps to discovering your strengths

Sarah Brown, Guest Columnist
Sarah Brown, Guest Columnist

By Sarah Brown
Guest Columnist

Over the last few weeks, this column has been exploring how individuals can discover their basic interests, strengths, and needs.  In the quest to build this self-awareness, I have advocated a three-step process:

1. KNOW. Develop a small piece of knowledge about your interests, strengths and needs.

2. TEST it with someone who knows you well.

3. GO do something with your new insights.

I included some tips for employers on how they can support someone who has new insights on her interests, strengths, and needs. I also shared a story about how one person Su Knoll Horty developed this understanding of herself. It took several years, and she had an idea where to start.

But what if you do not know where to start? What if you do not have that kernel of knowledge to start TESTing with someone else and then taking action (the GO step)? There is help available in the form of assessments that can get you started. Here is a sampler:

1. Free assessments. There are many free assessments online that can help you assess what will make you happy and/or what your preferred strengths are.  Visit authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu for some simple assessments on what makes you happy. Similarly, Internet searches of basic personality questionnaires (MBTI®, DISC®, for example) will produce sites where you can take an abbreviated assessment for free.  This will definitely get you started on thinking about your strengths.  You can also download a free journal from www.knowthyselfguides.com for daily reflection questions that will help you to think about what makes you happy, successful or understood.

2. Comprehensive assessments for a fee. Probably the best known comprehensive assessments are MBTI®, DISC®, 16PF, the Birkman Method®, and Clifton’s StrengthsFinder.  All of these will do a good job of measuring interests and behavioral strengths. I believe the best one for assessing all three components (interests, strengths and needs) is the Birkman Method®, and this is what I use in my books. Except for StrengthsFinder, which is available through a best selling semi-customized book StrengthsFinder 2.0, getting the full value from any of these assessments will likely only be realized through a consultation with a trained consultant or in a fully customized self-help application like Know Thyself Guides®.

However you go about it, I suggest you spend considerable time and energy understanding your needs as well.  These include such things as how you want your colleagues to interact with you, what kind of relationship you need with your boss, what rewards and recognition work best for you and the pace at which you work best.

Peter Grow is an example of someone who worked through this process starting with a complete assessment in the form of a customized book. He uncovered that his interests and strengths were pointing him away from his then-current sales roles and toward more technical roles. In addition, the knowledge reinforced something he already knew deep down—that he needed a role that enabled him to work collaboratively with a team, rather than solo, and that he worked better when the pace was steady rather than the roller coaster of activity that was often the case in sales. Peter took the risk of changing careers and is now very happy as a technical operations analyst for Nemours.

I asked Peter what advice he would give to individuals embarking on a new career, and here is what he said:

“1. TEST. Utilize your coach. In my case, it was my wife. 2. A really good first step in taking action on self knowledge (GO) is to tell your network of friends and colleagues what you are learning and what you are trying to do career-wise. This enables them to start helping you. And 3.  Don’t be afraid to take what appears to be a step back.  I did that with my first technical role because it enabled me to develop some skills I did not have and to have some experiences I might not otherwise get. That enabled me to get the role I have now.”

Following this excellent advice from Peter Grow will no doubt make the process of developing self-awareness more enjoyable as well. ♦

Dr. Sarah E. Brown recently retired as a managing director of Accenture, where she focused on talent-management challenges for multinational corporations. She is now authoring a series of self-help books, available at www.knowthyselfguides.com.

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