Build On Your Strengths & Interests

“The effective executive looks upon people including himself as an opportunity. He knows that only strength produces results. Weakness only produces headaches – and the absence of weakness produces nothing.  He knows moreover, that the standard of any human group is set by the performance of the leaders.  And he, therefore, never allows leadership performance to be based on anything but true strength.”

- Peter Drucker, The Effective Executive

On Strengths

We achieve results by building on our strengths and the strengths of others, not by overcoming weaknesses. Similarly, we do our best work when we’re intrinsically interested in the task at hand, not because of external sticks and carrots. More on this second point in a bit.

Think of any incredible team, in movies, sports, business, or from your own personal experience. They succeed because each team member brings unique strengths that are then made productive. Ocean’s 11. X-men. Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet or “team of rivals.” The Lakers (at least in their championship years). Great teams are assembled based on complementary strengths.  No one tried to turn Shaquille O’Neal into a 3-point shooter - although his skills certainly needed work.

The insight here is that it is better to change your situation than to change yourself. Recognizing your strengths & interests and going where they are rewarded is the most effective way to get results.

As real estate investor and author John Reed says, "Don't be a weed."  Go where you strengths are appreciated and recognized.

On Interests

Not everyone will agree with me but I do think entrepreneurs need to be passionate about the customers they are helping (market) and work they are doing (role).  Why?  Anecdotally, I’ve asked every boss I’ve had what determines success as an entrepreneur and they all have said “tenaciousness.”  My observation of successful entrepreneurs I know personally is that they are “forces of nature.”  Surely, money is a motivating factor, but they live and breathe their business; they love doing what they do.  If it’s only money, fame or power that motivates you and not “love for the game,” I don’t know how you can sustain the effort necessary for long-term success.

Dan Pink has also documented this in his book Drive.  Many tests have shown that for simple and straightforward tasks, carrot and sticks work (i.e. money). But once tasks require conceptual, creative thinking, those motivators demonstrably don’t work.

So how can you pinpoint your strengths and interests?

One way is to list out your strengths and weaknesses or to ask your friends and colleagues for their opinions.  While this is better than doing nothing, I highly recommend taking strengths & interest tests based on data and research instead. Why? For one, it is difficult to articulate what moves you; the tests below give you the vocabulary to express specifically what you’re good at and interested in.  Also, the results will be less affected by your and your colleagues’ biases.

I recommend that you take the Career Leader test, which 96 out of the top 100 global MBA programs use for their students.  The test takes an hour and identifies your strongest business career interests, motivations and top career-relevant skills. It also prescribes career and organizational culture-matches that can help you look for your most effective roles and work environment.  It costs $95 USD but you can get your money back if you’re not satisfied.

I have found The Keirsey Temperament Sorter instructive to learning about my worldview. I see this as more of tool to let you know where your biases and blind spots are.  For example under the test I am classified as an Idealist, either as a “Teacher” or “Champion.”   This helped me realize my dominant and non-dominant modes of communicating (abstract) and acting (cooperative), which will be extremely helpful when I am looking for partners and employees.

A similar test is the Strong Interest Inventory, which identifies your personality type as Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, and Conventional. The idea behind this test is that “birds of a feather flock together.”  So I would be most compatible working in a Social environment, but also compatible with working in Enterprising or Artistic environments which are the two corners adjacent to my main personality type (very true).

The 6 Different Personality Types (Holland's Hexagon):

One other alternative is the Strengths Finder Test, popularized by the book of the same name, which is based on over 30 years of Gallup research on employee engagement.  You can get a free version of the test here and see the 34 distinct attributes here.  (I learned my five major themes were positivity, significance, developer, woo, and competition, which is pretty spot on).

What are your strengths and interests and how can you build them into your business?

Reading List:

Gallup summarizes its findings on Strengths-Based Development
Peter Drucker, The Effective Executive *
Daniel Pink, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What  Motivates Us
Richard Bolles, What Color is Your Parachute? *

* indicates Ebook is available through UpStartist MBA shared book folder

  • JaredW

    Two interesting points to me in the Motivation video: monetary incentives work great for 'effort' based tasks, but not creative tasks; and the necessity of 'purpose' in careers and other tasks.  How much creative greatness can you expect from someone who doesn't agree with the purpose of a task, and when monetary incentive doesn't work?  Purpose in a creative task overrides other incentives.

    When I'm bound to time constraints, specific deadlines, and a set budget, my goal is generally quicker completion of a task rather than producing the best possible product. I am willing to spend more time on something I am in alignment with the 'purpose', and recognize that my extra effort will make a difference in the way the project is received and utilized.

    Apparently I'm a Guardian Protector or Inspector (www.keirsey.com/personalityzone/wz19.asp), just like Kareem (2nd LA center reference of this page).

    • DarrenJoe

      I think it's tough to expect anyone to produce their best work when they can't see the purpose behind it.  

      My best bosses always got me excited about the big picture.  They made me feel like my work was critical for the organization to succeed.   We should definitely keep this in mind when managing employees but most importantly, in the hiring process.  If he or she doesn't feel aligned with your org's purpose, you're not going to get his or her best work.

      • JaredW

        Looking at the employee/management relationship, management can provide big picture purpose to inspire productivity, but also to bring out additional qualities from the staff that they may not know exist.

        Additionally, I've had a manager who never took an interest in getting to know my background despite my 5 years at the company before his arrival. How can you maximize potential when you're not familiar with your assets?  And when it finally did come up in conversation?  I asked and got a raise... ha.

        • DarrenJoe

          Yeah, you got to win the branding war as both an employee and entrepreneur - this means jumping on opportunities to showcase your strengths, so people will remember you for them.  Ideal situation: you are called upon and invaluable (i.e. can't be fired) because of your strengths.