Are You Operating in Your Strengths Zone?

One of the most important questions you can ever ask yourself is this, “What are my strengths?” Knowing the answer is the key to job satisfaction.

A Young Superhero - Photo courtesy of ©, Image #14444389

Photo courtesy of ©

It will determine how fast you advance in your career and, more importantly, how happy you are in your job—and perhaps your life.

Unfortunately, most of us have been trained to think first about our weaknesses. For example,

  • Teachers pointed out our errors and marked them with a red pen.
  • Parents scanned our report cards and focused on those subjects where we needed to improve.
  • Employers have noted our weaknesses and discussed them at our annual performance review, often under the heading, “Opportunities for Improvement.”

I used to do the same thing with my direct reports. I thought I was being helpful. As a leader, I thought that this was my role.

Then I read, Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton’s bestseller, Now, Discover Your Strengths. At the time, both men worked for Gallup. The book was based on their research there.

They had a simple but powerful thesis. The best way to get ahead in your career and be satisfied in your job is to focus on developing your strengths. No matter how hard you try, you really can’t improve your weaknesses. You are wasting time and energy trying to do so. The best thing you can do is discover your strengths and then find a role that allows you to use them.

At the time I read this, it was revolutionary. It still is.

In their extensive research, Buckingham and Clifton identified 34 different strength themes. They also developed an online strengths assessment that identified your five top strengths.

Since the book originally came out, Buckingham left Gallup and went on to write several more bestsellers. Sadly, Clifton passed away.

However, Tom Rath, another Gallup employee, picked up the torch and refined the research. He used the results from the four million people who took the first test to develop an even more accurate, reliable, and faster assessment tool.

In 2007, he wrote a follow-up book called StrengthsFinder 2.0, documenting his research. Gallup then made the new assessment available online, renaming it “Clifton StrengthsFinder 2.0” in honor of Donald Clifton.

The last time I took the test was more than four years ago. However, I review the results annually to make sure that I am still operating in “my strengths zone.”

I was especially interested in doing it this year in light of my transition from CEO of Thomas Nelson to my new role as a full-time writer and speaker. My top five strengths, along with the descriptions I received in the customized report are:

  1. Achiever: People who are especially talented in the Achiever theme have a great deal of stamina and work hard. They take great satisfaction from being busy and productive.
  2. Intellection: People who are especially talented in the Intellection theme are characterized by their intellectual activity. They are introspective and appreciate intellectual discussions.
  3. Strategic: People who are especially talented in the Strategic theme create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.
  4. Futuristic: People who are especially talented in the Futuristic theme are inspired by the future and what could be. They inspire others with their visions of the future.
  5. Relator: People who are especially talented in the Relator theme enjoy close relationships with others. They find deep satisfaction in working hard with friends to achieve a goal.

This was a good reminder for me. My goal is to stay focused on my strengths and say “no” to everything else or delegate it to someone else who is better equipped to handle it. The more I do this, the more productive and satisfied I will be.

After reviewing the list, I think I have more alignment between my strengths and my role than ever before.

But what about you? Do you know what your strengths are? Does your current job give you an opportunity to express them? If not, could this be why you feel so little satisfaction in your career?

You can start operating in your strengths zone by taking these five steps:

  1. Buy the StrengthsFinder 2.0 book and take the test. Inside the book, you will find an “access key” that enables you to take the online assessment.
  2. Review your customized report and reflect on your strengths. Ask, “How well do these strengths describe me?” Now ask those who know you best the same question. What do they say?
  3. Evaluate your current job in light of your strengths. Objectively speaking, what strengths does your job require? Do you have these strengths? On a scale of 1-10, how satisfied are you in your role?
  4. Develop a strategy to align your strengths and your job. This will likely require you to start focusing on those aspects of your job where you can express your strengths and delegate, negotiate, or offload the rest. In some cases, it may mean looking for a new opportunity.
  5. Share your strengths with your colleagues. Tell them you want to focus on your strengths, so that you can make your greatest contribution to them and the team. If they know your strengths, they can help you find opportunities to express them.

If you really want to develop a strengths-based culture, have your entire team (even your family) take the test and then discuss how you can get everyone focused on their strengths. You can even use this as a basis for recruiting people with strengths you may be missing. In the end, you and your team will be more productive and more happy.

Questions: What would operating more out of your strengths make possible? If you have taken the test, what are your top five strengths? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Bob Tiede

    Question:  Looking at your hand is the real strength of your hand collectively what each of your fingers does individually?  or is it how your five fingers work instinctively together?  Obviously the later!  Applying this same paradigm to your top five strengths–do you think the real strengths of a person is simply the collection of their top five strengths or is it how their top five strengths instinctively work together to accomplish great things?  It is a great question to contemplate:  How do your top five strengths work instinctively together to accomplish great things?  Your answer will allow you to take a giant leap forward in knowing how to leverage your strengths. 

    • Jason Stambaugh

      This is an interesting observation. I was pondering that yesterday as I reviewed my top 5 strengths (Strategic, Ideation, Achiever, Input, Activator).

  • Peter Huang

    Hi,I’m Peter from Indonesia. I think this is a very interesting article, unfortunately I have searched the bookstores in my country that are specialized in selling imported book and they don’t have this book. And to buy it from amazon will require a credit card, something i don’t have for now >.< 

  • Vanessa Tachenko

    Another thought provoking read! I have added the book you recommend to my “Need to Read” list! 

  • Sharon Gibson

    If more people would do this and more companies would focus on this, there would be a huge increase in productivity, creativity and job satisfaction.

    I decided that this year I’m going to focus more on my areas of strength and your post reinforced that. It’s a relief not to worry about my weaknesses and go with the strengths. The timing for the reinforcement is good for me. 

    Thank you!

    • Jim Martin

      Sharon, best wishes for the New Year as you focus on your areas of strength.  No doubt you are right.  If more of us would focus on this there would be greater productivity, creativity, and job satisfaction.

      • Sharon Gibson

        Thank you for your good wishes, encouragement and affirmation. I appreciate it!

  • PoulAndreassen

    There are certain
    things you do not realize until you read them, and through your article I have
    come to realize those few but interesting and effective way to leadership.

    My goal is to stay focused
    on my strengths yes this is true we as humans are always tend to stay focus on
    our weaknesses. The best way to get ahead in your career and
    be satisfied in your job is to focus on developing your strengths.

    Thanks once again!!

  • Pierre Muller

    Hi Michael,
    I appreciated this specific blog.
    I just want to mention to you that I used your link – to Amazon – to try and buy the book. I unfortunatly couldn’t find the Kindle version. I eventually had to re-login and search for it.
    Pierre Muller
    South Africa

    • Pierre Muller

      Maybe I must just add that I did find the Kindle version in the end. They e-mailed me my code and I did the on-line test this morning. Am planning to read through my feedback tonight.

      • Joe Lalonde

        We’re glad to hear you were able to find the Kindle version and take the test. If you feel like it, please share your results.

  • Christophe Pletschet

    I like the Strenghtfinder very much! My strengths are: Focus, Input, Learning, Restorative and Significance. I also have the christian spin-off on my bookshelf:
    “Living Your Strengths: Discover Your God-Given Talents and Inspire Your Community”. Nice one too!

  • Jeff Randleman

    Excellent information!

    I’ve never used the Strength Finder system, but I have taken other types of strength inventories.  One church I worked with hired a consultant for each new staff member to see how they fit into the staff dynamics.  Some of the best information about myself I ever received!

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  • Ben Emerson

    Strategic, Ideation, Activator, Adaptability, Communication.

    I loved taking that test. my confidence in work jumped afterwards.

    Have you ever taken a look at Strengths Based Leadership? It is super helpful for learning how teams can function well.

    • Barry Hill

      I am with you! Discovering what you were created to do gives you a boost of energy, motivation and confidence!

  • Juan Romero

    My Too 5…

    Adaptability - People who are especially talented 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.

    Connectedness - People who are especially talented 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.

    Woo - People who are especially talented in the Woo theme love the challenge of meeting new people and winning them over. They derive satisfaction from breaking the ice and making a connection with another person.

    Includer - People who are especially talented in the Includer theme are accepting of others. They show awareness of those who feel left out, and make an effort to include them.

    Ideation - People who are especially talented in the Ideation theme are fascinated by ideas. They are able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.

  • Anonymous

    This is great advice, and I look forward to buying the book. I’m a small business owner. After building our business four years ago, it crashed in 2010. In the process of rebuilding, I’ve learned the need to lean into my strengths. I’ve worked really hard over the past year to focus more on managing and growing a business without getting sidetracked by trying to do everything. But the hardest part of that is not having someone to delegate to. Either I can’t afford to hire the staff, or can’t find the right person to fill the need. How to others in a growing company do it? I think we’re on the right path, but always value the feedback of others, especially in this community.

    • John Tiller

      Allen, congratulations for having the courage to rebuild and recognizing that you needed to make some changes! Hiring staff on a minimal budget is one of the toughest issues that every entrepreneur faces when growing a company. Michael wrote a great article here about how to hire administrative help that you can afford. I used this method when rebuilding my small business after a crash and the business now runs without me. I hope this helps!

  • Mark Smith

    I became acquainted with this when a client listed his top five strengths in his e-mail signature, and thus dismissed it as yet another fad. However, a job loss led me to a career coach who had me take the StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment as part of the discovery process. My top five came in as: Context, Responsibility, Communication, Restorative and Ideation. The Personalized Insights for each strength described me so perfectly it was scary.

    My challenge is mapping these to a line of work; is there a tool for StrengthsFinder similar to the Career Match Report in DISC? The coaching process did a good job of identifying calling, but identifying specific companies and positions where I can operate in my strengths has been frustratingly elusive.

    • Mark Smith

      Sort of answered my own question by reading StandOut and taking the assessment, which includes some examples but not a bulleted list of occupations. The top two Strengths Roles came in as 1) Creator and 2) Influencer. I enjoyed answering the questions and some of the humor used; many of the questions were similar to what I encountered in the past. And while some of the suggested occupations seemed a bit of a stretch (sports agent? really??), this process bolstered my courage to lean into my dream more and start thinking on how to make it happen.

  • Ruby Brown

    Michael, your posts are very interesting and helpful.  Also, I enjoy reading the comments of other writers.  Thank you very much for your willingness to share. 

  • Chuck Harris

    My top 5 are 


    I’m just trying to find a position where I can truly operate in those strengths. Don’t know if teaching school is that, but it’s where God has me right now in this season.

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  • Keri Wyatt Kent

    Reading this book and taking the test helped me tremendously. My husband and I took it together and took a class at our church to learn more. It improved our understanding of one another, and helped us each to think about career direction. I’m blogging about it today in response to your post, hoping to direct people your way. This time of year, we all come up with self-improvement plans, and to often, these plans focus on our weaknesses instead of our strengths. Thanks for an important reminder!

    • Keri Wyatt Kent

      Oh, by the way, the link to my blog is:

    • Joe Lalonde

      Congratulations on taking the test and finding out your strengths. I’m glad to hear it has strengthened your marriage.

  • Melinda Doster

    I have taken the Strengthsfinder 2.0 test, and had the team I lead take it as well.  It is an excellent tool and with the help of an Organization Development Director in our company, I have implemented further training for my team.  We are learning not only how to focus on our strengths as individuals, but also how to focus on each other’s strengths and draw from those in our daily work.
    Your article was excellent.  I must admit, however, that there was one comment with which I disagree: “No matter how hard you try, you really can’t improve your weaknesses. You are wasting time and energy to do so.”   I have found just the opposite to be true in many cases.  But perhaps I’ve misunderstood what you mean.  Can you enlighten me a bit?

    Thanks so much!

  • Juan Romero


    • Barry Hill

      Juan! #1 Adaptability—me too! I am always interested in how the supporting strengths feed into adaptability people. thanks for sharing!

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  • Johan Murillo

    Does the Kindle version of StrenghtsFinder 2.0 include the access key too?

    • Joe Lalonde

      I researched the question and the key should be sent to your device shortly after downloading the book.

      • Johan Murillo

        Thank you so much Joe. Pura Vida! ;)

      • TNeal

        So is the access key available if you order a used book? I wasn’t even aware of the access key (although it makes sense as an added value).

        • Chris Patton

          Tom, I am pretty sure each key is for a one-time use. I would bet that you have to order a new book to get a working key. I could be wrong…

          • TNeal

            That’s helpful to know. Makes the full price worth it. Thanks, Chris.

        • Michael Hyatt

          I doubt it.

          • TNeal

            I ordered a new book. Almost went Kindle version but would like to have the hardcover so bought one new. Thanks for the link, Michael.

          • Joe Lalonde

            Great to hear you decided to go with the new book. If you ordered a used copy, you may or may not have received one with a valid code. It would all depend on whether or not the previous owner(s) had taken the assessment.

  • Stephan De Villiers

    Great Post, Thanks!  You make an important point about focusing on your strengths as opposed to your weaknesses.  By focusing on your weaknesses to try an improve them will only result in a neglect of your strengths causing you to become mediocre instead of excellent by strengthening your strengths.

  • TNeal

    I ordered the book so I’m curious to see the direction my strengths would suggest. Thanks, Mike, for sharing the information and the link.

    • Jason Stambaugh

      Great! I hope that the insights help you to reach new heights in 2012. 

  • Mark S. R. Peterson

    Thanks, Michael, I took the
    Strengthsfinder test about a year ago and it completely changed the way I looked
    at myself and how I operated. Oddly enough, you and I share three of the same
    strengths: futuristic, strategic, and achiever. My other two are Ideation and
    Focus. I highly recommend anyone who is looking to improve their skills to read
    this book and take the test.

  • Fernando Almeida

    I did my strengths test last year and found it quite helpful in better understanding the ways of my strengths. As I result I read another powerful book from the same authors “Strengths Based Leadership” and it was great to reflect on how the strengths can influence on our leadership and we can actually increase our effectiveness as leaders by operating within our strengths as much as possible.

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  • Aanuoluwapo Awosanmi

    inspiring piece!

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  • dave warner

    thanks Michael, I value your referrals. I did purchase strengthsfinders and your book on Kindle this morning. Goal is to finish both by next weekend. 

    • Michael Hyatt

      Great. Let us know what your strengths are and any insights you got.

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