Often when a client asks, "What do I do now that I've discovered my CliftonStrengths?" coaches automatically want to answer, "Name it. Claim it. Aim it." It's almost like a reflex. And while this is a helpful starting point, I urge you as coaches to embrace the potential for growth beyond these three steps.
It's easy to confuse "aiming" or applying a talent with truly developing one. While the two are connected, applying talent and developing it offer distinctly different possibilities. If we build our practice on believing in talent, the cornerstone of that belief is the lifelong development of talent -- from potential to performance. From what's possible to what's excellent. "Aiming" is simply the steps we take in-the-moment, a current-level zooming in of a much broader, lifelong pursuit of talent development. If you want to move along the continuum from talent to strength, it's not as simple as "aiming." Our greatest talents are powerful and volatile and require development to be applied.
Development is the continual journey. Aiming is taking the first step.
We all know that talents are not strengths until they are productively applied, but what does that mean? Does it mean that they aren't strengths until we aim them at a goal? Does practice, skills and knowledge always lead to strength? What if we practice a talent over and over again, but it is not fully or productively developed? To illustrate what I mean by this, say I am asked to make a three-pointer in basketball. If I consistently practice the shot wrong, I am not likely to find much success.
Or let's move away from the sports analogy. What if we are trying to apply our Command talent to win an election, but the more we use it, the more it gets us in trouble because we are "practicing" it wrong? We choose our words poorly, talk when we should listen, or lend our influence to conflicting causes. Like launching an over-filled water balloon, aiming undeveloped talent can make a big mess.
As coaches, one of our most important jobs is to ask questions that help our clients understand the maturity and usefulness of their talents. When do their talents lead them to optimal performance, and when do they trip them up? How are their outcomes different when their talents are at their best compared to when they fall flat? Finding the sum difference between the two may be a huge clue to how to further develop their strengths.
Coaches can ask questions that help clients focus on application while simultaneously considering the bigger picture of development. Some coaching questions and considerations may come out of a conversation after determining what "best" looks like when using a particular strength. Here are some ideas:
- What skills could you learn (or unlearn) to make this strength be at its best?
- What values do you have that bring passion to this strength?
- What people are you around when that strength is at its best? How can you be around them more? (and might I dare to ask …) Whom might it be best to not be around as much for this strength to flourish?
- What kind of culture brings out that strength and how can you position yourself better in that culture?
- How can you "polish" this strength to move it up to the next level?
- What do you need to stop doing for that strength to be a model for productivity?
- Whom do you know with that strength (who uses it for good) that you admire and could learn from?
- When have you felt badly about this strength? How could that be different?
- What other strength can you add to the one you are developing to make it magnificent?
- How can you measure the impact of your efforts to develop something good into something great?
Talent development offers infinite potential, but practicing a truly strengths-based outlook towards development means more and is much harder than merely applying our themes. It means we have to move beyond the three-step process of Naming, Claiming and Aiming. It means we are constantly curious about who we are at our best. And it means we stay tuned-in to times we fail. When we develop what we are already pretty darn good at, aiming that strength toward productivity could be the difference maker.
Consider your talents and what they might look like as they develop into strengths. Which talent theme would you start with? How would your performance be different if your potential translated into excellence? Now consider actions you could take to start this development. Sure, it might be as simple as taking action today, but you may need to stop and reflect, get feedback or just keep asking questions. The beauty of strengths-based development lies in this challenge: Do not simply aim at what's in front of you today. Transform yourself for greatness in all days.
Rosanne Liesveld's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Futuristic, Activator, Significance, Relator and Command.