As coaches, the mindset we adopt greatly influences our clients' attitude toward failure and their ability to achieve transformational results. A big factor in adopting the right mindset is how we approach the difference between talents and strengths. Talents are not the same as strengths. In fact, strengths-based development is all about investing in talents to create strengths.
Talents are naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling and behavior that can be productively applied. A strength, on the other hand, is the ability to deliver consistent, near-perfect performance on a given task.
But before we can develop talents into strengths, we need to start with the right mindset.
For over 40 years, Carol Dweck, Lewis and Virginia Eaton professor of psychology at Stanford University, has been studying why some people break down in the face of challenges and do everything they can to avoid difficult work, while others thrive when they need to overcome obstacles, and they bounce back quickly after a failure.
She and her colleagues discovered that we can tie much of our striving and perseverance to a fixed or growth mindset.
- A fixed mindset is the belief that your characteristics, qualities and ability to achieve results are set in stone.
- A growth mindset is the belief that your ability to attain any outcome or desirable quality can only be achieved through dogged perseverance and stick-to-itiveness.
People with a fixed mindset:
- spend more time assessing their talents instead of developing them
- believe that just being innately talented in a particular area will, in and of itself, create great outcomes -- even if you don't put in much effort
- tend to blame their shortcomings on their talents, or lack thereof, rather than their efforts
- spend more time thinking about how they can appear talented than learning how to better deploy the talents they possess
People with a growth mindset:
- view talent as "just the beginning" of their journey to excellence
- push through adversity and bounce back quickly in the face of failure
- put more energy into learning from setbacks instead of using setbacks as a way to rate themselves
- achieve more than those with fixed mindsets
What does this mean for CliftonStrengths advocates? Which mindset do we use in strengths development? A growth mindset.
Examining Mindsets in Action
In 2008, while studying as a graduate student, Michelle Louis, associate professor of doctoral higher education at Azusa Pacific University, sought to answer the question: Under what conditions, if any, do CliftonStrengths programs lead to fixed mindsets?
As Louis studied programs and mindsets, she discovered that, for the undergraduate students in her study, the difference in mindset had a lot to do with how programs were structured.
Talent identification programs were programs that only acknowledged participants' natural talents and tendencies. These programs described talents as something participants either had or didn't have. They often made no distinction between talents and strengths.
Strengths development programs, on the other hand, were those that focused on helping participants see their talents as characteristics that could be strengthened through hard work and intentional development. These programs stressed the importance of deploying creative ways for participants to turn their talents into strengths.
As predicted, Louis discovered that talent identification programs lead to a fixed mindset, whereas strengths development programs did not.
Fostering a Growth Mindset Through Strengths-Based Development
When you are coaching, it's important to remember that strengths-based development and talent identification are not the same thing. If you treat identifying talent as the most important part of your client's journey, they will miss the benefit of strengths altogether -- because without investment, people don't develop strengths.
Luckily for coaches and their clients, Gallup has always been intentional about describing strengths as the product of combining talents with determination and hard work.
In StrengthsFinder 2.0, Tom Rath gives us the formula: talent x investment = strength.
Investment means adopting a growth mindset toward your personal development. Having a growth mindset doesn't mean you think there's no such thing as talent. Instead, a growth mindset means you believe everyone has talents that they can develop and maximize through intentional investment, hard work, and lots of guidance from teachers, managers, mentors, and coaches.
Too often, I hear clients adopting a growth mindset toward their weaknesses but a fixed mindset toward their talents. When people are naturally good at something, they tend to practice until they get to what they believe is an acceptable level of performance, and then they stop investing and therefore stop growing. Too often, they switch from developing their areas of predisposed talent and shift into investing in weaknesses or areas of lesser talent.
Instead, strengths-based development recognizes that it is not just the most talented people who succeed. Those who succeed do not take their natural gifts for granted. They aim for excellence. They push the limits of their natural capabilities and invest time and energy to turn their talents into strengths.
Here are three tips to help your clients do just that:
- Stress the importance that "naming" and "claiming" talents alone is not enough.
- Always help your clients "aim" their talents toward excellence and growth.
- Encourage your clients to continue investing in their talents by maintaining a relationship with a Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach. After all, everyone needs a coach, no matter how talented they are.
With your encouragement and guidance, your clients can develop a growth mindset that helps them turn their talents into strengths -- and ultimately reach their goals.
Kevin G. Campbell's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Activator, Individualization, Input, Learner and Connectedness.
Learn more about using CliftonStrengths to help yourself and others succeed: