skip to main content
Your Continuing Professional Development Depends on Strengths

Your Continuing Professional Development Depends on Strengths

by Austin Suellentrop

Story Highlights

  • Strengths are actionable tools that can be developed infinitely
  • Groups and teams work together better when everyone knows their strengths
  • Your strengths allow you to contribute uniquely and meaningfully

It’s normal for us as humans to seek continuous growth. We all want to be better at what we do -- and there are plenty of social expectations adding pressure.

But identifying where you can, or need to, grow is another task altogether. It’s not as simple as picking a new hobby or a responsibility at work and deciding to become better at it -- while you can always decide to grow better at something, some tasks, for you, will uniquely be more difficult than others and can produce frustration. As humans, we’re most successful when we pick a developmental goal that’s fueled by our existing capabilities and all the ways in which becoming better can bring tangible benefits to us.


In essence, we want to grow based on our strengths. And growing based on strengths offers infinite potential.

The brain keeps developing as long as it’s stimulated. And just like any muscle, your strengths atrophy if you don’t invest in them -- but they keep growing when you use and direct them toward goals, development and wellbeing.

You can unlock a source of infinite potential with strengths.

Strengths Versus Personality

It might sound too good to be true that something like one’s strengths can provide unlimited positive growth. But it is true, because your strengths inherently act as usable tools and insights into how you can authentically grow.


And don’t conflate strengths with your personality -- they’re two distinctly different things. Taking a personality test won’t yield the same results as knowing your CliftonStrengths profile and the ways in which your strengths are core to your development. CliftonStrengths are not personality types; they’re actionable tools you can trust in nearly any situation. Strengths take you farther, faster -- because they can be directly acted upon.

A good example of this: I remember coaching an executive -- a gifted leader loved by all who worked for them. But they sought guidance from Gallup because they were struggling with holding people accountable. How could they have such a solid relationship with their team, yet struggle to keep their projects and sense of personal responsibility on track?

After taking the CliftonStrengths assessment, this leader discovered that their No. 1 strength was Harmony. Funnily, they didn’t believe it and asked to retake the assessment, after which they got the same result. I coached them to understand that there’s nothing wrong with high Harmony; after being in military service for more than 20 years, their greatest gift had become strategic planning behind the scenes to avoid catastrophes. I showed them that Harmony enables that in a positive way, but their simultaneous desire to not rock the boat had slowed down the team.

Once they overcame preconceived notions of what a leader should be, and understood how Harmony dictated their behavior patterns, they were able to see how they needed to regulate their Harmony. They recognized that while they couldn’t always prevent conflict, the longer they allowed the team to stay in that state of confusion, the more disharmonious things became. They used their Harmony in the development of tangential, but complementary, skills like enforcing accountability and making decisions.

Strengths take you farther, faster -- because they can be directly acted upon.

Because they could understand themselves through a distinctive strength and the myriad of individual abilities that accompanied their talent themes, they saw paths through which to seek targeted growth while still approaching that growth in the way they could most effectively improve. And this worked a lot better than thinking that their personality was simply “introverted” or “the person who couldn’t coordinate their team.”

Strengths Mean More When Shared

Strengths also offer potential for infinite growth because they mean more, and become more, when they’re shared. And in that context, they can grow in so many different environments -- at work, at school, within your family or in any situation that involves other people.

What we view as our personality is often only reinforced or exacerbated by social situations. If our Myers-Briggs says we’re an INFP, we might think of ourselves as quiet or introspective going into a meeting. An INFP might think they’re introverted and emotional, so they won’t bring much to the discussion. This test would make them feel like that’s their flat, unmalleable self.

But if this person instead knows their CliftonStrengths, and that they bring, say, excellent Strategic Thinking strengths to a meeting, they’re empowered and have insight as to what they can offer their team. Their personality test leaves them stuck on a standard definition, while their strengths give them a clear path for stronger interactions and personal growth.

Strengths are so important in team and group settings that they can entirely salvage workplace relationships. I previously worked with a team that struggled to communicate with one of its eight members -- she was a former professional athlete who had a tendency to bring up her own accomplishments and anecdotes in response to most conversations. This created anxiety for both her and the team before they almost wrote off including her in conversations altogether, labeling her as someone with a hyper-competitive personality.

Coaching this team on strengths transformed them -- especially when they learned that this coworker wasn’t high in the CliftonStrengths Competition theme. Instead, she brought high Consistency and Discipline to the table. She shared what she’d done in every conversation because she felt that if she didn’t contribute something, she’d be seen as irresponsible.

We can easily jump to conclusions about ourselves and our teammates, but strengths are eye-opening. This team realized that including this employee initially and giving her a chance to contribute worked best with her need to provide value. She was able to participate in the conversation once she felt she’d offered something new, and this had an unexpected secondary benefit of providing early thought starters in meetings.

And instead of alienating anyone, the team reestablished a bond among all eight of them based on strengths.

Strengths are so important in team and group settings that they can entirely salvage workplace relationships.

Everyone knew what their teammates did best and how they could use their own top talent themes to create better communication and improve collaboration. And employees who strongly agree that their coworkers recognize and appreciate them for their strengths are three times as likely to agree they feel like a valued member of the team.

We grow best when we’re seen for our strengths and the multitude of positive abilities those strengths include. With strengths, you can rely on them to excel in nearly any situation. They help you recognize that we’re no longer unchanging humans; instead, we’re full of potential to do better based on what we already do well.

Strengths as a Developmental Journey

When I coached an early-career finance professional in a high-potential program, he was on the verge of leaving finance as soon as he’d started. He didn’t feel like his personality meshed well with the traditional thinking of his workplace, which had high expectations and a go-getter, “fun can wait” culture. For him, the job wasn’t sustainable.

It was strengths coaching that saved his career. This employee soon realized that his strong Influencing themes were not only what identified him as high-potential, but also what allowed him to change the culture of his workplace. His ability to talk with and persuade others inspired him to go to management and leaders he trusted and express his concerns about their organizational culture.

Sure enough, this employee was affirmed and appreciated for his positive influence. His coworkers recognized that he needed to feel like he was thriving at work instead of forcing him to fit a certain way of performing. Without strengths, I believe this individual would’ve left the industry he’d worked so hard to enter. Instead, with strengths, he was able to chart a path to a role and culture that fit how he worked best -- and have a hand in creating it for himself.

Strengths respond to the situation that you’re in. That’s why viewing strengths as a developmental journey is so exciting. No one else has the unique strengths recipe for solving problems or completing tasks that you do. It’s empowering to think that no one in the world has tackled a problem in the same way that you have.

And it really is an unending journey. Part of strengths exploration is identifying what your best way of contributing to the world is, and getting really good at doing that -- forever. CliftonStrengths creator Don Clifton said, “To polish even one theme so that it becomes a true strength will test your self-awareness and your resourcefulness. To hone all five is the work of a lifetime.”

Of course, that quote is only referring to your top five strengths, but you really have 34 different talent themes within which you function best or have room to grow. And what does that mean for you? When you know your strengths, you’re not focusing on getting good at just one task, or job, or hobby. You’re focusing on developing the ways in which you can excel in all the things you do, because you approach them in the way that only you can -- and in the way that will give you consistently high performance.

Don’t deny the world your gift. As long as we’re living, there are new ways for us to do more, and do better, using our strengths.

Start developing your unlimited potential.

CliftonStrengths® and each of the 34 CliftonStrengths theme names are trademarks of Gallup. Copyright © 2000 Gallup, Inc. All rights reserved.


Austin Suellentrop's top five CliftonStrengths are Communication, Activator, Futuristic, Belief and Positivity.

Rachael Smith contributed to this article.


Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030