A New Angle for Development: Build on Your Strengths & Just Manage Your Weaknesses

Published on: Thu 24 September 2015 by Admin

Until recently there had been a strong focus on identifying people’s strengths and weaknesses by whatever method, be it 360 degree assessments or psychometric profile testing. Assessments are often followed by some sort of training or development to close or at least narrow the gap on perceived weaknesses.

This is all well and good. However, if you are an amazing people manager, but draw a real blank when confronted with strategic planning, and reflect that after attending programme after programme the penny still hasn’t dropped, you have to question whether any more development to address your weakness will do any good. There a danger you will start to erode your confidence in the positive areas of your skillset.

Profiling Options

Most of us are aware of Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) after all, it has been around since the 1940’s. Thomas International have their DISC tests which are great if you need something cheap and cheerful – because cost can certainly be a challenge. To find a profile that doesn’t price the whole development project out of the budget is not easy.  Neither is getting reliable results without the need for lengthy and time-consuming feedback, without which we risk spoiling the rest of the recipient’s life!…. I have fed back well over 5,000 results in the years I’ve been involved in profiling, and almost everyone hones in on their weaknesses in pretty much the same way as you are drawn to yourself in a group photo and then feel disappointed. (Even Kate Moss admits to this!)

Thankfully, current thinking suggests that we are more successful in life if we identify, play to, and develop the skills around our strengths, rather than focus too much on trying to improve our weaknesses.

Recently in the learning and development projects I have been involved with, I have been using the Strengths Finder 2.0 Test. Let me share with you a little bit about it:

So why do I use it?  

It’s the most successful psychometric test ever published by Gallup from a commercial perspective. Surprisingly, it is very reasonably priced at £10-£12 per test, which is quite a consideration with even just 30+ delegates. The other good news is that it works.  Very few people ever come back to me and say they disagree with the outcome of the test.

Where have I used it?

Over the past couple of years I have managed the Talent Pool programme for Birmingham University. Talent Pool is Transferable Skills Training for Doctoral and Postdoctoral Researchers at the University of Birmingham. It provides delegates access to ‘real-life’ business projects and helps them to become ‘Consultants’. 

What does Strengths Finder do?

It focuses on: TALENT (a natural way of thinking, feeling or behaving) X

INVESTMENT (time spent practicing, developing your skills, and building your knowledge base)

= STRENGTH (the ability to consistently provide near perfect performance)

Many people are a little sceptical when first faced with their results – I would say that is a healthy trait when evaluating the results of any test.

Strengths Finder identified my top 5 strengths (out of possible 34) as:

  1. Restorative
  2. Self-Assurance
  3. Activator
  4. Arranger
  5. Relator

Further analysis of these results shows that I would thrive in an environment where I can make things happen and get things done through strong relationships. It also told me I might be less effective in a highly managed environment.

To be truly effective in any role it makes sense to play to your dominant strengths, and to know what they are. Whether you study great leaders, who have built major corporations, or the thousands of unsung heroes who run successful small businesses, it is fascinating to see how different they are from each other and yet can make a success of what they do. People do this by playing to their strengths.

Case Study

We recruited 42 students to the January Talent Pool, a delegate group of Doctoral Researchers from a spread of the Colleges at Birmingham University. The group of researchers were recruited through a self-selection process and appeared to join the course with a sufficiently high level of knowledge and experience to enable them to engage well with the content and process.

Strengths Finder was incorporated into the first session. It gave the students a great starting point in terms of knowing what their strengths were and which could be highlighted in their CV’s when pitching for consultancy work. It was easy to link the strengths discussion even more overtly to the skills of the consultants and entrepreneurial thinking, and to the overall aims of the course.

As the course progressed over several months, it was clear how very different members were from each other, and how engagement with the programme and ultimate success was linked very much to an understanding of their particular strengths.


To fully engage with whatever you do, and to do it well, requires an understanding of yourself, particularly if you are managing other people. A great starting point is to know your strengths, and make sure you capitalise on them.