What Is Your Top Strength?

Hint: It’s a Thing You Do Naturally, And Don’t Even Know It’s Unique

In March I was gifted a book and code to take the StrengthsFinders assessment. Because I trust and admire the person who gifted it to me, I took the assessment and read through what it meant. I’m not a big fan of personality tests and other assessments for a few reasons:
  1. They can be used in a negative, labeling way, giving people an excuse to not pay attention to the needs of the people around them.
  2. They often aren’t paired with coaching or clear strategies for applying what you learn about yourself.
  3. If they are done out of context, without a specific purpose or mission, they miss an incredible opportunity for self-reflection.

I took the assessment and read the results – no surprises there.

Again, because it was a gift from someone I trust, I decided to dig a little deeper and actually started to read the introduction for the book. It turns out that I was taking the assessment out of context, exactly what bothers me about most assessments! As I read the book, I started to realize the incredible value in the concept of focusing on our strengths to build and improve on them, as opposed to finding our weaknesses and trying to improve those.

The lightbulb went on in my head.

Regardless of the tool we use in terms of these assessments, we need to focus our attention on what we do really well and build and develop those skills. When we work on those things we don’t have a natural ability to do, we not only miss opportunities to spend that time and energy nurturing our unique strengths, we miss opportunities to collaborate with people with complementary strengths, making it feel like we have to do things all on our own, when we absolutely know that strong teams are more effective than someone working alone.

There are some things we simply have to do in our lives, like basic math, reading, and laundry. But when it comes to other parts of our lives, especially professionally, knowing what we are really good at, what makes us feel confident, competent, and satisfied, focusing on our strengths simply makes us happier, more successful, and more productive.

When I finished the book, I checked out the website and clicked the button “become a Strengths coach”, and a few months later I completed the requirements and was certified through Gallup. Thanks to the training, I am now exploring my own strengths more deeply as I coach others using this tool. And it was as I was hiking on the mountain behind my house that I finally understood how one of them really shows up in my life. I had some ideas about it, but most of what I was considering were things I believe other people (without Strategic in their top 5-10), could also do well.

You know those things you do every day, those things you do without thinking about them at all, but that make your life make sense? Think about what annoys you about someone you love and spend a lot of time with, and consider this:

  • It annoys you because you do it too, and you don’t like that aspect of yourself or;
  • it annoys you because you do it differently – better and more efficiently – and you can’t figure out why THEY don’t do it that way.

If the answer is the second one here, this may give you a clue about how a certain strength shows up in your life.

As I was walking up the mountain, I was thinking about exactly the path I would take, how I would get home, and exactly why one path might be a better option than another.

BAM. Strategic just showed up.

When I get into the car to go somewhere, before I even leave the driveway I’ve planned my route to be the most efficient way to get to point B from point A. And if it’s a variety of stops, I’ve figured out how to avoid turning left onto a busy street, whether I’ll have frozen or cold groceries in the car and what that might mean for which stops are first vs. last, and how much time each stop should take.

Do you do this before you leave your home? Strategic might be one of your top strengths.

I was riding with our older son yesterday; he pulled out of the parking spot in front of our house and immediately turned left onto the cross street. It was everything in me not to make a suggestion about how to get to where we needed to be. That’s when I realized that he simply doesn’t think like I do. Strategic is not the first place he goes when interacting or solving a problem. This kid is really smart (of course I think so), and though he hasn’t taken the assessment yet, I know FOCUS will be one of his top strengths. EMPATHY will be another. Neither of those are anywhere near my top 10. As a matter of fact, focus is nearly at the bottom of my list.

In a perfect world, my family and friends would simply ask me: “What order should we run these errands, and what is the route to get to each?” That would mean they understood and valued how STRATEGIC shows up in my life. And when I need someone to help me with empathy, I would go straight to my son to ask for guidance. But it’s not a perfect world, and I often choose not to say anything when my husband is behind the wheel… unless he asks. In the rest of my life, though, that strategic way of thinking has been a tool that my best employers have found incredibly valuable. It’s also a strength that was not so appreciated or valued by employers who didn’t understand it, especially when I didn’t know how to present the best, most efficient solution to a problem to them in language that matched their strengths.

Prior to reading the Clifton StrengthsFinders book and taking the assessment, I was sitting in a session about scaling our business at the No Longer Virtual event in Denver in February 2018. I listened closely to Benjamin Walker, CEO of Transcription Outsourcing, Inc. as he spoke about when to hire staff or a contractor to delegate certain tasks.

“You started your business because you feel passionate about ___ and you’re especially talented at ___, so when you’re spending time on other aspects of the business, you’re practically leaving money on the table. Focus on what you do really well, and outsource the rest.”

Damn, that’s smart.

Now it’s your turn.

Here’s your challenge, should you choose to accept it: Find your top strengths. Use an assessment if you’re having trouble identifying those activities that you thrive in, those things that come naturally to you. Try StrengthsFinders, DiSC (ask Heather Younger about this one), or Stand Out if you’re struggling, or if you just love this type of thing. After you have a good idea about your top strengths, take a few weeks to absorb them, to find the ways they show up in your life so you can really own them.

Next? Find ways to use those strengths in your everyday activities, and take a moment to email me to share your observations. I’d love to hear from you.


Sarah Elkins
Sarah Elkins
Sarah is a communication coach, Gallup certified Strengths coach, keynote speaker, writer, and professional musician. Sarah uses storytelling as the foundation of her work with management teams and individual clients to improve communication and relationships. Her podcast, Your Stories Don’t Define You, How You Tell Them Will focuses on storytelling themes, the primary concept being that the stories you choose to tell - and how you choose to tell them - impact your internal messages and the perception of those around you. Her podcast was named in the top 50 in the category of emotional intelligence on Her passion for connecting people and helping them learn to better connect with others is embodied in the events she hosts, No Longer Virtual, which are small, interactive conferences based on the theme of connecting beyond the keyboard, recognized twice by Forbes as “Can’t Miss Events for Entrepreneurs” in 2017 & 2018.

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    • Wonderful, Suzie! It takes time to tap into those strengths with intention, so it really helps to start keeping track of the times you find satisfaction in your day – those are the cues for what you need more of in your life.

  1. I enjoyed reading this (and listening), Sarah. I’m usually skeptical of strengths finders but someone whom I trust gifted me a code too 🙂 Interestingly, I took a Workstyle assessment back in April. It was in conjunction with a conference I attended. So, that’s two assessments this year. I haven’t compared them yet to see if there is any similarity, but I’m anxious to do a deeper dive.

    I like the idea of focusing on what you do well. In some cases, it means reframing our thinking mainly because there could be a tendency to focus on the weakness. I know this is the case with me at times.

    I look forward to further exploration of my strengths and how best to employ them in the many areas of my life.

    Thanks for sharing this insight, Sarah. As always, an insightful read.

    • You’re right to be skeptical of any assessment, Laura! There are a few reasons this seems to work for me and my clients: They are eerily accurate, and they help us focus on telling the stories of our successes and satisfaction in the context of our top strengths. I can’t wait to walk you through your results! Thanks for commenting.

  2. Yikes, Sarah. So much to take in!

    Yes, I think I would score high in strategic; our thinking parallels the other. I always think about how I’m going to go to a specific place, especially here in the summer. Cape Cod is well known for crowds, and we all have to think about that — so many cars, so few roads!

    Beyond that, I guess I need to gt the book and see what it says. I love DiSC: I’m actually teaching an intro version this Friday at my C of C. It’s an eye-opening program, and I very easily found myself among the High I’s when I learned about it years ago… no surprise there, right?

    Great article, one that I’ll reread. And share. And think about.

    • Thanks, Susan, I appreciate the comment. Just like any other assessment, the most important aspect is having a coach to talk you through the positive application in the results. There are coaches who don’t necessarily focus attention on the results in a positive way, they spend too much time talking about how those personality traits get in the way.

      I’d love to sit in on your introduction to DiSC, I absolutely know you’ll present the topics as strengths in the context of self-reflection and improved communication.

  3. Oh my gosh… where to start, Sarah? I love this piece so much for several reasons!

    “There are some things we simply have to do in our lives, like basic math, reading, and laundry. But when it comes to other parts of our lives, especially professionally, knowing what we are really good at, what makes us feel confident, competent, and satisfied, focusing on our strengths simply makes us happier, more successful, and more productive.”

    So true! But the other thing that came to mind as I read this was this: knowing what we aren’t great at often has more to do with the way we are uniquely wired than faulty thinking or a cognitive weakness. The example you shared of your son highlights this perfectly. I would never say that strategy is a weakness simply because it falls below focus and empathy on one’s strength inventory. But often, we get caught up in what we’re “not good at” instead of viewing our strengths on the entire spectrum.

    Disclaimer: I worked with Sarah on the StrengthsFinders Assessment and she helped me reframe what I had always seen as weaknesses.
    “I’m wired this way which is why I don’t usually approach challenges or tasks that way.”
    We tend to see our own capacities and limitations as being very black and white, right and wrong. My work with Sarah enlightened me to a deeper understanding of how and why I do the things I do. I highly recommend Sarah’s work to anyone who wants to be more introspective about what makes them tick and ways in which you can use your strengths to maximize outcomes.

    • Melissa, you just made my day so much brighter! Thank you for this thoughtful comment and compliment. I keep thinking about the difference between tolerating someone’s differences vs. embracing and valuing those differences. When I ask my son for ideas in handling a particular situation because I know he has empathy as a top strength, I’m not just getting help from him, I’m acknowledging his VALUE, and who doesn’t want some of that every day?