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Why Its Important to Know the Difference Between Your Strengths and Your Skills

Knowing Your Strengths Isn’t Enough

I first took the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment, now called CliftonStrengths in 2011. At the time I was empty. I was at the end of a multiyear project that took everything out of me. A friend, mentor, and personal coach suggested that I take a sabbatical in order to rest, renew, and reimagine what the next phase of life would look like. As I prepared for the sabbatical he also suggested I take the StrengthsFinder.

I purchased the book Discover Your Strengths: StrengthsFinder 2.0 and used the code that came with it to find out my top 5 strengths.

I will be honest with you. I didn’t know what to do with the results. I carried them with me for an entire summer and read through them several times. The results went with me from Montana to Florida, from Florida to Texas, from Texas back to Florida, from Florida to North Dakota, and from North Dakota back to Montana.

I was surprised at the results. They were me! As far as I could tell they were spot on. They suggested action steps were encouraging, inspiring, and invigorating. I would love to say that I implemented every step, and developed action plans in line with my new awareness. Nope. Instead, I returned from my sabbatical and immediately buried myself in work. Within months, I had forgotten the talent themes that described me. I didn’t forget everything, but since I didn’t know what to do with this new found knowledge, the assessment ended up in a file that is likely still buried in my desk. Knowing your strengths is not enough! You have to do something!

Aligning Your Strengths with Life

Without going into the details, the long-ago buried assessment has been surfaced. I made my way to the Gallup website, reset my password and retrieved the results from 2011. I didn’t know that the Top 5 assessment was just the introduction so I ordered the Full 34 report. Later I hired a coach to walk me through a Strengths Alignment.

The result has been greater clarity! I feel like the fog has lifted and I can see the destination much more clearly. I definitely have a better sense of how God has uniquely made me and how he embedded certain talents in my life that give me energy for all of the rest of life.

The CliftonStrengths assessment is just one of a number of tools available that help people get a better sense of their talents/strengths. A person might even be able to self-observe and come up with a pretty good idea of their strengths.

The point is this—when your life is aligned with your strengths, you have greater clarity. You have a better idea of your purpose, calling, and how to spend your time. You even have greater energy and passion! Strengths are a foundation that you can build on. Suddenly, “loving God with all of your strength” takes on new meaning. Strength has nothing to do with physical power. It has everything to do with your talents, abilities, skills, knowledge, thoughts, aspirations, desires, and goals. Strengths are the foundation of it all.

Skills Kill When Not Supported By Strengths

It’s important to remember to think of strengths (CliftonStrengths would say talents) as who you are or what you were more naturally born with. Skills can be learned and developed. Skills are the expertise or the ability to do something well.

I grew up in a family of contractors. I learned how to use a hammer, drywall, paint, and other things. Some of these things I can even do well. I was skilled enough to do them professionally while I was in college. But I can honestly say that I don’t have the right strengths to employ these skills long-term. When I have to employ these skills for any length of time they drain me. I begin to resent the work and the longer I do these things the more my performance falters. I begin to get sloppy.

Skills need to be layered on top of strengths. I am a Strategic Thinker. I love to read, do research, glean new information, find interesting facts, and work on complex issues. I am also a people person which doesn’t always make sense because I am an introvert. But I am filled with empathy. I love to come alongside people. I am a problem fixer, people lover, information gatherer, deep thinker, and life-long learner.

My strengths and skills when aligned become hard to separate or even discern the difference between. But that’s because skills, when built over the top of strengths, are naturally aligned.

Sometimes skills are acquired that don’t correlate with our strengths. A person might be able to get an A in a school subject and yet have no natural aptitude or love for that subject. The A comes through hard work, studying, memorizing, and just plain perseverance. By the end of the class, the person quite likely is tired, frustrated, and (if it’s a required core class) resentful of having to take a class that has nothing to do with what they love and will do in life.

The lesson is this—skills kill if they are not layered on strengths. Using skills outside of our natural talents and passion will lead to discouragement, frustration, and ultimately burnout.This is far too common. Most of us feel like we have to be all things to all people. We feel like we have to do everything well. We end up on the treadmill of “yes” but carrying too many things to be able to run well.

Know Your Strengths, Layer Your Skills, Say No to the Rest

When you know your strengths you can layer your skills on top of those strengths. With time and intention more of our energy can be directed toward the things that naturally invigorate us. Saying no becomes a big “yes” to ourselves, our natural talents, the best use of our time and energy. Learning how to say no might also open up opportunities for other people with strengths and skills that we don’t have to come alongside of us and our organizations. The phrase “better together” comes to mind. I am better when I work in alignment with who I am. I am also better when I team up with people who are aligned in ways that I am not.

Final Thoughts

Jane Creswell’s book Christ-Centered Coaching has been instrumental in helping me develop the thoughts above. Jane was the first internal coach at IBM and the founder of the IBM Coaches Network. She also holds Master Certified Coach credentials from the International Coach Federation. Jane spent years working with corporate executives and watching them respond positively to coaching experiences. Through coaching, they experienced workplaces healthier for themselves and the people they worked with.

If you’re interested in knowing your own strengths then the CliftonStrengths assessment might be a good place to start. I would also encourage you to consider and Individual Strengths Alignment. As a WeAlign coach, I would love to work with you. If you want to know more, schedule a free no-obligation coaching call.