There’s a lot of talk these days at Meredith about going strong. But what does it really mean to go – or even better, to live – strong? And how is Meredith helping students, alumnae, and other women in our community learn to do so? To find out, Meredith Magazine staff spoke with Candice Webb, certified strengths trainer and director of StrongPoints®, Meredith’s signature personal coaching and advising program.
MM: How would someone know what her strengths are?
CW: At Meredith, we use the Clifton StrengthsFinder, an assessment tool developed by Gallup that’s based on significant longitudinal research. By taking the StrengthsFinder questionnaire, you identify your five top strengths from a potential of 34.
Most people operate within their top ten strengths over the course of their life, so if you were to take the assessment again in a few years, a few of them would still remain in the top 5, but there would also be a few that would cycle into the top five that weren’t there before – and more than likely they were in your top ten all along.
Some have asked why we have students focus on strengths so much when they’re going to change. The research would say they won’t change as much as you think because it’s assessing how you naturally think, feel, and behave – whether you’re 18 or 48.
There are other assessments that can be used; career planning has a number of them, but they don’t necessarily focus on strengths. So when we’re talking specifically about strengths, we’re talking about StrengthsFinder. And, when we talk to students, we always encourage them to make decisions based on their strengths, skills, abilities, and values. It’s never just about your strengths.
MM: What does it mean to make the most of and build on your strengths – how does that happen?
CW: I think it’s important to clarify what we mean by strengths identification and strengths development. In strengths language, we often say you should “name, claim, and aim” your strengths as a way to differentiate between identifying your strengths and being intentional about developing them. There is a process, and it requires effort in order to develop your strengths.
First you have to identify what they are. Sometimes you know what you are inherently good at, but sometimes it’s hard to articulate, so I think the StrengthsFinder is very helpful. It gives you language to identify your strengths and helps you name strengths that might not even have occurred to you.
Then it becomes your responsibility to do some reflection. Do I have any examples from my life that can validate, yes, these are my strengths? That’s the claiming part.
Once you’ve done that, it becomes a matter of using this knowledge. How can I be intentional about pointing my strengths at something – that’s the “aiming” piece.
I think the hardest part of the process is becoming comfortable with your top strengths. To be able to say this is true to who I am, and I can talk about it in a way that seems authentic.
MM: Are your strengths generally things you’ve always been good at?
CW: Often we think about skills and competencies – what do you do well. I’m a good speaker or I’m good with people, those kind of things. But the strengths we’re talking about go deeper than that. It’s asking you to think about how you go about your life. How do you think? How do you naturally behave? It’s about natural tendencies and inclinations that you then can apply to skills and competencies.
MM: Which also helps to explain why strengths are so widely applicable.
CW: Exactly. That’s why we can talk about living strong – because your strengths can be applied so broadly. If they were competencies, they might only apply to certain parts of your life, but if you make the effort you can apply your strengths in any role or setting.
MM: Are some strengths easier to apply than others?
CW: With some of the relationship-building strengths, you can easily see how they might apply in various ways. Even some of the executing strengths, which speak to how you go about getting things done. Some people have more difficulty with the strategic thinking strengths – ones that focus on how you think about the future or how you analyze information. It can be more difficult to apply those strengths outside of the work environment.
Even then, once we dig in a little more, it becomes easier. For example, one of the strengths is input. It’s all about gathering information. People often think about input in terms of work or job functions, but I have a colleague who has input as one of her strengths and uses it in relationships. She gathers information about people and it helps her understand them.
MM: What’s an example of how you use one of your strengths?
CW: One of my strengths is developer, which is all about helping people reach their potential. I can think about tons of ways that I do that in my work with students but also as a supervisor – we’re always having conversations about what are you learning? How will this help you get to your next step of your career? When I think about my son, it totally informs the way that I parent him. I’m looking for the things that he’s interested in and how I can help him get better at what he’s doing. He loves to sing, so I’m always giving him opportunities to sing, and we listen to music together. I want him to develop that potential that he has. It affects the way that I interact with people – peers, people that I supervise, my son. I’m living with that strength.
MM: Isn’t it dangerous to ignore your areas of weakness?
CW: You need to be careful that your strengths don’t become an excuse for poor behavior or decision making. But it’s really not about ignoring your weaknesses. You need to know what your gaps are so you can apply your strengths toward those gaps. You still get the task done, but you do it your way. Also, sometimes knowing where your gaps are gives you an opportunity to build partnerships. If you know there’s a certain function of your position that you just don’t do well, it’s a good opportunity for you to partner with people who do those things well so that between the two of you, you can be successful. And in a team setting, you can be intentional about pulling on that strength when you see that’s what the group needs.
MM: As women, are we inclined to focus on our weaknesses rather than our strengths?
CW: In my experience, as women in the South not only do we focus on our weaknesses, we are reluctant to play up our strengths. We’re taught to be modest. I don’t know if that’s a gender thing or a culture thing – we have both of those influences here at Meredith. I think that’s one reason why strengths work is such a good fit here, because it gives us the language and the permission to talk about our strengths. Everybody’s doing it, so it doesn’t seem like you’re bragging. We’re all having this conversation, and that makes it okay. And once you start, you feel good about doing it.
MM: At its heart, is focusing on your strengths really about embracing who you are?
CW: Absolutely! It’s about knowing what’s important to you, knowing what value you bring to any environment, and becoming comfortable with that and owning it. One of the most powerful things about strengths-based living is that not only does it help you identify your areas of strength, it also gives you permission to go out and be that. If you’re an achiever, then good! Go out and achieve. Be the best achiever that you can be, because if you do that, if you do what’s natural to you, you’re going to enjoy what you’re doing, you’re going to be more engaged. Some of the Gallup research suggests you may even have a higher quality of life because you’re not fighting against yourself.
Also, strengths can help you reframe something you may not have always liked about yourself. All of a sudden you’re like Oh! That’s something that is true of me and here’s why it’s a good thing and here’s how to use it. Some of the women who have attended our Stronger U workshops, the strengths-based personal and professional development program for women we offer here at Meredith, have said, yes this is true but I never thought of it as a positive characteristic. Command is a strength that often challenges women – it’s all about being willing to stand up, make decisions, and be in charge, and women sometimes feel if they do that people are going to think they’re bossy. By seeing it as a strength you get to take it back. You just have to make sure you are applying it in positive and appropriate ways.
MM: How unique are a person’s strengths?
CW: Well, they’re unique in the way that you apply them, and they’re unique in the way that you own them. And, of course, we can also talk about our strengths in the context of all the other factors that influence who we are and how we live our lives. It’s just very empowering – and at Meredith we’re all about helping women get their feet under them and go out into the world.