July 25 th


Part 2: What are your signature strengths?


Leveraging our top strengths helps us bring our unique contributions to the world. In order to leverage and deploy them successfully, we need to know what they are. Uncovering them offers keys to the special imprint we are here to make on the world.

Last week we introduced the Appreciative Inquiry 360, a feedback exercise to help us build our appreciative muscle, connect with meaningful others and learn their perceptions of our unique strengths.

This week we will introduce another research-based exercise that helps us tap into our key strengths.

Exercise #2: Take a research-based Strengths Assessment

While there are lots of quizzes available in popular magazines, below are two evidence-based strengths assessments to explore. Evidence-based means these tools were designed to validate scientific theories and are subject to continuous research data. They are research-based and have been subjected to reliability and validity studies.

1)  StrengthsFinder

Gallup publishes the Clifton StrengthFinder. This assessment requires a code from Tom Rath’s StrengthsFinder 2.0 book. StrengthsFinder identifies your top five talents and is used widely in workplace assessments and training. The talent terminology utilizes language that is often more comfortable in corporate environments.

Click the book image to the right to purchase the book and obtain your code. The book describes the 34 talent themes found in Gallup’s research. These talents are elements of your personality that are less likely to change over time.  When combined with knowledge, skills and practice, these talents serve as multipliers. With conscious attention, over time our raw talent becomes our key strengths.

“You cannot be anything you want to be — but you can be a lot more of  who you already are.” ~ Tom Rath

2)  Values in Action (VIA) Survey of Character Strengths

There is also a free assessment at the University of Pennsylvania’s “Authentic Happiness” website. It is called the “VIA” or Values in Action Survey of Character Strengths. It was created through the work of Martin Seligman, former president of the American Psychological Association and often called the father of the positive psychology movement.

The VIA is part of an Authentic Happiness Research Initiative. It was donated to the public domain by the Mayerson Foundation and is available for free.

The VIA assesses your top 24 strengths and ranks them from most to least developed.

The VIA survey provides a unique profile of you when you’re at your best. It can also be used to identify when a particular strength is overused. For fun, take a look at your least used strengths and see how they are reflected in your life. What do you notice? Where does your curiosity take you?

Practice tips: When you take these assessments, don’t overthink your responses.  Click whichever response first catches your attention. When the results are delivered to you on screen, be sure to save your results as a PDF or copy your results into a Word document and save them on your computer.

I have been amazed at what I have learned about myself from these instruments. As a result of working consciously with this data:

  • I know how to leverage my core strengths
  • I am mindful of their shadow qualities
  • I am able to minimize or at least be aware of my potential to overuse them.

See my home page for examples from my own life.

What are the benefits?

Appreciative feedback (last week’s exercise) and strengths data (this week’s exercise) are powerful for several reasons:

1.  Our intrinsic motivation and the ability to develop what are called self-concordant goals are connected to what we enjoy doing. We tend to enjoy doing the things that bring us alive. The things that bring us alive tend to generate positive feelings in ourselves and in the people around us.

2.  Studies show that our productivity goes up when we focus on what is right with us rather than what is wrong with us. We are happier, more likely to achieve flow states, and more likely to make unique and creative contributions when we are leveraging our strengths.

3.  Our engagement with exercises like these literally allows us to step outside ourselves. We get onto the balcony and observe ourselves from a distance and from a place of greater objectivity. From that place, we have more space to reflect and are empowered to rewrite our stories about ourselves. We can literally question what we see and choose new behaviors that support the best parts of ourselves.

I have found my own engagement with these exercises to be empowering and validating. My new awareness about myself has helped shape the way I approach my life and work. My top two strengths on both tests are “curiosity” and “love of learning”. Do you see how they show up in my posts? How do your strengths show up in your work?

Take action now. “Like” this if you like it, share it, and leave a comment below.

  • Try taking one or both of these tests and share what you learn.
  • What are your top strengths? How does this inform your work, your life?
  • How do people experience you when you’re in the zone of your strengths?
  • How do you show up when your strengths are overdone?
  • What next step will you take to leverage your strengths?

Comment below. Share your aha’s, your next steps, and any questions that bubble to the surface as you explore. What is your unique imprint? How are you using it to be of service?


Note: This is Part 2 of what turned into a three part series. Be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 3.



Categories : Strengths


  1. Tanya says:


    I heard of another Strength Finder book by Marcus Buckingham. Have you heard of this book? I fully agree that we need to play on our strengths and outsource our weaknesses.

    And my friend was part of the Masters program at Penn that created this test so I am heading over right now to do it…will let you know my results.


    • Hi Tanya, yes Marcus Buckingham was part of the original team that created and popularized the StrengthsFinder. See this link for the background: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcus_Buckingham
      Buckingham has become a popular writer, speaker and corporate consultant and trainer.

      So great that your friend was part of the program that created this test. Be sure to come back and tell us what you find. 🙂

  2. Jenny Shih says:

    I love the strengths finder assessment. When I took it several years ago I felt silly because some of my strengths seemed really boring–arranger and discipline. Fast forward to today and I love that they are my strengths! I redesigned my work around them and it feels great. As a result, I’m able to better help my clients, people who don’t have those traits as their strengths.

    And you’re totally right about our motivation comes from when we use our strengths–I love playing to these strengths because it’s fun and when I use them, I’m making a positive contribution for others. Which helps me go full-cycle in helping others.

    • Yay Jenny! It’s great to hear that you have redesigned your work to showcase your strengths. It shows! Congratulations! Many of us need help with Arranging and Discipline … so you’re set to make your unique mark on the world.

      To your point about the “boring” language, it’s something I found with StrengthsFinder as well. Their terms for my top two strengths are “Input” and “Learner”. I find the VIA’s language a tad more engaging.

      Nevertheless, as you say, the point is really to embrace our uniqueness. That’s the only way we can really shine and serve. Thanks for sharing your experience. 🙂

  3. Tina Pruitt says:

    This is a great post and I went right away and took the character test that you posted the link for….cool! My top strength was “Appreciation of beauty and excellence”, my second strength was “Perspective (wisdom)” and my 3rd, was Leadership!! Not sure what all that means just yet, but I will try to sort it out!!

    Thanks again, Tina

    • Tina, that is so great to hear! I’d love to know how you think it shows up in your business? I can see all three in your business and your posts …

  4. sheila says:

    Laurie, several years ago I read, ‘Now Discover Your Strengths’ by Marcus Buckingham as you noted above, and my greatest takeaway was the idea to focus on your strengths and delegate your weaknesses. Coming from a corporate world where reviews were all about pointing out your weaknesses and asking you to improve upon them, I found this concept rather refreshing. Why wouldn’t we delegate our weaknesses to those that have them as strengths and love to do it? We all have different talents so why not capitalize on them and love what you do every day! Two of my top strengths were Communication and Connectedness, it makes me laugh as I look at it today, 7 years later, having completely reinvented myself with The Grateful Goddess. Thank you for this reminder to look back at this book and see how everything has evolved without even consciously trying. Now that I am consciously aware, I am going to step more boldly into the role for which I was created. Thank you, my dear, what a beautiful synchronistic message!

    • Sheila, how fantastic that you’re reviewing your strengths and seeing how they have shaped your business. It’s amazing that what we take in consciously can have a positive impact without a lot of “efforting”. Looking forward to hearing how you step even more boldly into Communication and Connectedness going forward! 😀

  5. Laura Gates says:

    Laurie, thanks for sharing this and reminding me I have not yet taken my Strengthfinder test! I am so used to focusing on my areas for improvement, I forget that I can focus on leveraging my strengths! I feel like my work as a coach has put in that mode a bit and I would love to shift to a more strength-based model!

    • Laura, this is such a great point. I know you do a lot of work in the corporate world. Do you also find there is an over-emphasis on areas for improvement? It’s what I found when I worked in that world and my corporate clients continue to tell me the same. I found it so energizing when I shifted to a strengths-based focus.

      As Shelia points out above, there are always people who shine in areas where we don’t. We have great opportunities for outsourcing and delegation when we can focus on our signature strengths.

      If you get a chance to take the StrengthsFinder test, let us know what you learn.

  6. Hi Laurie,

    Thanks so much for sharing this. I think I am going to take my strength test tonight. I have done the Kolbe test before. My husband has Strength Finder so I may purchase that one and give it a try. For myself I think this post has come at a great time for me. I have always been really good at coordinating and organizing and maybe I should look at my assessments and see if this is an area to incorporate into my work now. Thank you for the inspiration.

    • Sasha, thrilled to hear this post was timely. The Kolb is great too … it’s about learning styles. Remember, you can take the StrengthsFinder online if you have a code, or you can take the VIA over on UPenn’s site for free. I like them both, but find that the VIA’s language is more user-friendly and engaging. Hope you will come back and let us know what you learned and how it informs your life and your biz! 😀

  7. I just did the Strengthsfinder 2.0 a couple of days ago. At first I thought, how boring I am – those are not my strengths, I have learner, achiever and dicipline in my top 5. But now I’m learning how to see them as strengths and actually use them in a possitive and constructive way – it’s quite amazing. And it helps me understand a lot about myself and how i work best.

    • Sidsel, what timing! Jenny had a similar reaction about her strengths seeming “boring.” Yet each of the 34 talents is so important. In fact it would be boring if we all had the same talents!

      Glad to hear you’re embracing them and using them constructively. I share “Learner” and “Achiever” with you and I could sure use “Discipline” sometimes. 🙂 Thanks for visiting.

  8. pat novak says:

    Very interesting Laurie! Since I am an intuitive, I usually use my ability to find the strengths in others. Just as important I think, is to know your weaknesses, because that is usually where we will get tripped up!

    This is great and well-thought out information Laurie , I appreciate the tools you offer. I will definitely check them out.

    • Pat, thanks for your post. Great point. Our intuition can be a great source for identifying strengths in ourselves and in others. The key, I think, is to share what we see with others. (see last week’s post) . 🙂

      I agree that it’s also important to know where we get tripped up. The beauty is actually understanding both: where we shine and where we get in our way. Because our culture’s messages are so focused on “not enough” (last weeks’ post) I have found that many people gain energy and momentum by starting with their strengths. This is the opposite of what workplaces and self-help programs tend to do.

      I use the Enneagram system of personality to help people understand both their light and their shadow, their strengths and their growth edges. More on that in coming posts.

      Thanks for sharing and for your own post today on welcoming the shadow!

      • pat novak says:

        I understand where you are coming from Laurie about people’s weak points. Working with the Shadow is not really “identifying” weak points, which is where work-place and self-help programs maybe do. It is about embracing exactly where we don’t feel we are “good enough” rather than covering it up with feel good messages, or only focusing on our strengths, denying where we do not truly accept ourselves. Part of it is the wound, where if we dare to enter it, we will find out “true” strengths. And if we stay in denial of this , it has to show up in our reality. For example, Congressman Weiner. He was very good at his job, admired, and he had a beautiful and successful wife. He had many positive strengths and success. But for some reason he felt compelled to connect with women over the internet and send naked pictures. Why? Doesn’t make sense does it. The answer is in his Shadow.
        You mentioned you had not seen The Shadow Effect. It really does perhaps explain the depth of this, as this is not some kind of psychological test, but actually part of our spirituality. I will be posting more on this subject, as it has such importance and is often overlooked, because it scares people. And that is my whole point, it is there to help you if you understand and allow it. I will definitely read your last post and look forward to your next one as they are so valuable and rich in content. And i do see the need for these kind of assessments of our strengths.

        • Pat, thanks for replying back and for adding more depth to the discussion of shadow. I have a feeling our Enneagram types play a role in how we sit with these concepts and am loving that. 🙂

          When I speak of strengths work I am definitely not proposing feel good work or assessments that puff up the ego. I agree that working with the shadow is spiritual work and is paramount for transformative change. Your example of Congressman Weiner is a good one. Indeed, every tragic flaw in literature and in life can be traced to the shadow — the disowned parts of ourselves. The Enneagram is an elegant system for identifying these parts and working with them consciously. It’s important work for sure.

          I will seek out The Shadow Effect and am looking forward to reading more of your writing about the shadow. Perhaps a collaborative post between us down the road?


  9. Kathleen says:

    Wow, Laurie! What an invaluable post! I went right over to take the test! which for me is more of playground of self discovery! So much fun! and did get some fun insight from it. It is pretty aligned to the Meyers-Briggs typology assessment… of me being a feeling/intuitive type.

    I do think it serves to know both our strengths and be wise about our weaknesses, cause this IS where the shadow shows up! haha! I am not sure if I am in full agreement about delegating alll my weak areas. I think these are also growth points for me. And… of course if its getting in the way of me stepping more fully into life, because I am getting caught up in graphic design… then, yea, find the experts.

    Thank you for another great tool that is vital to our self understanding!
    YAY! and POST 2 for YOU!!

    • Thanks Kathleen and what a great way to look at it … as a “playground of self-discovery.” So true. Interesting that your findings align with the MBTI. I hadn’t thought about that. Mine don’t really align with my ESFJ profile but they do support my style as a Type One on the Enneagram. More on that is coming soon. 🙂

      As I mentioned to Pat, I agree that we need to pay attention to both. For many personality types (mine incuded), it helps to start with what’s already working and build from there. When we do the strengths work honestly, we find strengths overdone become growing edges.

      As for delegation, I am not advocating delegating all of our weak areas by rote. But it’s worth reflecting consciously on what we want to amplify in our lives and where we will benefit from enlisting others for support. Too often we are taught to work on improving all of our weak points and this can be both draining and terribly inefficient.

      Thanks for engaging here in the dialogue and for your support! 🙂

  10. Great resources and tips, Laurie! I have found that when I am in “the zone of my strengths” (btw, love that saying), people around me feel free and more confident to share and celebrate their own strengths. It is almost as though living my best life gives them permission to live their best life, so to speak. This leads to a deep rooted, oftentimes unspoken, trust which has a powerful and positive impact on my personal and professional relationships. All of your follow-up questions were really insightful. They’ve got me thinking – thank you!

    • Kristina, I love this … “It is almost as though living my best life gives them permission to live their best life”. That is so profound and, in my experience, so true. I think you’re onto something when you say that this leads to deep-rooted trust. Glad my follow-up questions got you thinking and thanks so much for reading and commenting. 🙂

  11. jean says:

    Laurie~I got so much out of taking the Clifton Strengths Finder survey.

    Although not familiar with it until now, It would be interesting to VIA as well and compare the two.

    Such important stuff.

    Thanks for this!


  12. Suki says:

    Great post and good fun in the VIA test. Here is my result:
    Your Top Strength – Gratitude
    Your Second Strength – Hope, optimism, and future-mindedness
    Your Third Strength – Kindness and generosity
    Wow, it’s good to learn more about myself. I’ll do the test again later to see whether I’d get the same result.

  13. Ashley says:

    Hi Laurie,

    I took the Strength Finder Test a few months ago and got:

    I was immediately pleased with my results, and was relieved to know yes, I do have strengths. It’s been challenging figuring out how I can leverage these in a business sense though. Ideation, connectivity seem so pie-in-the-sky, but they’re totally me. The command is there, but it’s definitely under-developed as it can come across like a two-year-old stomping her feet sometimes. And of course, intellectualization is me as well. I’ve thought more than a few times that I could be very happy becoming a scholar/professor in some obscure nice within the fields of anthropology or religious studies.

    How do you leverage your strengths in your business?

    • Ashley, you have a fascinating combination of strengths. I can see how they support your work as a copywriter and writing coach (if I am remembering your work correctly?) or even as a scholar/professor …

      * Ideation is about the power of ideas and your fascination with words.
      * Connectedness is about having the sense that we are all part of something larger and your ability to be a bridge builder of sorts (with respect to your work, it might mean bridging ideas and concepts).
      * Intellection is about being introspective; you love to think and writing is probably energizing as a way to organize your thoughts.
      * With Command you are ready to confront, take charge and take a stand.
      * Individualization leads you to be intrigued by the qualities of each person you encounter; you instinctively hear the one-of-a-kind stories in each person’s life.

      This is a powerful combination. It sounds like they resonate and that you are curious about stepping more fully into Command or your personal authority. I can see how you might leverage each of these to build a unique business … what do you see?

      I started to respond to your question about how I leverage my strengths in my business. To avoid writing a manuscript in this reply, I will cover this in next week’s blog post. It’s an excellent question since I only covered a few of them in a cursory fashion in this week’s post. It’s a way for me to offer my own example. Thank you for sharing and for the question.

      I will also add that I use strengths work in combination with the Enneagram system of personality. Together they have helped me uncover my unique gifts, my blind spots and derailers, as well illuminate so clearly my particular path of growth and development. More on that will also be coming soon. 🙂

      • Ashley says:

        Hey Laurie,

        I love how you bridged all of my strengths to what I want to be doing in my copywriting and writing coach business! Seriously, I re-read what you wrote and thought, “I sound so cool!” LOL

        I can see myself using all of these elements in my business. I never thought about seeing connectivity from the angle of linking ideas + stories + concepts to write/edit personable pieces that resonate with others. Really drawing people in to my world, or my client’s world, by building a shared connection. Interesting!

        Yes, I am ready to step into my personal authority, command. I see this as the component that will really weave all the others together. I think we all need to celebrate our strengths more often, and to really take ownership of them. It’s OK to settle for less than perfection, especially in areas that are not our strengths…

        I’m looking forward to reading Part 3!

        Thanks for the encouragement!

        • Ashley, that made me smile … am glad you can see your combination of strengths in a whole new way! I am all for celebrating our strengths and taking ownership of them! It’s empowering. Doing so also helps us see where we can enlist others’ strengths as well. Thanks for sharing that my comment had an impact and thanks for your engagement over here! 🙂

  14. danielle says:

    i have heard of these test before, and am always hesitant to take one because i fear it may tell me i should be doing something i don’t have any interest in doing- or that i suck at what i am doing.. lol..
    after reading this i think i am going to take a leap and check out the strengthfinder book-
    thanks for the tips!

    • Danielle, I can so relate to this. I also resist tests that tell me what I should be doing, what I would be great at and what I would not be great at. I have no interest in generalizations or boxing people in. The tests above do not do that (although StrengthsFinder does indicate the kinds of tasks you might find satisfying for each talent theme, at the very end).

      What’s fun about these tests is that they extract and highlight some of the unique gifts you bring to the world. You are probably aware of them already, but these tests offer a memorable way to hold that information and use it consciously.

      It is fascinating to do the Appreciative Inquiry 360 exercise I mentioned in last week’s post first or alongside these tests because you will see how the people in your life validate and reinforce what shows up in the tests.

      The point of these activities is to better understand how you show up and how you can leverage your own uniqueness to do whatever it is you are drawn to do in the world. This data supports that process.

      In my own life, I have found that this data allows me to stand taller and really own my gifts. Thanks to Ashley’s question above … more on that next week! 🙂

      Have fun with this and feel free to come back and let us know what you found.

  15. can’t wait to take my strengths test!

  16. Scott Powers says:

    OK, I’m very curious to take my stregnth test, especially since I made a career shift that I thought was more towards my stregnths.
    “Studies show that our productivity goes up when we focus on what is right with us rather than what is wrong with us. We are happier, more likely to achieve flow states, and more likely to make unique and creative contributions when we are leveraging our strengths.” – This is so spot on Laurie, and something I sometimes struggle with. I get so into improving myself I lose focus on what is already great, and as you mention, makes it much harder to be in a state of flow. Wonderful post!

    • Thanks Scott. I really appreciate hearing what resonated for you. And I can relate to that improvement mentality. There is a place for it, but it’s so much more energizing to build on what is already great. Look forward to hearing what you learn from the test! 🙂

  17. Thank you so much for posting this. I did this test a few years ago, and I lost the bookmark. I know that seems like a crazy reason to say thank you, but I have wanted to recommend it to people, and I couldn’t remember the name, or where I’d found it. I can hardly wait to do the test again. I’m hopping over there right now. Your wisdom, insight and timing are perfect Laurie.