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Strengths Finder Then and Now: What Changed, and What That Means For Me

posted Mar 3, 2015, 11:53 AM by Josh Penman   [ updated Mar 4, 2015, 11:30 AM ]

In 2006 I took the StrengthsFinder assessment in a freshman orientation class. 
My top strengths were input, command, ideation, strategic, and belief
Nearly a decade later I took it again, and this time got ideation, futuristic, intellection, input, and maximizerThis article is about what changed, and what that means for me. 

Particularly, why did command, strategic, and belief fall off my list, to be replaced with "futuristic", "intellection", and "maximizer"?

The Context of High Command, Ideation, Strategy, and Belief

When my strengths were input, command, ideation, strategy, and belief I had just come out of a year and a half as a producer of a national HIV/AIDS prevention media campaign in Sudan. My self-efficacy was high, I was confident in my abilities and my ability to lead others. I used my strengths to lead the school's social justice society, and worked with the great, practical operations manager named Matt Gundlach. Together we built an organization that posted three digit growth in all of our key performance indicators.

But since 2008, when I left that position to do a study abroad program in analytical philosophy at Oxford, I haven't had that kind of command, ideation, and strategic belief in a leadership position. (Perhaps I misconstrued my success in leading a campus-based organization as equivalent to leading full-time teams in nonprofits and for-profit organizations - though at the time, I felt that I could only do better if I was full-time, and did have the full-time experience in Sudan before university). At my next job in Kenya I built partnerships with people, but didn't get anywhere near to the kind of success that I had in college, and in Sudan before that. (Of the three micro businesses I started, one barely broke even, and two failed.)

Then, I moved on to work with an environmentally friendly construction technology startup, where my boss was a construction industry veteran who had handled billion-dollar projects. I was faced with not being the most knowledgeable, experienced, and focused person in the room, and I was no longer in charge. Could not having people under my control have led the "command" part of me to atrophy?

The context of Futuristic, Intellectual, Maximizing

In 2015, I seem to have become more of a cheerleader of the people that I lead, i.e., a "maximizer". Perhaps this is because I tend to lead more in peer partnerships rather than in a hierarchical structure. (At KnowledgeWorkx I dealt with contractors, and then recruited some of them to form partnerships. At Claremont Graduate University, I work on teams of peers.) At this point I really don't understand why futuristic and intellection came up in my new StrengthsFinder Inventory: perhaps they were further down the list, and rose when command and belief no longer held as strong.

From 2006 to 2015…
  • Input Moved from Number One to Number Four
  • Command Fell off the List
  • Ideation Moved from Number Three to Number One
  • Strategic Fell off the List
  • Belief Fell off the List
From 2015 to 2006…
  • Ideation Moved from Number Three to Number One
  • Futuristic Was Added to the List at Number Two
  • Intellection Was Added to the List at Number Three
  • Input Moved from Number One to Number Four
  • Maximizer Was Added to the List at Number Five

Have I Regressed?
I can see where belief would potentially diminish, as I became less idealistic and more jaded during my time in Kenya. And I can see where command would diminish in the absence of positive feedback regarding it, but I tend to see this as a step backwards.  There are number of ways I could interpret this, including a greater focus on myself and my own thoughts at the expense of doing good externally. Another possibility is that the items are different between the two versions. Or perhaps this measures my more recent experience, akin to my flip from being "perceiving" to "judging"  on the Myers-Briggs type indicator when I had the responsibility of leading the Social Justice Society, or my flip from "thinking" to "feeling" on the Myers-Briggs type indicator when my work in Kenya demanded greater intercultural sensitivity. 

Here's to the Future

At this point, I don't value being futuristic or intellectual or a maximizer as much as I value command and strategic ability. But I have also learned to be more flexible in my conception of success, and willing to flow in and out of leader and follower positions. At a recent forum on entrepreneurship at Claremont McKenna College, one of the panelists said, in response to a question about job fluidity in the startup community, that one should always be open to connections, because the person you hire now could be your boss in five years:  you could move from being the CEO of a small company, to being a product manager in a large one, and then back to leading a small one, and every shade of responsibility set in-between. This is an encouraging thought for someone who had responsibility at an early age and is concerned about not following that trajectory linearly. 

As I wrote the subtitle for this last section it suddenly hit me: "Maybe that's why futuristic was added to my list of strengths!" In a state without commanding influence, perhaps my focus is on the future, when I may use command and strategy to make the world a better place again.  
Maybe I haven't changed so much as this is a snapshot of me in different contexts, and in my current context, without followers, I focus on my strengths (like intellectual ability and future-thinking) and generate ideas that can form the basis of strategic command in the future. 


 graph of the effect of activating positive mood on creative process engagement, or people in a high prove, high support state move from 1.5 to 3.7; people in a low proof, high support state move from one .9 to 2.7; people in a low proof, low support state moved from 1.9 to 3.6; and people in a high prove, low support state move from roughly 2.4 to 2.43
Either way I have the resources I need, and more avenues of positive feedback than I did in 2006. In 2006, my command, achievements, and potential were the basis of my self-esteem, and I wanted it to stay that way because I have valued that achievement. I spent less time trying to make friends and more time trying to make a difference, because I felt that hunger for friendship would drive me to greater achievement. Now, my fiancée and my other relationships, along with my simple existence, form a greater portion of my self-esteem. And I hope to enable myself to have a greater positive impact by being less sensitive to extrinsic feedback, because I feel that it is more useful for me to break new ground in areas that don't immediately garner accolades and praise than it is for me to excel within the current systems I am faced with.

But on the other hand, perhaps what I need to do is find a system that will reward my vision and ideation.  in Fisher et al.'s article on creativity in mood, high  activating positive mood moved a person who had a high need to prove themselves and high support for creativity from their organizational structure/supervisor from a lower point on the scale of creative process engagement than all other conditions, to a higher point than all other conditions on the same scale. I don't know if the difference between the different conditions is statistically significant, but perhaps I shouldn't be too hasty in trying to reduce my need to prove myself :-)

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