This post contains my personal notes about the big ideas in Tom Rath’s StrengthsFinder 2.0. My book notes are different from many of the book summaries you’ll find on the web. Instead of following the structure of the book in question, we’ll isolate and examine the key ideas and themes that make the book useful. Along the way, I’ll tell you how I actually apply the ideas. Enjoy!
If you’re ready to stop wasting time doing work you’re not good at, Tom Rath’s StrengthsFinder 2.0 can help you become more productive, experience less stress, and have more fun at work.
About Tom Rath
Tom Rath is the author of the Personal MBA-recommended book StrengthsFinder 2.0 , as well as Wellbeing: Five Essential Elements , Strengths-Based Leadership , and Vital Friends. For more information about his work, check out the Gallup website.
Here are 10 big ideas from Tom Rath’s StrengthsFinder 2.0 …
1. Contrary to popular opinion, talent and potential matter a lot.
As uncomfortable as it is to say, you can’t be anything you want to be - without a certain amount of natural ability, even the most dedicated person won’t be very effective.
For example, I’m a lean 5’11" and 165 pounds. No matter how much I want to become an NFL linebacker, it’s just not going to happen - a certain build, talent, and mentality is required to do the job well. No matter how hard I worked, I’d never be good enough to play professionally - all of my effort would be easily surpassed by others with more talent who also work hard.
In the same way, talent matters in business. Certain jobs (like being a CEO or project manager) require different skills to be world-class. If your skills lie in different areas, you won’t be very effective. Instead, you’ll find yourself doing everything you can just to keep your head above water, which isn’t productive for anyone.
2. For best results, focus on doing what you’re naturally good at.
Everyone has areas in which they’re naturally talented, and areas in which they’re naturally weak. There’s nothing wrong with that - it’s a byproduct of how our brain grows. Strong neural connections grow stronger with use and social reinforcement, and weak neural connections grow weaker over time.
What that means for you is that you have certain areas of natural talent you can capitalize on. By focusing on doing the things where you have natural potential, you can quickly develop areas of valuable strength.
3. Time spent developing areas of weaknesses is time ill spent.
Most business review processes highlight weaknesses (euphemistically called “areas of improvement"), then focus on eradicating them. StrengthsFinder 2.0 argues that this is a waste of valuable time and energy - instead, you should focus on finding areas of strength and doing everything you can to improve them.
That isn’t to say it’s never smart to work on improving things you’re bad at: baseline competence is important in many areas. If you’re running a business and having trouble paying the bills, it pays to learn more about accounting and budgeting. That doesn’t mean you should start studying for the CPA exam - you just need to understand enough to avoid bankrupting your business in the short-term and identify competent people to help you as soon as possible.
4. Partner with others who have different strengths that complement yours.
Comparative Advantage is the idea that people are better off not trying to do everything themselves - it’s far better for everyone if you focus on what you’re best at, then partner or trade with others for everything else.
If you’re weak in a particular area, it’s smart to find someone to work with who’s naturally strong in that area. Instead of burning a huge amount of time and energy shoring up your weakness, working with someone else allows you to focus on doing what you do best.
You don’t have to do everything yourself - by partnering with other people who have complementary strengths, you can get more done.
5. Diverse teams are more effective because they have a larger pool of strengths to draw from.
Much has been made of the value of diversity in business literature, and strengths-based management explains why diversity works. If everyone on your team has the same strengths and background, it’s much easier to get stuck on problems requiring skills in the team’s mutual area of weakness.
Diverse teams have a much larger pool of strengths and experiences to draw from, so it’s easier to solve challenges as they occur. Everyone doesn’t have to be awesome at everything - by working together, diverse teams can accomplish their objectives far more effectively.
6. Encourage peers and direct reports to focus on utilizing their strengths, not “areas of improvement".
People do better work if they focus on their personal areas of strength. If you have an employee who is brilliant at strategic planning but horribly ineffective in front of customers, it doesn’t make much sense to assign them to sales in order to “shore up" that weakness. Assigning an A performer to another role that requires different strengths is a very good way to make them a C performer or worse.
If you’re responsible for evaluating peers or managing others, identifying their strengths and capitalizing on them can make them much more effective. Let your people focus on doing what they’re best at (and compensate them accordingly), and you’ll accomplish much more.
Many of my clients have used the assessment in StrengthsFinder 2.0 as a team exercise - it’s an inexpensive, high quality tool you can use to learn more about the people you work with. Understanding the strengths of the people you work with is the first step in ensuring everyone is focusing on what they can do best.
7. Hire for talent and develop for strength.
Depending on what you need to do, looking for particular strengths pays off in the recruitment / hiring process. If you’re hiring a salesperson, strengths like Achiever and Woo are good indicators that the candidate has the skills and mindset necessary to succeed.
I have no plans for building a huge team, but if I was hiring, I’d have hiring candidates complete a StrengthsFinder profile after they pass the pre-screen - it’s a quick way to learn a lot of valuable information about a candidate that can help you place them in the right assignment. Once they’re in suitable role, you can build upon their areas of natural talent.
8. Build your activities and schedule around your strengths.
Knowing your areas of natural strength is hugely valuable. By consciously taking up projects and hobbies that use your strengths, you can become even better at what you do.
I’ve had several positions where the job didn’t suit my strengths, and I was miserable in each one. My best corporate job was my last position, which I enjoyed because I could use so many of the skills that came naturally to me.
My strengths are Learner, Input, Ideation, Maximizer, and Strategic, so it makes sense for me to schedule my daily/weekly activities around these strengths. I dedicate an enormous percentage of my day to reading, research, writing, and discussing strategies and ideas with my clients because that’s what I do best. Other things can be delegated or outsourced; time and energy are precious, so I focus on what I’m best at.
I wouldn’t choose to work any other way - I love my work because it engages everything that comes naturally to me. Getting things done and being happy doing them is a wonderful combination.
9. Intentionally focus on activities that help you develop your talents into strengths.
A talent only becomes a true strength after it’s developed, which means consciously focusing on building your skills and experience in that area. Many companies send employees who have little natural talent or inclination for public speaking to training programs, which is a waste. Instead, it’d be better for the best public speakers to attend - they’ll get more out of it, resulting in a few excellent speakers instead of many mediocre speakers.
By seeking out opportunities to build upon your skills, you can make your strengths even more pronounced.
10. Identify areas where you’re using more than one personal strength at a time - those are activities in which you can be world-class.
One of the ideas I wish Rath would’ve discussed more in StrengthsFinder 2.0 is combinations - areas in which you use more than one strength at a time. In my experience, situations where you’re using many strengths in combination are the ones where you can really excel.
When you’re using more than one strength while working on a task, your talents aren’t added - they’re multiplied. If you’ve ever seen someone perform a job brilliantly, it’s likely they’re engaging multiple areas of strength while doing it.
If you can find work that engages 3-5 of your top strengths on a daily basis, you’ve found the recipe for work that will make you happy, wealthy, and successful for many years to come.