Wondering How To Find Your Strengths? If Every Person Has Unique Gifts, Shouldn’t They Be Easier To Spot?

Talents Tough To Find Episode ArtStrengths Focus For This Episode

In this episode Lisa answers the question, "If every person has unique gifts, shouldn't they be easier to spot?" She uses the example of her trip to Bratislava, Slovakia, to explain that it's hard to see what's going on in our own heads every day. To help us learn what our strengths are, and the strengths of others, Lisa provides individual and team exercises that are easy to follow. She points out that it's extremely important that you bring out the talents on the team. You can do it by noticing what’s working so that you can get more of what’s already working for you. This notice-and-say-something approach allows you to leverage areas of team potential that bring out your top performance in life and in work.

Here's a Full Transcript of The Show

You’re listening to Lead Through Strengths, where you’ll learn to apply your greatest strengths at work. I’m your host, Lisa Cummings, and today I’m here to help you answer this episode’s question, “Hey, if everyone has unique gifts, wouldn’t they be easy to see?”

This is such an important question. It came from someone at a recent StrengthsFinder training event. She felt totally competent on the job, but she didn’t feel “gifted” in any way. Now, if you’re listening as a people leader or a Strengths champion this is doubly important to tune in to, because it makes your role in strengths-spotting that much more important.

People often can’t see their own strengths. One of the most important roles you have as a manager, or as a leader of a strengths movement, is to develop the talent on your team. There’s so much power in you seeing and unleashing their talents. You can change the course of your team and whether it meets its goals. You can even change the course of your team members’ entire careers - just by being able to tap into their potential.

So let’s back up and get to the why of the original question.

Why Are Talents So Tough To Spot?

The essence of the original question is, “Why are talents so tough to spot?” I experienced an example on a business trip that explains it really well. I went to Bratislava, Slovakia to deliver a training event, and on the way, I needed to pick something up from the store, and I’m noticing, as I’m driving through the city, that cars were double parked and they were blocking each other in. This was something I noticed at first and didn’t think a whole lot of. I just thought, “Oh, maybe someone blocked someone in.”

Then I noticed it was everywhere around the city, or at least everywhere to me. Everywhere I looked, I saw cars blocking each other in. They were stacked two deep all over the place. Pretty quickly I thought, “There’s no way this is an accident, because this is not one rude person blocking another person in. There’s something going on here.”

So, the next morning I go to the event and I asked my host, “Hey, tell me about this thing. I noticed these cars parked this way. How does this work? What if you go into the store to do something fast, like buy a loaf of bread, and then someone blocks you in, but they wanted to shop for one hour? Are you stuck waiting for them for that hour?”

He laughed, because he knew where I was going with that, and he said, “No, no, we have a parking shortage here in Bratislava (and we all drive cars that are standards) so you can leave it in neutral, so that it can roll." Luckily it’s a very flat there so cars won’t roll down a hill. If you were the person who bought the loaf of bread and you came out and you wanted to leave, you would literally go to the car that’s blocking you in...and you would push it with your hands.

Okay, guys, if you’re listening to this, you’re imagining, “Cars are really heavy.” Most of the cars there are pretty small, so you can literally push it with your hands. And, in fact, if you’re being courteous, you might even turn your wheel so that, as it pushes out, the car rolls out nicely into the aisle-way behind it. Isn’t it crazy or what? I love this so much.

This is how they fixed the parking shortage. After you get your car out, you take the car that you pushed out, and you push back into the front slot. Now, as a side note, some of my clients who live in Bratislava, Slovakia today (we have fast-forwarded a few years later) - they said they’re having fewer problems with parking, so you don’t see much of that any longer.

What was so great about that moment is that he said, “Huh, this is funny that you asked me this question because the first time I visited Austin, Texas, where you live, I went to Target. I parked in the parking lot, and I was stunned at how far apart, side to side, the cars would park from each other.” He thought, at first, that it looked rude, because if only they would squish in tighter to each other they could fit so many more cars in the parking lot.

Of course, you know where it’s going here. In Austin, Texas, with this giant expanse of land, we can park far apart. The lines in the parking lot are even designed way further apart than the would be in Bratislava, Slovakia, because we’re trying to be polite and not door-ding each other, because we don’t have the same shortage in parking.

If you’re listening and you’ve been to any other country in the world, you’ve experienced some thing like this where you go somewhere else, and you realize, “Oh, wow, this is really different here. I wonder what’s behind it.” Then you can really see the contrast. You can really see the differences, because it’s something you’re not used to.

Look At Your Talents From Another Point Of View

Well, likewise, this all gets back to the original question of why talents are so tough to spot. It’s because you live in your brain every day. You have to get out, as though you’re in another talent country, to see how different your talents are from theirs. I hear every single day examples of people saying, “Well, yeah, I’m pretty good at that but it’s not anything special. Yeah, that’s just kind-of naturally how I think.”

Catch yourself, and catch people on your team, when they’re making comments like this so that you can make notes that, you know what, that probably is something very special that you have. In fact, it likely doesn’t come easily to other people.

Just like in those moments when I was in Bratislava and I was noticing, “Oh, wow, this is so different here,” and then he was able to show me how Austin, Texas, looked so different, I thought, “Oh, yeah, I can totally see that now but I wouldn’t have noticed it without the contrast.” This is how you, as a team, can get really good at spotting what your greatest talents are, and application on the job if you start spotting them as a team, and you start talking about them with each other. You can really bring out those contrasts that you couldn’t see if you hadn’t been doing it together.

What do you do with all this information? Show this Bratislava video to your team as an example, and then talk about what talents you can see in each other that they can’t see in themselves.

Personal Strengths Scavenger Hunt: You

In the "Self" part of the exercise, go on a personal scavenger hunt and you look for five things this week. Each one is described in more detail below.

Five questions to answer this week:

  1. I've always nerded out on these topics and types of activities:

  2. This comes easily to me, yet not to others (things you do or the way you think):

  3. I get a jolt of energy when I'm:

  4. I lost track of time last time I was:

  5. Someone told me I'm good at:

1) Something you’ve always been into. When you’re noticing these things at work this week, you start to see, “Oh, yeah, this is something that I’ve always had a penchant for.” This item description is a bit informal compared with the rest (in the way that I ask the question). So as an example, I notice that I’ve always been into doing something physical. My first couple of jobs were 100% physical and active. I was a lifeguard and an aerobics instructor in my late teen years. Both were active jobs where I was moving a lot. It’s no surprise that I got into the training field. It’s up, it’s active, and it’s moving around. It’s no surprise that inside of that I like to do a lot of StrengthsFinder activities that get people up and moving around and experiencing something physically. It’s no surprise that when I work, I’m often at a standup desk, or that I’m a drummer in my spare time. So for this first scavenger hunt item, watch yourself in action and go, “Yeah, this is something that I’ve always been into. No wonder it’s showing up like this today.”

2) Something that’s easy for you, but not to others. This is the time when someone goes, “Oh, yeah, you’re so good at that.” Someone makes the comment. Or you notice it in yourself. Even if you notice it in a negative way, give yourself some forgiveness. Even if you notice something really obvious and think, “Okay, what is up with these dum-dums? They can’t think of this thing that was so easy.” Well, that’s something that was probably really easy for you, yet not for others so take note of that. And, of course, don’t tell them that you thought they were dum-dums.

3) Something that energizes you at work. If you get a jolt of, “Oh, yeah, that was a cool moment,” note that. If you feel good after completing a task, or something makes you feel alive and alert, write it down. That’s one of the items in your scavenger hunt.


4) A moment this week when you lose track of time. You’re in the middle of a project and you have no idea what time it is, or you could get lost in that for eight more hours if you didn’t have a meeting coming up.

5) When someone notices you’re good at something. Now, this one can be really hard because you think, “Well, gosh. What if I work from home, and I don’t have a lot of feedback like that? And I don’t have in-person moments for someone to say that I'm great at something?” Make this as easy as possible, so it can be the slightest comment. Don’t wait for a trophy or an award or something really formal and big.

This can be a tiny moment where someone sends you an email to thank you for a spot-on response to a customer. Or you’re having a phone conversation and someone goes, “Oh, duh, that was so obvious after you brought it to light.” Take that as a clue to your greatness. Someone noticed you’re good at something. They noticed that you had an easy way of thinking about something that they couldn’t see, so take that as a sign that someone noticed something that you’re good at.

These five things align with Gallup’s work on the Five Major Clues to Talent. In the "5 Clues To Talent" image, you're seeing Gallup's version of them. I offered ours in the same order so that each number 1-5 corresponds with theirs.

The Three Things Exercise: Others

The other part of this exercise is getting "Others" focused input. It’s hard to spot talents because they’re right under your nose. It's exactly like the Bratislava example, where you have trouble seeing what's in the "easy-everyday-obvious" category to you. This exercise will help you see things that stand out to others. It's called the Three Things Exercise. This is something that was originally inspired by Dorie Clark. Check out this Dorie Clark episode to get a deeper look at your personal brand. The Three Things Exercise is to get a group of trusted advisors.

This can be something that you do in person with a group of people. Or you can do a few quick phone interviews. Or you can literally post the question in social media. Ask people:

“When you think of me, what are the three words you think of?”

That’s it. “What are the first three words you think of, when you think of me?” You’re going to get adjectives that tell you whether your personal brand and your experience with your talents is the same as how they show up in the world. Now don’t be scared of this exercise. A lot of times I mention it and people say, “Oh, my gosh, I don’t know if I want to hear what people have to say.” So far, to the person, I have had zero people tell me that anyone has ever come back and said anything but positive things. So expect positive words to come back. These are people who care about you and they’re going to share three words that are virtues.

What’s interesting is the trends, so make sure you ask enough people that you can see patterns in their answers. Ten is a great number. If you do it on social media, who knows...you might get 50 answers. But you start to see words that reemerge, and you think, “Aha! You know, this is really part of how I show up in the world, and this might be one of my gifts. I haven't been giving it any credit, because I don’t even notice it’s a thing.”

The bottom line is, it is difficult to see something that comes so naturally and so easily to you. Yet it’s extremely important that you bring these out, that you notice what’s working so that you can get more of what’s working for you. Do this so that you can leverage those areas of your greatest potential. They bring out your top strengths, and your best performance, in life and in work.

The Three Things: Team Building Exercise

If you’re a leader, I encourage you to do a version of the scavenger hunt or Three Things Exercise with your team. Spotting talents (and telling each other) can be one of the most meaningful, memorable experiences that people have together.

Step 1: Pass out one sheet of printer paper per person. Have each person write his or her name on it (really big in the center with a marker) so that it’ll stand out. After that, you'll be passing them around, and everyone will use a pen on everyone else's sheet. So be sure to have paper, markers, and pens on hand. This works most easily if you're in a big circle around a conference table.

Alternate method: If you don't have tables, you can attach a string and wear your sign on your back. That sounds a little strange to people because wearing a sign on their back often has them associating bad memories from 3rd grade when someone wrote "kick me" on their back, so you'll have to do a strong reframe of what it means to have a sign on your back. As you can guess, if you use that variation, you rotate by walking to the next person rather than passing the paper around.

The rest of the description assumes you're doing this with the standard set up at a conference table.

Step 2: Pass the sheet to the right one time. Have each person write 1-3 words about the person whose name they have in front of them. Write adjectives that describe what you appreciate about that person. Then (this is important), all together...at the same time...all synchronized at once, you pass the paper to the right. Tell them up front that you will do the passing at the same time. Using a timer with a dinging sound can be effective.

Make sure you give people enough time to think of a few words. If you’re asking them to do three words and not just one, you might even tell them in advance so that they can begin thinking of words that describe people that they work with. I mentioned how important it is to pass at the same time, and to set this expectation up front. If you don't, you will have a pile up. A few people will be really fast at this, and they will process people's papers by writing their words and sending them to the next person like it's a speed competition. Then it stresses out the slower people, who stop being thoughtful about what they write because the person beside them is giving them a pile of work.

I’ve seen teams do this activity and then keep the sheets so proudly. In fact, it’s an exercise that I did with a team over 10 years ago, and I still have a piece of paper. The example you see in this post was from about 15 years ago. It still means a lot to me to see the words that people wrote, and they really were great clues to my talents. Also it becomes a memoir for the team and helps you understand what is valued about you as an individual. As a leader, it’s a really great gift you can offer the team.

With that, I hope you’ll take this inspiration and will do some level of this exercise personally or with your team, so that you can help them claim their talents and share them with the world.