Starved And Fed Talents

Starved or Fed Talents? Find Strengths Blind Spots You Didn't Know About.

We have now reached the ninth and final core concept in our STRENGTHS series, where we’ve been discussing the importance of engaging in strengths-focused conversations with your team over time. If you’ve been following this conversation, congratulations on getting this far! And if you’ve been applying even just some of our tips and taking on our tiny but impactful challenges, then you’re well on your way to becoming solid at finding CliftonStrengths blind spots and high points to build on each person’s natural talents!

Before we dive into the final topic of this series, here’s a quick recap of the core concepts that we have already gone through. Notice the magic word that the initials of these topics spell (STRENGTH). 

And now, in this episode, we explore the breadth of what we call the Starved and Fed Continuum -- turning our 9-episode-series titles into S.T.R.E.N.G.T.H.S. It’s just one letter added, yet it makes all the difference, especially in the context of teams. The more strengths-focused you and your colleagues are, the stronger your team will be.

In any team or group, your differences are your differentiators — and this is the foundation of this core concept. And when you think of your differentiators, these come to life and look like your strengths when you've been feeding, nurturing, and developing them over time. Often people will squash down their differences because they don't want to be a misfit at work. Unfortunately, when your talents are ignored or squashed down, they can come out in raw and unrefined ways. This leads to negative perceptions at work. In essence, they're strengths blind spots. Never fear though. It can be turned around with some fun investment in your development.

Feed Your Talent The Same Way You Feed Your Body

What would it be like if you were starved for food as a human? Physically and even mentally, you would feel weak, which would most likely impact how you feel or think. You're not at your best. Being hungry can cause you to be grumpy and treat others poorly, which can negatively affect how you relate to other people. In short, you wouldn't be able to show up in your full force. 

For example, imagine rude people at the airport. They're late. They're frazzled. They're grumpy. When they communicate, their strengths are not showing up. Or they're coming out in unintentional ways - getting overused or misapplied. Maybe their talents come out, yet instead of a volume level 2 that the situation needs, they crank it up to a 10 because they're in a hurry as they're about to miss their flight.

On to the other end of the continuum, let's get back to the body metaphor. Imagine yourself when you're well-fed. On this side, you've been nurturing your body right -- not overfed or stuffed to the max. It's just right. You loved every bite, yet you don't need to loosen up a button on your pants. Just well-nourished and well-taken care of. 

Let’s use that as an analogy for your strengths, particularly your CliftonStrengths blind spots. You can ignore your strengths or starve them out because you don't think they would be valuable in your workplace or you didn't know it was one of your strengths. Yes. People lose the magic of their talents all the time. It impacts perceptions at work. What happens next? The potential strengths shrivel up -- it's not going to look like when it's at its best. It comes out in an unrefined way. And now you have a strengths blind spot on your hands.

On the other hand, if you've been developing yourself by feeding and nurturing your natural talents, what you look like at your best keeps getting better and better. When you feel well-fed, well-nurtured, you feel strong, and your STRENGTHS strengthen your performance. That's why this all matters in a workplace context. It's about getting better results by using your strengths. A wonderful side effect is that you're naturally perceived better at work.

Jack-In-The-Box: What Happens When Your Natural Strengths Are Squashed Down

You may remember having or seeing a Jack-in-the-box toy as a kid. It's this little box which has a handle on the side that you can twist. As you keep twisting it, Jack surprisingly jumps from inside of the box. That’s half the fun of it all when Jack jumps out suddenly and scares you. 

It’s the same thing with your strengths. If they have been squashed down, like in that box, you don't know when they're going to come out. They can jump out when you least expect it and scare people who may not find it cool, like when you scare them with your un-matured, talent themes. When that happens, collaboration becomes a challenge and it can put dents in your career brand. 

This is where StrengthsFinder can help you. As you look at your top talents, you can assess which ones you use often and use well. If you notice that one is "good at home but not used at the office," give it some thought. You probably have a strong pattern of thinking or preference that comes out anyway. You have to use quite a lot of mental energy to keep it pushed down at work.

Rather than hiding it away and allowing it to turn into a strengths blind spot, try it on in new ways. Give it other ways to serve your performance and the team's results. Often, people find they're quickly perceived better at work because they feel authentically strong in their approach.

Uncover Your Strengths Blind Spots And Feed Them

Sometimes, we are driven to hide our strengths because we feel they are not suited in the kind of work environment that we have. Maybe you're in a work culture that seems opposite to your strengths, and you're worried about perceptions at work. There's a common worry that if you let them out, they'll know that you're not a good fit on the team.

Here are real-life examples from a person who leads through Connectedness and another person who leads through Command. These two people were actively starving out those talents because they were worried about negative perceptions at work.

Scenario 1: Connectedness - Letting it shine in a ‘tough, logical’ culture

Someone from a CliftonStrengths training session came forward with a concern on the report about her talent theme, Connectedness. While she liked that the report said she’s kind, gentle, and that she can see the ripple effect of her action on people, she found that the descriptions sounded “soft and wimpy.” For her, being viewed that way might not sit well within the tough work culture.

She had been at the company for over ten years, and had actively starved out that talent at work. She hid it. She saved it for friends who could appreciate that side of her. She had valid concerns. At the same time, it didn't make sense to starve her talent just to fit into a specific work culture.

There's so much more dimension to Connectedness that she can explore, one of which is the fact that she was very well networked. Ironically, because she had been starving out her Connectedness talent, she wasn't fluent at helping others see the connections that came so easily to her. In fact, she felt really frustrated with their short-sightedness. This was a strengths blind spot. She assumed others could see this "very obvious thing" and then she concluded that they were rude or inconsiderate.

What can she do to let out CliftonStrengths Connectedness?: It is common among many who lead through Connectedness to see all of the connections among departments and people and the effect of what they're doing. This person can see the downstream impact of each team’s work as though she is watching from a "zoomed out" place. It will not be a surprise if she notices and says things such as:

“If we make this decision here, it might be a challenge to roll it out to the Asia-Pacific region next quarter. Given the potential effect on their work, they're going to feel significant resistance during the implementation. Knowing that they won't overtly challenge our ideas, we will have a tough time getting open feedback if we don't address this with them before our sunk costs are high.” 

That didn't feel soft or wimpy at all, did it?! This ability to make these web-like connections is what you can highlight when you lead through Connectedness. As you’re able to really relate well with a vast network of people, you’re able to establish where there was going to be a challenge in project implementation. This is quite practical. 

So, rather than starving out a talent because it doesn't seem to fit the company culture, direct the development at the part of it that would be most valued by other people. 

Scenario 2: Command - The newbie is a strong leader inside

Another real-life example is from another person who leads through Command. He expressed his concern on being conflicted, knowing that he’s a natural-born leader but at the same time he’s young and in an entry-level position. 

Some of the things he said:

“When I'm decisive at work, people react to me like I'm an entitled young person.” 

“I don't need a bunch of inputs from other people, yet I'm expected to go through the motions to get them.” 

“I'm not sure how to wrangle this all in or make it valuable here.” 

This guy therefore felt that he needed to push down his talent until he’s gained a certain status in the organization. Also, he didn’t seem to want to show that he was too cool for his entry-level job and therefore needed to skip all other positions just to be in a leadership status. It's true, he said he had a strengths blind spot in terms of sounding a little pushy or righteous at times.

What Can He Do?: There are other dimensions of the Command talent theme that he can explore. A sample case he was presented with was in the event of big changes happening in the organization where: a) he supports the change, and b) other people are complaining about the effects of the change. In this scenario, he can easily leverage on his influence to convince others into embracing the more positive impact of the change. 

  1. Roll out short and powerful demos. He could be part of the peer group and is giving others a demo about how good and important it is on the other side. 
  2. Summarize to make it clear. He could also often be in the meeting and summarize into fewer words what someone else would take 10 minutes to get out. He, of course, has to do it in a well-honed and kind of not too overbearing manner, lest he embarrass them. Maybe he could say the following:

“Yeah, that makes me think our headline could be ____." As we roll it out, this could our sound bits to help other people understand it easily.”

How Conversations Can Uncover Strengths Blind Spots And Turn Them Around

It is a natural tendency for people to see something about their talent theme and think it may not be of value to others. This is usually driven by perceptions at work.  People are so concerned about fitting in that they try to stuff down their genius. Natural talents refer to how you naturally think or feel or act when you're at your default.

The thing about natural talents is that they usually come out anyway, no matter how much you suppress them. But when they do pop out after so much squashing down, they come out unrefined, which may not look good. A starved talent is not going to help you get perceived better at work.

Before you decide to actively hide your talent, explore some of these nuances of what your talent themes look like when they're at your very best, versus what they look like on the full end of the continuum where you’re not at your best, where everything seems to go wrong and these talents have really been starved out. 

Go beyond the initial conversations you had in your StrengthsFinder team training. Read your report and apply the ideas to new situations - places you haven't used them before. Ask someone you care about to read your report. Get their ideas for how your talents look awesome. It can give you new ideas for applying strengths at work where you assumed, "meh, this is nothing special - anyone could have come up with that."

Often you'll find that your insight wouldn't be easy for other people at all. If you have consistent strengths-focused conversations within your team you can help each other spot these surprises. Imagine getting perceived better at work by simply being more like the natural-you. Imagine your strengths actually strengthening your performance and your personal brand.

I hope that you liked these nine core concepts that spelled out the word STRENGTHS, and that you pulled at least one thing that was an unconsidered angle, something that gave you a new way to apply strengths with your team that you hadn't before. Get in the habit of recognizing what works in other people because when you notice what works, you'll get more of what works. 

About Carmie Carpio

Carmie is a professional writer and editor at Lead Through Strengths. Having spent 8 happy years with a nonprofit child organization as a storyteller and sponsorship relations team manager, she continues collaborating with others across the globe for the joy of human development and connection. Her days are powered by coffee, curiosities, cameras (film and digital), music, notebooks, and a cat. Where books are home, she's home. She calls her Top 5 StrengthsFinder Talents "CLIPS" (Connectedness, Learner, Intellection, Positivity, and Strategic)--you know, those tiny objects that hold connected things together. She'd like to think she's one.