3 Questions to Self-Assess your Strengths

July 18th, 2019


  1. When do you feel strong?
  2. What exasperates you?
  3. What compliments do you dismiss?

It's Not Always About Assessments

I made a post last week on Anchor about ‘the best assessment tools’ because this is where most people’s minds go when you start talking about identifying strengths and self-awareness. Assessment tools are great but I constantly find myself reminding people that they are just tools. Just like most tools, there are things that make great substitutes for them and can get a large percent of the job done.

In this case, there are three questions you can ask yourself, whether you’ve taken an assessment or not, that will help you uncover areas of strength for you. I’m certain these questions are not original as I’m pretty certain I picked them up from a Vistage speaker or two.

Question #1: ‘When do you feel strong?’

This may seem like an obvious question but let me clarify this further. Another way that I’ve heard this described is, ‘maximum effectiveness with minimum weariness.’ Think about times in your life where maybe something was physically draining but not at all mentally draining. Even though your body was feeling the strain, you still felt energized and as if you could do it all again.

An example from my career is the first time my company changed the way we did college career fairs. Several years ago, I found myself in charge of campus recruiting for my family business, a management consulting firm that focused on IT. After attending a career fair that left me with a bad taste in mouth, I decided that we couldn’t go on doing campus recruiting like I had seen it done. I didn’t want to be a part of the sea of standing banners claiming their company was the best while recruiters who looked as if they had drawn the short straw sat behind cluttered tables waiting to dismiss all but a chosen few students with their dreaded mantra of, “oh, we don’t take (insert major here) students.” Long story, short the next fall I took a team of 3 from our company to several colleges with the single intention of uncovering and affirming the image hardwiring of anyone we could get our hands on. We had students take an assessment we use internally to measure motivating needs and behaviors and reviewed their results in a whirlwind fashion. At the end of their time with us thy left with a small folded take home that simple said, “3 things to look for in a job that fits YOU” and a profound sense that they weren’t broken.

During these career fairs, you couldn’t have paid me enough to take a break or eat lunch. Which is saying a lot for someone who self-aware enough to know that he is coin operated. My body completely crashed when I got home but after hours of standing on a cement floor and talking non stop, I was ready to do it all over again.

Question #2: ‘What exasperates you?’

It’s time for some real honesty. Have you ever watched someone else struggle with a task or just not ‘get’ something and no matter how hard you try to be understanding, it’s just infuriating? The reason you’re frustrated isn’t because you aren’t a good person or you don’t have patience. It’s because that task or project is second nature to you and you can’t imagine struggling with it.

This happens to me when I watch others struggle to learn something new. I’m most comfortable when learning something new. It doesn’t really matter what it is. My degree is in Computer Information Systems and as bad as I was at debugging issues in the minute details of complex code, I could pick up a new programming language faster than almost anyone I knew. This carried over into my initial work after college where I worked in application support helping to maintain and configure enterprise systems for one of our largest clients. One of the ways my talents were best used was in quickly learning enough about a large portion of the systems to be the back up for other focused support analysts. I became the IT equivalent to the utility player in baseball. All though I found a way to leverage my strengths, watching others either struggle to the point of giving up or give up before they even really tried to learn new systems was incredibly frustrating to me.

The years I spent in IT were very frustrating to me because 90% of my daily tasks weren’t aligned with my strengths but now I can look back on that time and see how I naturally gravitated towards things that did leverage my strengths.

Question #3: ‘What compliments do you dismiss?’

You may have to really think about this one. I’m sure it will come to you though. That compliment or hand full of compliments that people always seem to give you that you always dismiss as someone being nice, naive, or maybe even patronizing. It might even be hard to recall them because you are so quick to dismiss them.

Instead of giving another example, let give my hypothesis on why this happens. When you are operating out of one of your strengths it doesn’t feel like work. Therefore, when someone compliments you on one of your strengths, you might even say, ‘it was nothing.’ This isn’t false humility, if you are operating out of a strength, it’s the truth. It’s hard to see something that came so easy as being valuable to someone else.

Uncovering your strengths and developing self-awareness is a journey. The best thing you can do is continue to be mindful and continually ask yourself these questions. For some people, like myself, the journey is more about eliminating possibilities and understanding what abilities you don’t have. As frustrating as that can be, eliminating possibilities leads to clarity.

Keep these questions in mind as you continue to try new things and explore new opportunities. And once you start to clarify and identify your strengths, build on them.