Monday, May 19, 2008

Strengthsfinder--just do it!

We are hooked on Tom Rath's book and online assessment tool StrengthsFinder!  My mom's husband introduced it to us by giving the book to every member of the family.  Papa Jim did it first.  My husband and I did it.  My mom finally did it.  My brother has yet to do it. Our music therapist has her entire staff do it.  A local church does it as part and parcel of their discipleship training. Carla and Sean did it.  Carla redeemed herself from previously underselling Reid when she (true to form) discovered that they have a version for kids, StrengthsExplorer.  So, my daughter, Allie did it.  And then Reid did it.  I am waiting for my nephews to do it.
I encourage all of you to do it!  It is most useful if done with the group of people you interface with most often --be it family or colleagues or classmates--not in isolation.  Then you begin to appreciate each other's gifts and differences in a constructive and practical way.  

If you do it, you will learn 5 themes which represent your strengths.  By focusing on those you will understand yourself in new ways and be equipped to find more satisfaction in work and relationships.  For example:  I felt a new kinship with my mom's husband realizing that we both have Harmony as a theme. It plays out differently in each of us due to our different life experiences but is nonetheless bonding, now that identified. I like to think that mothering autism with my need for Harmony, has shaped me into a mini-Kissinger with the learned ability to facilitate peace at any cost in our family.  In contrast, I notice Papa Jim retreats (during family vacations under one roof) in order to maintain Harmony.  Now, I have a new compassion for his motivation. As an out-of-town grandfather, he does not have the practice nor the responsibility of creating harmony--but it is definitely his preferred state.

My personal theory is that we are drawn to people who share 
at least one of our dominant themes.  This would explain why we just "get" some people and not others.  A common Achiever theme bonds my husband, Jim, and I.  Working together on a task (ie. cleaning the garage, moving annually across the country) really turns us on! Ha! Of course, family environment and nurture also influence the formation of our themes.  I learned my Responsibility theme from my mom. She raised us placing a high value on doing the right thing, leaving a place better than you found it, taking the high road, and being the "big one." I fully expect my brother, David, to have Responsibility on his top 5 list also.

The StrengthsFinder exercise has helped me to see with hindsight certain events in the past with new interpretation. Most recently changing Reid's school was difficult for me because of the combination of my Empathy and Harmony theme.  Jim sings this in a mocking permutation of "Ebony and Ivory" as this is where our opposite themes attract. (His top theme is Command.) I knew the change would be best for Reid and had to be made. Implementing it however, meant breaking it to the staff who I loved at the old school. I procrastinated doing that because I knew how it would make them feel (Empathy) to the extent that I put their feelings before my own. Coupled with the Harmony theme, meant I would also keep from rocking the boat as long as possible.  Can you see how this new awareness of our strengths enabled me to appreciate (even welcome) it when Jim told me, "just do it!" He helps me get off the harmonic dime. Previously, I have just thought him hasty and insensitive.  

Lest you think this is getting off topic, here comes the Autism Unplugged part. It is tragic how quickly, upon diagnosis into the world of autism, we begin to see only our child's deficits. How many professionals have you listened to itemize in great detail the myriad skills your child cannot do, may never do, and is way behind in doing?  Where has it gotten us? or them? Depressed, demotivated, discouraged.  Who needs that? Unplug from the noise.

StrengthsFinder, by contrast, gives us new excitement about where Reid will be most motivated, what opportunities we should create for him, and how he can accomplish the most in life. The process itself has been cathartic, empowering and corrective. Reid's attention to the online questionnaire was rapt.  I had gotten special approval to have the time limit extended so that his answers could be accurate.  Not necessary.  Apparently he too responds positively to learning more about what he's good at! In short order, we had the fun of discovering Reid's top themes (Organizer, Achiever, Presence). If you've met him these will seem self-evident.  He likes lists and schedules; likes to get things done (and off the list); and the world is his stage!

Seeing these in print from a reliable, mainstream Gallop poll puts him on a par with other members of the family and community which has been transformational for us. Will you do it?

It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect.
2 Samuel 22:32-34

Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength."
Nehemiah 8:9-11

I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
Philippians 4:12-14

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