Play to Your Strengths

Stretch Your Strength

Personality, of course, is a very complex and researched subject. Psychoanalyst Carl Jung famously began classifying people into introverts and extroverts in the first half of the 20th century. Today, such tests as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, the Meyers-Briggs and other personality tests have been administered to millions of people.

The strengths theory differs from its predecessors in the number of people in its sample study and in the sophistication and complexity of its results. While Meyers-Briggs tests classify people as one of 16 personality types, the 34 themes of the strengths theory can be mixed into more than 32 million combinations. That means an individual's themes are truly individual.

The simple premises behind the strengths theory are, first, that each person's talents are enduring and unique and, second, that each person has the most room for growth in the areas of his or her greatest strengths. These have clear implications for hiring, assigning and promoting individuals as well as designing and implementing training programs for them. In addition, once you know a person's strengths, you can manage him or her appropriately. A person who is strong in the analytical theme, for instance, should be given time to carefully sort through all the factors before being asked to make decisions.

The strengths theory has profound applications in planning companies' futures as well as in managing their work forces. For instance, if you accept that talents are enduring, you'll be more careful about hiring the right people in the first place. Strengths-based management techniques also advise entrepreneurs to ask people for specific outcomes, letting them achieve results in their own ways rather than dictating working styles that may not fit employee strengths. And, of course, knowing your personal strengths can be very handy when it comes to choosing how you'll spend your own time.

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This article was originally published in the May 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Play to Your Strengths.

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