Four years ago, I took the Gallup® CliftonStrengths® Assessment as part of a workplace training program at the company I was running. I enjoyed taking assessments, so I was curious to see my results. As I quickly scanned my rank order list of Talent Themes, I could see there were no real surprises. Learner®, Achiever®, Harmony®, Input®, and Positivity® were at the top of the list. “Yup, Gallup® nailed it. That’s me,” I thought and rolled my eyes. I secretly wished my Talent Themes were different.

In spite of there being no real surprises, I silently felt a little embarrassed about my results. I was the Chief Operating Officer at the company, and it seemed to me the better and more respected Talent Themes for my role would be Strategic®, Command®, Maximizer®, Developer®, and Activator®. I thought Harmony® made me look weak and soft. Positivity® meant I was the company cheerleader. Input® meant I couldn’t make a decision without first asking everyone else what they thought. Achiever® pigeonholed me as a doer and not a delegator and Learner® meant I was a better student than teacher. Not great news with a team of eleven leaders working for me. I was concerned with how their discovery of my Talent Themes might negatively impact their impression of me as a leader.   

While my staff was excited and suggesting we post our top 5 Signature Talents up on our office walls and add them to our electronic signature lines, I wanted to show mine to no one.  Seeing my results reminded me of the Netflix® series called, “Nailed It!” where contestants try their hand at re-creating edible masterpiece cakes. The cake created by the amateur contestant often falls terribly short of the original. I felt like I was the amateur cake missing the right ingredients to be a great leader. In my mind, Talent Themes like Strategic®, Command®, Maximizer®, Developer®, and Activator® were the “must-have” Talents for any successful COO. In contrast, my own Talents – Learner®, Achiever®, Harmony®, Input®, and Positivity® were amateur Talents and not the traits of a strong leader.

I wanted to avoid the whole topic of Talent Themes, but when you are the one who introduces the leadership team to CliftonStrengths®, you can’t exactly sweep your results under the carpet. I knew the only person I was hiding from was me, and the only option was to embrace it and figure out how to move ahead. I knew my definition of leadership and appreciation for my own Talent Themes needed to be rethought. It was clear, my constrained thinking wasn’t going to help me be a better leader.

I figured I would go straight to the source to see what could be done. I went to Gallup®, studied their 34 Talent Themes and got certified to coach the CliftonStrengths®. What I unpacked about myself was a game-changer. I came to understand that my Talents are not who I am, but rather how I lead. Assigning a good or bad quality to the Talent Themes was sabotaging my ability to authentically lead. I learned to own my Talents as the source of my strength. With a little education and a new perspective, I became empowered and turned my Talents into Strengths in my role as a leader. Only then did I begin to feel a sense of ease and flow in my leadership style. Here are some of my favorite takeaways.

  • Learner® – A great leader learns, models, and practices the organization’s values, philosophies, and principles, and encourages others to do the same. A good leader is always a passionate student.
  • Achiever® – A great leader makes things happen, measures productivity, and celebrates successes. 
  • Harmony® – A great leader creates high performing teams by building consensus around mission and vision.
  • Input® – A great leader gains perspective by being inquisitive first and definitive second.
  • Positivity® – A great leader helps others become the best version of themselves and inspires and energizes people to be more engaged and accountable.

Interestingly enough, the two vice presidents that reported in to me had Strategic®, Maximizer®, and Activator® in their top 5 Talents. They turned out to be ideal partners for me. Working together we accomplished what could not have been done separately. 

As valuable as it is to model the leadership traits of someone you admire, it’s more important to dive deeply into the inherent Talents that lie dormant and uncultivated within you.  When you apply your own unique expression of leadership, you unleash greatness from the inside out. The road to strong leadership is much easier when you appreciate and activate the Talents you’ve already got instead of trying to be someone you’re not. You become your own masterpiece. See for yourself what happens when you harness your own Talents, and then don’t be surprised if you see someone admiring and modeling your authentic leadership style.

Sara Harvey – Learner®, Achiever®, Harmony®, Input®, Positivity®

Gallup® Certified CliftonStrengths® Coach

Owner – inntertelligence

“Gallup®, CliftonStrengths® and the 34 theme names of CliftonStrengths® are trademarks of Gallup, Inc. All rights reserved.”