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Business Journal

The Traces of Talent

How to identify your own talents, originally excerpted from Now, Discover Your Strengths

by Gallup

Although now out of print, Now, Discover Your Strengths launched a worldwide strengths revolution. Since the book's release in 2001, Gallup has continued to dedicate countless hours to developing our strengths science, the brainchild of the late Don Clifton, the Father of Strengths Psychology. Part of that investment resulted in a refined upgrade of the original assessment for discovering your strengths that you can now find in StrengthsFinder 2.0.

If you want to reveal your talents, monitor your spontaneous, top-of-mind reactions to the situations you encounter. These top-of-mind reactions provide the best trace of your talents. They reveal the location of strong mental connections.

Kathie P., a senior manager for a computer software company, gave us a dramatic example. She was bound for her company's annual sales meeting in the Dominican Republic. Squeezing into her tiny seat she glanced around her to see who was sharing the puddle jumper. Spread out in the back row was Brad, the aggressive, opinionated, and impatient CEO. In front of him was Amy, a genius at the details of software design, the best in the company. Across from her was Martin, a gregarious, charming Brit who through his network of contacts had singlehandedly turned around their flagging European operations. And then there was Gerry, the insipid head of marketing who as usual had angled his way into the seat next to Brad.

"The problems began right after takeoff," Kathie recalled. "We had just cleared the clouds when the alarm went off. I didn't even know planes had alarms, but suddenly it started braying like a donkey -- eee-aww, eee-aww -- filling the cabin with this terrible sound. The main lights went out, and the emergency lights started flashing red. As I felt the plane drop what seemed like a thousand feet in a second or two, I looked through the open cabin door and saw both pilots, necks flushed and stiff, turn to each other. I sensed immediately that neither of them had any idea what was going on.

"There was a moment of silence in the cabin -- shock, I imagine -- and then suddenly everyone started talking at once. Amy craned over and said, 'Kathie, can you see the dials? Can you see the dials?' Martin pulled out a tiny bottle of Smirnoff from his bag and jokingly cried out, 'At least give me one last drink!' Gerry started rocking back and forth, moaning, 'We are all going to die. We are all going to die.' Brad was immediately at the cockpit door. I still don't know how he squeezed out of those backseats, but there he was, screaming at the top of his lungs, 'What the hell do you think you guys are doing up here?'

"Me? What was I doing?" Kathie said. "Watching, I suppose, as always. The funny thing was, nothing was wrong with the plane at all. A faulty system had triggered the alarm, and then the pilots had just panicked and pushed the plane into a sharp descent."

Each of these reactions under extreme stress revealed dominant talents and to some extent helped explain each person's performance on the job. Kathie's keen observations of human nature undoubtedly contributed to her success as a manager. Amy's instinctive need for precision was the foundation for her genius at software design. Martin's ability to find the humor in every situation had presumably endeared him to his growing network of European clients. Brad's compulsion to take charge was the foundation for his leadership. Even Gerry's wailing was confirmation of his suspect backbone (this one is not a true talent since it is hard to see where and how it could be applied productively).

While this is a dramatic example of how people reveal themselves under stress, daily life offers thousands of less intense situations that also provoke revealing reactions.

Think of a recent party where you didn't know most of the guests. Who did you spend the majority of your time with, those you knew or those you didn't? If you were drawn to the strangers, you may be a natural extrovert, and your behavior may well reflect the theme "Woo," defined later as an innate need to win others over. Conversely, if you actively sought out your closest friends and hung out with them all evening, resenting the intrusions of strangers, this is a good sign that Relator -- a natural desire to deepen existing relationships -- is one of your leading themes.

Recall the last time that one of your employees told you he could not come to work because his child was sick. What was your first thought? If you immediately focused on the ill child, asking what was wrong and who was going to take care of her, this may be a clue that Empathy is one of your strongest themes of talent. But if your mind instinctively jumped to the question of who would fill in for the missing employee, the theme Arranger -- the ability to juggle many variables at once -- is probably a dominant talent.

Or how about the last time you had to make a decision when you did not have all the facts? If you relished the uncertainty, sure in your belief that any movement, even in the wrong direction, would lead to a clearer perspective, you are probably blessed with the theme Activator, defined as a bias for action in the face of ambiguity. If you stopped short, delaying action until more facts became available, a strong Analytical theme may well be the explanation. Each of these top-of-mind reactions implies distinct patterns of behavior and therefore offers clues to your talents.

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