Discovering My Strengths

by on Jan.26, 2010, under Personal

StrongGuyI thought I’d take a moment to reflect on what the Gallup Organization believes are my signature themes…. my top 5 character/personality traitswhich, if they are to be believed, will tend to proliferate themselves in all aspects of my life.  I took this survey about five years ago, when I started with Stryker.  I’m not convinced that these themes are infallible.  That said, I don’t have any major disagreement with their analysis — In fact, I think some of these begin to describe me very well!

I’ve decided to break this article up into separate posts.  Today I’ll talk about one of the five strengths each post and the conclusion will be attached to the final strength.

Let’s start with my “Number Five” and count backwards.  It has been claimed to me that these strengths are provided in order by which is more prevalent in descending order, so I will start with the fifth and work my way to my “top strength.”  I’d like to take each strength, describe it as they do, interperet that description, and then inspect my life for evidence of it.  If I don’t get too bored, I may also talk about ways to foster and exploit each strength, too.  This could be a long read…

#5: Adaptability

From StrengthsFinder: 

You live in the moment.  You don’t see the future as a fixed destination.  Instead, you see it as a place that you create out of the choices that you make right now.  And so you discover your future one choice at a time.  This doesn’t mean that you don’t have plans.  You probably do.  But this theme of Adaptability does enable you to respond willingly to the demands of the moment even if they pull you away from your plans.  Unlike some, you don’t resent sudden requests or unforseen detours.  You expect them.  They are inevitable.  Indeed, on some level you actually look forward to them.  You are, at heart, a very flexible person who can stay productive when the demands of work are pulling you in many different directions at once.

Just so you know, that’s the shortest of the five descriptions they provided! 

Now, what does adaptability mean to me, based on this?

When I read this description, I get an image in my head of a person who is laid back and calm.  Someone who doesn’t have a lot of anxiety over a given situation.  Someone who can ignore pressure and think clearly enough to produce meaningful results.  In fact, one person comes to mind who, in my eyes, is the epitome of Adaptability: Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot for U.S. Airways Flight 1549 whom, after losing both engines, was able to calmly relay the situation to the local controller, determine a reasonable solution to the situation and perform an emergency landing in the Hudson River resulting in no deaths and minimal injuries.  Let’s face it, this guy has displayed many strengths beyond just Adaptability, but I have to think it’s one of HIS top five, too!

So where does this trait show evidence in my life? 

Actually, based on the description and my interpretation of Adaptability, I can see why it shows as one of my top five strengths.  When something goes wrong, usually I’m more concerned with getting through the current situation rather than worry about what caused it.  For example — if a system fails at work, I’ll do whatever it takes to bring it back online so that business continue.  Only then do I begin to seek root cause.  Example: We had a database server which would intermittantly lost its connection to our storage network, causing all 20+ databases it hosted to fail, and affecting the applications that depended on those databases.  We had a way to get the server up and running again quickly, but we knew it would fail again and did not know how long it would last.  Obviously we can’t keep a server hosting critical data around which is going to fail at random.  We were all sick of sleepless nights, getting alerts for at least ten different applications at any and all hours!  The solution I proposed: Well, we want to upgrade anyway — Let’s move at least our most critical applications’ databases onto the new server now, and then we’ll schedule a maintenance period to at least create a virtual copy of the rest of the troublesome server and get rid of the hardware.  Then, we can move the remaining applications to the new server on our own schedule and not feel rushed.

Let’s see, are there examples outside of work where I have shown Adaptability as a strength?  Absolutely.  I think the best example has presented itself in my role as an I-Mag director at Granger Community Church.  This responsibility by itself demands that you be able to absorb and recover from mistakes quickly and smoothly without them affecting your work thereafter.  Example:  Oops, I missed the shift key on the mixer board!  Result: The wrong camera is on-screen.  It’s possible that the camera that ended up on-screen is not at all ready for the shot, or that the shot they have looks awful in transition from the previous shot.  Whoops!  Well, the quick recovery demands that you find another shot that is reasonable and move to it right away.  The longer term recovery is to forget the mistake until later, then when you have time to rest you can think about why it happened and look for ways to prevent it in the future.  FYI, the shift key on the mixer board was created by the devil, I think.  It is very easy to move too quickly and take your finger off shift before you select a camera, and the shift key has no memory — it’s not like your cell phone where you hit shift and it will apply to the next keystroke, it’s more like your computer keyboard where you have to hold it while you press the key you want shifted.  Sounds easy, but the thing is on a keyboard you have a backspace key for when you screw up.  Directing I-Mag is live — there’s no backspace key because everything you do is in real time!  (The corrective action is to ensure that you examine the “on-deck” display before you switch cameras, to verify that you have the correct camera selected)

How can I use this strength to my advantage?

Hmm, this is an interesting, difficult to answer question.  To start with, let’s take a look at “How to manage a person strong in Adaptability” in the book “Now, Discover Your Strengths” (p. 179).  I’m not going to type the whole page, but here are a few points I appreciate:

“Let him know about the planning you are doing, but unless he is also strong in Focus, don’t expect him to do the planning with you.  He is likely to find much planning work endlessly boring.”

I’ve got to tell you, I agree with this one.  If I’m working on a piece of software for work, I don’t really want to think much about releases beyond the one I’m currently working on, or about to start working on.  Here’s another quote to support this:

“Be ready to excuse this person from meetings bout the future, such as goal-setting meetings or career-counseling sessions.  He is a “here-and-now” person and so will find these meetings rather irrelevant.”

This is the same kind of thing.  I will say, though, that I don’t mind talking about career-path and the like, but I really don’t dwell on it or think about it really outside of those meetings.

Here are a couple of others that I think are interesting:

“With his instinctively flexible nature he is a valuable addition to almost every team.  When balls are dropped or plans go awry, he will adjust to the new circumstances and try to make progress.  He will not sit on the sidelines and talk.”


“This person lives to react and respond.  Position him so that his success depends on his ability to accomodate the unforeseen and then run with it.”

I like these two a lot.  In fact, these play in to some of my other strengths, but I’ll get into that as I cover those strengths.

So based on these insights, here are some things I can do to help maximize this strength. 

  1. Break large projects into much smaller tasks & logical sub-projects.
    • For example, when working on remodelling a room in my house, I could treat each stage of remodelling as a complete project.  Deconstruction, Construction, Painting, Finishing, Decorating.
  2. Instead of trying to plan big events or projects, get others with strengths more suited to the task to help, and then review with them.
  3. Look for opportunities to perform tasks where the specific details of what to do are not entirely clear and do them, or lead through them.
    • My I-Mag Director role at the church is a great example of this — There’s no prescribed sequence of shots and indeed no two services are alike, because you’re depending on five other people to give you what they see and they may see something different each time.  As a result the director has to be able to adapt at any instant to the current configuration of camera angles, in combination with the dynamic activities being perform on the stage which they are shooting.  You can plan an idea of what you’d like and you can direct your camera operators to get them to that relative position, but it is all done on the fly.

Well this concludes the first of a series of five entries which will be based on my “Signature Themes” as deemed by Gallup StrengthsFinder.  They say the order of these strengths is irrelevant, however I still want to point out that this is the least of my top five strengths.  So, out of 34 possibilities, this theme is more prevalent in my personality than 29 other traits.  That says something!

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3 Comments for this entry

  • Dad

    Wow, you have put considerable thought and personal honesty into your self-analysis. I can see why this is a strength for you and I, too, like dealing with the sudden changes, emergencies, and shifting needs from day to day. And, though I do long-term planning, I find things like curriculum and compliance issues to be tedious.
    I’m impressed with your willingness to step up and propose a plan to replace a server. So, there you have a long-term goal and you divided the problem into achievable steps. That is a skill that a team needs for every issue. Secondly, it is obvious that you “get things done.” There are people who are good at planning, but you see no results.
    In evolution, people mistakenly say, “survival of the fittest” meaning the toughest and meanest, but in reality, it is survival of the adaptable. That explains delicate creatures like the butterfly. So adaptability is critical and necessary. Man is the most adaptable animal of all, living in every environment on the earth and for a time in space.
    Adaptability as you explain it here, also, helps you to be less stressed in your life. You realize things change by the moment and you are comfortable with that. You are not a black/white, rule based person, you see reality as it is and not as you wish it to be. You are comfortable in the grey or as I like to put it, comfortable in the color as that is acutally the opposite of black & white. And color is much more interesting.
    So, I’m ready to read the books you are basing your blog on and starting my own self-evaluation process.
    Congratulations on your willings to be open and honest in a forum like this. That takes courage!

  • Dad

    I hope you correct my typos before you post….

  • Solid Thomas

    I think I found them all 🙂

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