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Ehssan Abdallah, centre, a senior practice consultant at Gallup, says focusing on strengths leads to excellence. Pawan Singh / The National
Ehssan Abdallah, centre, a senior practice consultant at Gallup, says focusing on strengths leads to excellence. Pawan Singh / The National

What is right with you?

The Life: Research by Gallup suggests that businesses are more productive if they focus on employees' strengths. A tool owned by the organisation helps people discover what they are best at. But would you dare take it?

In the early 1950s, a young graduate student walked into a library in the United States, beginning a quest that would not only shape his career but also help to open a new area of study in psychology.

Noting his new profession's obsession with everything that was wrong with people, Don Clifton set about discovering what was right about individuals.

The psychologist spent decades developing a tool that identifies 34 themes, or talents, to reveal where people's strengths lie. The programme, known as Strengths Finder, asks people to select answers on a scale with more than 170 pairings of statements, ranking each of the themes.

Those highest on the profile are skills that are innate, while those towards the bottom are called non-patterns, or things that people have to work at activating.

"To come up with the themes was the easy part. But to actually create a tool which represents a person's particular profile, that was the hard part. The statistics of it all was what was difficult," says Ehssan Abdallah, a senior practice consultant at Gallup. The interesting part about the test is that themes for men and women tend to be similar.

But there is a 1 in approximately 33.5 million chance of getting exactly the same top five as someone else.

People are rarely shocked by their results, says Mr Abdallah. And, if they are, all becomes clear after a little explanation.

Gallup offered me an assessment to put the theory to the test.

It revealed that my top theme is "connectedness", which is a belief in the "collective unconscious". The less said about that one, the better.

The next three, according to Mr Abdallah, are all tightly-linked "learner" themes: input, which means a person with an inquisitive nature; learner, which is someone who has a need constantly to absorb new information; and intellection, where someone exhibits "a higher state of thinking" that enables him or her to pick up theories and concepts faster than some other people do.

Belief and a strong sense of values round off my particular top five.

While my top five seem to suggest I live a carefree life with my head in the clouds, themes towards the bottom of the list pretty much confirm this.

My weakest "strength" is deliberative, suggesting that I am anything but risk-averse, whereas focus, discipline and restorative (or, problem solving, in other words) also all languish towards the bottom of my list. Oh dear.

Surely some of this is because I am a creative type, right? Apparently not.

"I have got a very different profile to you," says Mr Abdallah. "I can be a journalist, for instance. But my style of writing and the way I conduct myself would be very different than yours."

What good can come of this kind of analysis, anyway?

Mr Abdallah argues that fixing a weakness merely prevents failure, but focusing on strengths leads to excellence.

"It gives you an insight into what drives people and how they can perform at their best," he says. "When people are doing this, productivity is higher and all business outcomes are much higher."

Point taken. But surely because my discipline is low I could be forgiven for turning up to work late if my employer adopted a Strengths Finder approach?

"That's myth number one," says Mr Abdallah.

Just because a company adopts a strengths-based approach does not mean it can afford to ignore weaknesses in employees.

Still, no one can have all 34 themes in their top five, Mr Abdallah notes.

"This is why we say you can have complete teams [but not] complete individuals," he says. "Complete individuals do not exist."

gduncan@thenational.ae

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