Updated: Mar 18
When I say we play the complete Strengths Game, I refer to the fact that we are confronted regularly in life with situations where we are forced out of our rhythm and natural energy created by our natural Strengths. If that happens, we cannot stop working, living or playing. We need to function as best we can. If we view the All 34 CliftonStrengths Report as generated by Gallup, we clearly see that our strongest energy and needs lies towards the top of the sequence list (first 10-12 themes), and our strongest resistance, and draining effect, lies towards the bottom of the list (last 5 - 8 themes). We should always push towards our strongest themes....and we should always try and avoid our weakest ones. I find the metaphor of the game of golf works extremely well to explain the dynamic of our 34 talent themes in action. Even if you haven't played a single shot of golf in your life, everyone is familiar with the most basic practices of the game - and the most basic layout of a golf course - being the fairway, the putting green, the rough, the bunkers and areas that are "out-of-bounds".
Playing your best game - stay on the fairway
Everyone loves the look of a beautiful fairway. The gentle slopes, the green grass - cut neat and short, the clear view towards the putting green. Playing on a fairway is why most people love the game of golf. You can drive the ball with gracious power and see it fly through the blue sky, bouncing....rolling....stopping clearly visible a few hundred yards down the course.
A nice brisk walk towards your ball, aligning with the direction of the flag, and with a lower number club you graciously lift the ball with a perfect loop towards the green. Yeah! That's what the game is all about!
You can view your Top sequence of talent themes as your personal "fairway". Generally it will be your top ten to twelve themes - maybe a few less, maybe a few more. How many themes there are making up your fairway is less important than your understanding of it. You should know the bends, the slopes, the challenges and the flow of your fairway.
And, as any golfer will tell you, you need to try and stay on the fairway. That is actually the whole point of the game. Play the fairway towards the green, then put the ball into the hole. Sounds easy, right? Definitely easier said than done. That is exactly the joy and challenge of trying to master the game! The point is, with your talents, you should play on your fairway. Each one of us has our own very unique fairway, and that is where our game will excel most and where we will become the best we can be - while enjoying the game!
And of course we do not have the absolute luxury to play on our own fairway 100% of the time. Sometimes we will be part of a group or team that will play a course which are new and foreign to us. Do we pack up and go home because of this? No of course not. It simply means that the game will be more challenging to us, and we will have to rely a lot more on our skills and tools (clubs) than on our natural game. But we can still have a great game, no doubt.
Successfull people can adapt their game
The famous South African golfer, Gary Player, once remarked (after a journalist called a shot of his a "lucky shot"): "Yea, the more you practice, the luckier you get."
The more we play towards out natural talents, the more flexible we also become to adapt our game towards challenges like the weather, obstacles or unknown courses. In leadership or management, this is a crucial skill and ability to develop. You simply do not have the luxury to lead or manage people and insist on playing your own fairway all the time. Your success as a leader will be directly tied to your ability to let your followers play their natural game on their natural fairway most of the time - as long as the score card counts towards the favour of the team.
Those irritating bunkers...or being "out of bounds"
If ever you've played a round of two of golf you will know what this means. That sinking feeling when you see your ball disappear into a sand bunker, or, even worse, into a pool of water. This is basically what everyone avoid on the golf course. Often bunkers or pools of water are also strategically placed near the putting greens where it can easily be a trap you find yourself in.
When it come to your StrengthsFinder talent themes, this analogy refer to your so called "Non Patterns". Those are usually the last 5 or 8 talents listed on your Full 34 Sequence Report. Just like with a bunker on the golf course, we instinctively will try to avoid these themes. We resist them just as we resist bunkers or water on the golf course. And, when we do find ourselves within this situation, it can be extremely tricky to get out of it. When "out of bounds" like a ball in water, we are penalised with an extra shot against our name. And still, it is part of the game and part of the challenge. It will be very immature to pack up your clubs and go home the first time you hit a bunker. You cannot avoid the obstacles - and in the same way you cannot avoid the draining effect of your Non Patterns being in play in life or work. It is a reality. Again, there are specialised tools to get us out of such situations. You should rather not play without your sand-wedge as part of your kit. Practicing bunker shots will also be wise - as long as you do not spend most of your time practicing those shots, as a far better strategy will always be to avoid the bunkers. Nobody aim towards a bunker or towards water. Similarly, we naturally will not aim towards our weakest themes. We will naturally resist it. But, in life and work, we cannot avoid it either. At times, we will have to play from a bunker, or even be penalised for a shot being "out of bounds". It is part of reality. Remember: playing a great bunker shot is not impossible - it's just not sustainable.
Playing the (real) Strengths game
Playing towards your Strengths means you will be confronted with all 34 of the talent theme patterns in some way. Therefor, the revealing of only your Top 5 talent theme Report is in my view similar to playing at a driving range only, and boasting that you play golf. Nice, clear and open grass in front of you. No obstacles. The only challenge being to find the sweet spot of your club. You only really start understanding your talents, and developing your strengths, once you get out on the course, and experience the challenge of all the themes within you being challenged at any given time. In the same way, if you are under the impression that knowing your Top 5 Themes only will be sufficient in taking on the challenges at life and work, you unfortunately will never experience what the real game is about. Life is not only about your strongest few strengths. It is about all your strengths, about tapping into supporting talents with skill, and about knowing exactly where the bunkers and water are so you can avoid it. If I want to teach you how to hold a golf club and the basics of the game, I will start at the driving range. I will never sell that to you as being golf though. And most of all, reading every book about golf will help your understanding of it. If you want to really improve your skills and game, you will need at least some coaching.
Finally: play towards the flag
If you play a driving range, you play for distance and practice. If you play the course, you play towards the flag. You should aim your natural talents - formed into strengths through added knowledge, skill and experience - at the flag which indicates your exact target. The flags of the pin is not always visible from the base of the tee-off, but your fairway will indicate the direction you should play. Having no direction you play towards, is merely practicing. There is a time and a place for that, but be careful to not become the master of the practice shot, while the joy and achievement of the real game escapes you.
For more on this and other related subjects, go check out my new book, "Launch your Brilliance"