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Deeper into Strengths and Motivation

Previously I wrote about talent development. I love helping folks find their talents—and then growing them into strengths. I mean, I really love it. However, now that I’ve worked in the realm of strengths for a few years, I’ve identified a missing piece.

Talents can tell you what you’re good at, but they can’t tell you where they’re taking you. That’s the business of motivation. When it comes to self-awareness, it’s better to work on both. I must warn you though, when you start meddling in motivation, you may not like what you find.

A Little Painful

When I first began my journey into motivation, I thought it would be innocuous enough, even a little fun because that’s how strengths were to me. Boy was I wrong. One writer on the topic said walking this journey would make you miserable before it made you free.

I’m looking forward to feeling free. It was far easier and attractive to focus on my talented behavior than examining my core reasons for behaving. It’s the difference between looking into a regular mirror and looking into a magnified one. The deeper you look, the less you may like.

Pursuing my strengths made me feel good. I got to concentrate on what was right with me, got to claim how powerful I was. So, for example, I noted my talent for responsibility—I always delivered on my promises. And my talent for positivity—I kept things light and positive. And for individualization—I understood the person in front of me.

But uncovering my motivations was a different story. While pursuing my strengths made me feel good, uncovering my motivations made me feel flawed; I believe there’s value in both.

Learn more about the similarities and differences between Strengths and the Enneagram.

Wrong Direction

The deeper I looked, the more I saw. So, for example, I noted my motivation to avoid conflict, and use all my resources to do so. Under this motivation, responsibility helped me to play my agreeable part, positivity helped me to smile and nod, and individualization helped me to shift my opinion into someone else’s.

I was good at using my talents! They helped me to avoid conflict! The problem was, they were taking me in the wrong direction. Sometimes conflict is not just necessary, conflict is needed.

But before I saw my motivation for what it was, I thought I was doing everyone a favor serving as the good soldier, the happy guy, the shape shifter. That wasn’t farther from the truth. Had I not started looking at my motivation, I would have kept going on this way, and using my talents to cement my position.

The Enneagram

That’s why I’m thankful for the tool that is leading me into motivation. It’s called the Enneagram. Maybe you’ve heard of it. The Enneagram is an ancient personality typing system based around nine personality types. “Ennea” simply means nine in Greek, which gives it its name.

If you haven’t heard of it, you’ll start hearing about it more. Although it’s been around for centuries, the Enneagram is making more prominent rounds thanks to a popular new book called “The Road Back To You.” Plus, it’s “open source,” which means no one owns it, and lots of folks are creating tools, communities, and innovations around it.

Download this guide for an overview of the Enneagram.

Strengths and the Enneagram

Yesterday at a strengths workshop for university staff, one participant asked how the Enneagram relates to strengths. I’d been pondering that same question myself, some in private, some here on the blog. It’s a fascinating topic that deserves more attention. I think those who work in strengths can make a real mark by incorporating both.

But for now, I’m just learning. For me the best way to learn is to do, so I’m facilitating two Enneagram discovery groups at work that are optional for employees who want to be miserable too.

The sessions have been fascinating so far, and we feel like we’re getting places in ourselves that have been there but never explored. Since we’re a strengths-based workplace, we have a common understanding of strengths, which serves as an interesting layer in our growing self-awareness.

We just may get free after all.


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