The Strengths and Abilities of Harriet Tubman

Photo Credit: Mark Gulezian/NPG; Copyright National Portrait Gallery/Smithsonian

If you ask me who in history I would like to meet, Harriet Tubman is at the top of my list. I just finished a spectacular book on her called, Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom, by Catherine Clinton. What strikes me most from the book is how well-equipped in abilities, strengths, and qualities she was in order to become the person she became and do the things she did.

Unpredictable Outcomes

You may not predict that a poor slave girl, who never learned to read, and who had a physical disability, would eventually help to lead over 1,000 slaves to freedom or that she would become a spy, scout, and nurse in the Civil War so that some would call her “General Tubman,” or that in her eighties she would start a Home for the Elderly.

You would not predict any of these exploits from her humble beginnings. But Harriet Tubman is a classic case study on the power of using one’s abilities to fulfill one’s life calling.

But for now, let me discuss a few of her abilities that empowered her calling. A principle to remember is that calling is progressive—our task is to take faithful steps one in front of the other, and eventually we are walking in ways too wonderful to conceive from the start.

I imagine if you would have told Harriet what she would eventually accomplish, she wouldn’t have believed it. She had to take one faithful step after another. The same is true for you.

Harriet's Abilities

Here is how her biographer, Catherine Clinton, describes some of her abilities. Think about how useful these would be in her exploits. Remember, abilities are special skills, knowledge, talents, and traits that enable you to live your calling.

  • Courageous, clever, resourceful, adaptable, determined
  • Physically strong, great stamina, adept in the outdoors, good storyteller
  • Use a gun, disguise herself, rely on communication other than reading
  • Strong faith in God, sense of doing God’s purposes, listening to God

If you dig into the details of her life, you really see how useful all these abilities were for her. But they weren’t just innate, on cruise control, see them and leave them. She worked to develop them too, and they grew over time.

This is an important lesson on abilities for life calling—they are both inborn and grown, and part of being faithful to your call is to be faithful with your abilities. If you will work to grow your abilities, then they will be ready when the call arises. You don’t want to be found not ready.

Harriet's Talent Themes

Speaking of abilities, Strengths Coach Beverly Griffeth-Bryant has shared what she believes are Harriet Tubman’s Top 5 CliftonStrengths® talent themes:

What About You?

You may not be the next Harriet Tubman. Actually, I don’t want you to be. I want you to be the next you, and go out after your life calling with all the abilities you have. Your mission may not be to free 1,000 slaves or be a war spy and scout, but it’s to do something else extraordinary.

Each of the 34 CliftonStrengths theme names are trademarks of Gallup, Inc.

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