Sunday, June 25, 2006

Achieving Your Potential

I'm a Gallup Groupie. I have become fascinated and slavishly enthralled to the Gallup Organization's literature on recognizing talent and strength and, relatedly, how to create an environment in an organization that creates the greatest outcomes for the organization. (That, not coincidentially, is tied to providing a good working environment for the members of the organization.) The book dealing with the organizational setting is First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently. It's a fascinating subject and I fully recommend that you read it if you manage people. But today I want to tackle a specific element of the Twelve Questions that resulted in the book Now, Discover your Strengths. This book is about discovering and developing your natural talents.

This is all based around research that Gallup conducted approximately 10-12 years ago. Gallup found that people who were considered the best of the best in their profession (and this included people in all different types of positions: policemen, managers, housekeepers, teachers, lawyers, customer service representatives, etc.) no matter what their age, race, gender, or profession had careers that catered to, and allowed them to focus on, (for most of the day anyway) their natural talents and strengths. Those talents of course varied from profession to profession and even within professions (say a stockbroker at one firm versus another firm) because of the requirements, philosophies, or desired outcomes from specific organizations.

Gallup defines talent as any naturally reoccurring behavior, thought, or feeling that can be productively applied. When we employ our talents, we enjoy the activity we are engaged in, time seems to fly by, and we obtain a large amount of happiness and satisfaction from using the talent (or from the outcome of the talent). Talents can be developed into strengths with practice and the addition of skill and knowledge. Gallup isn't certain how our talents develop; certain scientific rationales exist for how the brain forms neural pathways, but if our talents are genetic or aquired through our environment is not fully clear (sound familiar?)

So far, with one small exception, this doesn't all seem very queer does it? Well, hold on, I'm getting there.

In their research, Gallup found a couple hundered different talents and from them derived 34 themes. Donald Clifton and others then developed an assessment instrument to help determine what your most dominant themes are - you receive your top five themes after taking the assessment. (The instrument is available online only. A code to use the Clifton Strengthsfinder is available with each new copy of Now, Discover Your Strengths. (If you choose to order a copy and want to take the instrument, DO NOT order a used copy.)) Gallup only gives you the top five so you will narrow your focus.

The idea is that you quit focusing on where you are weak because you will only ever make marginal gains on them. Instead, you focus on what is natural and enjoyable because these are your talents and work on them can yield significant results, your talents become strengths, enabling you to be the best of the best in what you do. It's a very different way of thinking and one that makes a lot of sense once you consider the basic premise.

This core concept: focus on what comes naturally to you - the things you can't NOT do - and you can go beyond exceptional - has tremendous application to queer life. Are you a little femme? Maybe a good deal butch? Enjoy doing hair or arranging flowers? Enjoy building and repairing? Enjoy fashion? Barely capable of matching your socks? Are you a great conversationalist? You just want to settle down with the guy/girls of your dreams in a suburban bungalo? Then, do it, enjoy it, celebrate it, or quit worrying about it. If it's the way you are, then capitalize on it. Find a community or organization or workplace that lets you be you and you will shine. It's when we deny those things that make us US, when we try to supress those qualities that we stumble, worry, and ultimately fail.

So, here in the month of Pride, I say be proud of who you are. Capitalize on your innate characteristics. Find people and places that let you express yourself. (Oh, and let's not be snobs to those who are different from us - let's appreciate our uniqueness.)

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