A Positive Focus: Discovering Your Best Self through Strengths Academy

by Whitney Hopler, Communications Director

What do you like most and do best? How would your life be different if you stopped worrying about your weaknesses and started focusing on your strengths? Mason’s Strengths Academy can empower you to do so. Mason and Gallup, Inc. have partnered to create a Strengths-based culture on our campus. To date, more than 18,000 faculty, staff and students have taken the CliftonStrengths assessment and have participated in hundreds of workshops/trainings to gain a deeper understanding of their results. Mason leaders are encouraging all first-year students and new colleagues to join them by taking the free assessment.

“The idea behind Strengths is that once we know what we’re naturally talented in, we can continue focusing on and investing in those talents,” said Chelsie Kuhn, a graduate assistant in University Life Assessment at University Life. “This is much more effective and efficient than attempting to ‘fix’ our weaknesses. Everyone has all 34 themes or talents defined by Gallup, but we really use our top five, which is what Patriots can access.”

People can use information from the assessment in a variety of valuable ways, said Lewis Forrest, associate dean of University Life. “Strengths is important because it is a great tool, which has lots of utility. Not only does it give an individual some insight into the things that they do well, it is a great tool for building bridges between classmates and colleagues. Understanding individual strengths and what they mean can help you leverage them in just about every area of your life. Focusing on what you do well is a great practice for everyone.”

Rashaan Mateen, a Mason alumnus who majored in both management and finance at the School of Business, said the assessment results changed his life significantly. “Before taking the assessment, I really didn’t know what my strengths were. I didn’t know what I was good at. I didn’t really have any talents, in my opinion.” He discovered through the assessment that he actually had many personal strengths. “It gave me confidence,” he said. Mateen said that his top five strengths – analytical, harmony, responsibility, relator, and consistency – surprised him a bit but helped him connect the dots between parts of himself that he hadn’t fully figured out.

Kuhn discovered that her top strengths have helped her a lot in her work planning projects on campus. “My top 5 are Learner, Achiever, Responsibility, Relator, and Intellection. Of my top 5, two fall under the executing domain, two under the strategic thinking domain, and one under relationship building. This has helped me think about how I can effectively execute projects – I’m good at setting up a strategic plan, executing the to-dos, and building relationships during the entire process.”

Mateen served as a Student Strengths Ambassador on campus, helping other students discover their own strengths and learn how to use them well. He worked on activities that raise awareness of Strengths Academy, including workshops for students to take the assessment, and the recent scavenger hunt that gave students who had already taken the assessment a fun way to discover and talk with each other about their Strengths.

The assessment is “especially important for young people,” said Dr. Nance Lucas, executive director of our center. “College students are dealing with so many pressures. This tool is designed for them to integrate their strengths into all areas of their lives.” Learning about their personal strengths helps students make wise decisions about academic majors, internships, and career paths, she said.

Mason was the very first organization to use the Strengths assessment, when it was introduced in 2006, said Lucas. “Over time it just grew in its use and its popularity. It affirms taking what you already have inside you and investing in it.”

People whose self-esteem has taken a hit from life’s disappointments or discouraging words they’ve heard from others in the past can use Strengths information to move forward in positive ways. “We want to boost confidence and give people hope,” Mateen said. Those who take the assessment but don’t really believe their strengths at first can test the results by incorporating those core strengths into their daily decisions and seeing what happens. “If people invest the time to put their strengths to use, they’ll come to understand the power of them,” Mateen explained. “Everyone uses their strengths in different ways.”

Kuhn explained that Strengths can guide people with both a positive focus and flexibility. “By shifting focus to what folks are naturally good at, Strengths can be a tool to build self-confidence. … Strengths can be used to set goals no matter what direction someone might want to move in.”

When people are working together, they can use their individual strengths to maximize the effectiveness of their work as a group. That can work well for students working on projects together, or for employees in training. “Once multiple people on a team or in a class know their Strengths, they can map this information and work more effectively by designing projects and assignments with these talents in mind,” Kuhn said. “For example, if there’s a project with multiple pieces, the team can think strategically about who to leverage for building strategy, building relationships, influencing others, or executing tasks. If the group is lacking in any of Gallup’s four domains (relationship building, strategic thinking, executing, and influencing), then they can leverage other Strengths that they have to compensate, or they can build complementary partnerships with others in the surrounding community.”

Shernita Rochelle Parker, acting vice president of human resources/payroll and faculty/staff life in Human Resources and Payroll, said that making Strengths the theme of the 2015 Staff Development Day proved helpful for employees. “Keynote remarks and classes were focused on encouraging faculty and staff to learn more about their strengths — particularly as their strengths relate to their performance, engagement, resolution of conflict, and physical well-being goals,” she said. “Attendance was very high, with nearly 300 people attending the majority of the day’s classes and activities.”

Every day, Parker said, Strengths Academy helps to foster “a positive and supportive workplace culture where an individual’s growth and development occur as a result of being able to work to their strengths, where feedback seeks to acknowledge what is ‘right’ with an individual’s performance, and collaboration and innovation thrive as a result of the increased engagement and productivity that faculty and staff experience in a strengths-based culture.”

Parker noted that, “Gallup analysis has shown, when an individual is given an opportunity to use their strengths every day at work, they are ‘three times more likely to report having an excellent quality of life, six times more likely to be engaged at work, 8 percent more productive, and 15 percent less likely to quit their jobs.’”

Human Resources and Payroll encourages everyone who works at Mason to use their strengths to the fullest, Parker said, and doing so “will provide great benefit to faculty and staff as individuals and the university as a whole.”

Mason’s students, faculty, and staff can keep going deeper into the benefits of using their personal strengths on an ongoing basis. In fact, Mateen said, there’s no limit to how much Strengths can help people fulfill their potential in life. “Successful people know what they’re good at, they know what they’re not so good at, and they leverage everything else. If you continue to work on your strengths, you can become extraordinary!”