Strengths Stories

It’s Hard to Own Your Strengths

I am a firm believer in owning your Strengths, whatever they are. I have said this before and I will say it again: All 34 CliftonStrengths are worth having and will lead to success if you develop them into Strengths.

But that can be a hard thing to do when the world has its own opinions about what makes a person “good” or “admirable.”

The other day in the Called to Coach Facebook group someone posted a meme that basically attacked those with Significance. The meme said, in part, “The desire to be recognised and thought of as being great is a temptation which can be destructive and toxic.”

Now, the definition of Significance according to my handy-dandy coaching guide includes the following: “People with strong Significance talents want others to see their worth. They want to be recognized…Particularly, they want to be known and appreciated…They want their contributions viewed as substantial, powerful, and significant.”

Pair those two together and this person was basically saying that anyone with the CliftonStrength of Significance is destructive and toxic. I immediately called it out because I have high Command and will stand over the body of someone who’s been struck down until they can stand for themselves. In response the person posted something about the value of humility and that two-thirds of our weaknesses are overused Strengths.

So I wanted to explore this further here, because I think people get twisted up in their understanding of Strengths and how those Strengths can be a weakness at times.

First, let me say for anyone who has Significance: Do not let the world hold you back or humble you. Your Strength is in wanting to be the best. To be seen and heard and to be so amazing the world can’t dismiss you. It is that internal drive you have to be seen that will make you accomplish things that no one else in this world can accomplish. Your superpower is in that drive to be at the top.

And that’s in the definition of the Strength. The short definition I have concludes, “Their Significance theme pulls them upward, away from the mediocre and toward the exceptional…The genius of people with strong Significance begins and ends with the difference that they are determined to make.”

Own that if you have high Significance. Own that you want more than others, that you strive for recognition. That is a Strength.

Now I personally am not high Significance, so the example I’m going to explore here is from Command which is my number six. (I suspect it was higher a decade ago when I worked in an office environment.)

As a writer I participate in a number of forums and FB groups where the business of writing is discussed. And on occasion people share flat-out crazy ideas. They stir up fear and conspiracy theories that don’t even make sense. On my good days I calmly respond with counter-examples or politely argue that no I don’t think Jeff Bezos has a personal vendetta against that author who has sold ten copies of their novel in the last five years. Perhaps it’s the homemade cover, no editing, and fifteen-dollar price tag instead?

That speaking up comes from my Command. I have a need to cut through the bullshit and provide clarity even if it means conflict.

Now, a few months ago there happened to be a day when I was not in such a level-headed mood and someone once more made one of these outrageous claims. Rather than calmly point out that it was impossible for both things they were claiming to be true at the same time, I made a snarky comment along the lines of, “Well, if you want to believe that, go right ahead, but you’re completely wrong.”

Not one of my finer moments.

I made a comment about the fact that I had been operating in the basement of my Command to my classmates in the Strengths for Writers class I was taking at the time because we were all in the midst of learning about Strengths and how they can operate from a position of power or a position of weakness depending on how you employ them. (Balconies and basements although that terminology is going away.)


A classmate of mine chimed in with something along the lines of, “I’ve always believed that you can either be right or you can be happy, so the best thing is to not get involved in the first place.”

Which as a woman I can easily interpret as “why don’t you just keep your mouth shut and smile instead of stepping in?” Something that is completely contrary to the power of Command.

So I will explain here what I explained there.

The failure of Command in that scenario was not that I spoke up. There were seven thousand people in that FB group at that time, many of whom did not understand how things work enough to know that the comment they were reading was incorrect.

Allowing that comment to go unchallenged would have resulted in perhaps a couple thousand people walking away with a wrong impressions of how things work. And those people would then spread that to their friends who would then spread it further.

By allowing that comment to go unchallenged there was a potential for weeks of angst and drama spreading through the self-publishing community. Something that I could at least mitigate by speaking up.

This willingness to stand up when others won’t is what makes Command a Strength. To me it’s not about leadership. I don’t have to lead. It’s about clarity and being willing to confront others or upset people to create that clarity so that we can move forward towards our goals.

The failure of my Command in that situation was not that I used it and spoke up. It was that I did so in a way that was snarky and off-putting. I failed to deliver my message in the most effective way possible because I allowed my annoyance at the ridiculousness of what this person was saying (and the three or four people who had liked the comment by then) to color the language I used to respond to them.

Telling someone with Command to not speak up–to sit still and look pretty–is to deny them their Strength. In the same way that telling someone with Significance not to shine above others denies them their Strength. (There are whole countries that deny Significance as a Strength. Google “tall poppy syndrome” some day. I just did and it mentioned Australia, but New Zealand is where I came across it first and I’d suspect there are a number of other countries where this comes into play.)

If the world you move in denies what makes you strong, it can be incredibly challenging to own your Strengths. I know more than one woman with high Command who either hates that Strength or struggles against it. I also know more than one woman with high Empathy who hates that Strength or struggles against it.

But you have to remember that each and every one of the 34 CliftonStrengths is a path to success. You do not achieve that success by denying those Strengths or downplaying them or mitigating them. You achieve that success by owning those Strengths and finding the best way to use them.

So circling back to that 2/3 of our weaknesses come from our strengths comment. I do believe that our individual Strengths are also the source of our individual struggles. My work struggles were largely driven by being high Strategic, Responsibility, and Command. I didn’t get why other people couldn’t see what I could, why they didn’t care about getting their work done the way I did, and why they’d let things pass that shouldn’t.

But the answer to those struggles was not to keep my mouth shut, slack off on my responsibilities, and not see possibilities. My trying to be non-Strategic (my #1 Strength) would be like my trying not to breathe–impossible for more than thirty seconds at a time.

The answer to succeeding with your Strengths is learning what your Strengths are, why those Strengths have value, how to best use those Strengths to achieve your goals, and also understanding that other people have other Strengths and that those Strengths have just as much value as yours do.

This is not always something you can do on our own, but it’s necessary if we want people to be the best they can be and this world to be the best world it can be.

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