University of Minnesota
Office of Human Resources

Strengths, Not Weaknesses

Do you remember the last time you were so engrossed that you lost track of time? A time when you were actively engaged, totally absorbed, and thoroughly enjoyed what you were doing? You were probably using your most reliable strengths. These are the strengths that are uniquely yours and that you feel good about.

It may be a Midwestern trait, but we are often uncomfortable reciting our strengths or believing they are even worth mentioning. We tend to think that if these talents or skills are easy for us, then they must be easy for everyone else, too! However, this is where your unique combination of strengths and interests are found – at the place where you have heart and passion. It's what you enjoy doing when you have unplanned time; what you like to use as often as possible; and what you talk about in your relationships with family and friends.

Most of us find it easier to recognize our strengths in our hobbies or volunteer activities – or the activities that we're engaged in outside of our jobs. At work, we are more likely to focus on our weaknesses. The irony is that one can spend a lot of time and effort trying to fix weaknesses only to become mediocre at best. However, you will know when you are using your strengths – you'll feel energized; you'll work to find a way to use your unique talents even when it is not part of your job; and you'll keep coming back to situations where they are needed. The more opportunities you have to use your strengths, the more likely you will be a better employee and a more satisfied individual.


  1. Write a few sentences about several incidents in your life, work-related or not, that stand out as “peak experiences.” These are the times when you were actively engaged and so absorbed and satisfied that you lost track of time. You felt good about what you were doing even though you may not have been able to explain why.

  2. Look for the themes in those incidents, and you will begin to identify your strengths (pdf).

To learn more about developing your unique strengths and those of the people you manage, Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton provide a strong argument and good examples in their book, “Now, Discover Your Strengths;” a sequel to “First, Break All the Rules.” Buckingham and Clifton incorporate the Gallup organization's research which demonstrates that employees who focus on strengths have a strong impact on both productivity and organizational performance ( If you supervise people, these books should be on your must-read list.