From 2007 to 2012, I dedicated five years of my life to becoming an effective social studies instructor. All through the education coursework, the classroom observations, the student teaching, the substitute teaching assignments, and the full time teaching and coaching positions, I observed on numerous occasions administrators, teachers, coaches, and other practitioners of secondary education tell students, “you can be anything you want to be, if you work hard enough.” While this advice was well intended and accepted by the recipient as words of encouragement, I felt that the students who accepted this mantra were done a disservice because it is not true: you cannot be anything you want to be, even if you work hard enough, because you might not have the talent, skill or ability.
The formative years of adolescence and young adulthood are for discovering and learning one’s talents. But not everyone possesses the same skills and abilities. Some students have a faculty for numbers, others not so much; some have a proclivity for reading and writing, in other students this is not as prominent; some students are more oriented for contemplation and deliberation, while others are more action-oriented; some possess a talent for the visual and performing arts or great athletic ability, while other students are not as inclined toward the performing arts or athletics. The best service a school administrator, teacher, or coach can offer is to help students acknowledge, accept, cultivate, and appreciate their strengths. In doing so, students become more of whom they are naturally. They spend less energy trying to overcome deficiencies perceived as weaknesses in hopes of become something that is just not the right fit (e.g. a student who struggles with math is advised to study engineering).
Business executives, managers, and supervisors can apply these lessons to the people they lead as well. Between 1997 and 2007 the Gallup Organization surveyed 10 million people about workplace engagement and found that there is a 1% chance that an employee will be actively disengaged from their work if their manager or supervisor focuses on their strengths (Rath 2007, iv). Conversely, there is a 22% chance that that employee will actively disengage from work when a manager focuses on weaknesses (Rath 2007, iv). If an employee is altogether ignored by their manager or supervisor there is a 40% chance that the employee will be actively disengaged from their work (Rath 2007, iv). The message: the way to ensure employee engagement and productivity is to empower employees by focusing on their strengths and allowing them to display their talents every day.
Rath, Tom. 2007. Strengths Finder 2.0. New York: Gallup Press.