StrengthsFinder® - A Language to Excel

In a time when technology, through Twitter™, Snapchat™ and Facebook™, has broadened channels of communication, it seems that direct communication between individuals has been stifled.  Not too long ago, my daughter, who is a student at Loyola Marymount University (LMU), in Los Angeles, California, came into my home office, saw the StrengthsFinder 2.0 book, by Tom Rath, on my desk and she said, “we are using that same book at school”.  To my surprise, this began a long discussion about the book, how she was using it in class and her strengths.  We laughed and joked about how her strengths had manifested over the years and how her top strengths are instrumental in helping her thrive at the film school at LMU.  This encounter raised my curiosity about what they were doing at the university as it relates to StrengthsFinder®.  To learn more, I contacted Mr. Anthony J. Garrison-Engbrecht, the Director of Leadership Programs & LGBT Student Services to set up an interview.  Mr. Garrison-Engbrecht and his team administer the Ignatian Leadership Institute within the department of Student Leadership & Development at the university.  The students enrolled in the leadership program are all young leaders (about 300 in total each semester).  They are members of a variety of student organizations including the student government associations (ASLMU), greek life and other campus affiliations.

Mr. Garrison-Engbrecht begins the interview by explaining that the StrengthsFinder® methodology came highly recommended by the university’s business department.  He says that their team looked at several personality assessment programs, such as, Myers Briggs®, DISC® and others and after an extensive review they determined that StrengthsFinder® was the best tool to augment their leadership curriculum.  At the beginning of the semester, each student in the program takes the Gallup StrengthsFinder® assessment.  After identifying their strength talents, he says that the students’ conversations opened up dramatically, especially when they discuss how their strengths relate to their particular life circumstances. The leadership team recognizes the importance of each student’s participation in the development of his or her own leadership skills.  Mr. Garrison-Engbrecht tells his students, “these classes are about you; you should all get A’s because you are an expert on you”.  Students come to LMU with unlimited possibilities and abound in gifts and tools which will allow them to grow into the leaders of tomorrow.  The Ignatian Leadership Institute helps these young people unwrap their gifts and sharpen their tools so that they will succeed in their endeavors and that StrengthsFinder® has been a key ingredient in this formula.

With a desired goal of helping students live with a positive purpose, Mr. Garrison-Engbrecht and his team see their role as guiding students on their respective paths in life - “like bumpers in a bowling alley”.  Mr. Garrison-Engbrecht, is inspired by a passion for cultivating and grounding his students in a philosophy that their “lived experiences” are just as important as their formal educational.  He believes that by linking the two will help students to become effective leaders in the community and find their respective callings to effect positive social change.

Mr. Garrison-Engbrecht asserts that we often hear about how “Jane” is a great soccer player or that “John” is a fantastic office worker but that these interpretations don’t give you a deeper knowledge about the person.  StrengthsFinder® helps students to get past these nonspecific descriptions and move to definitions that talk about how “Jane”, who has a strength of “maximizer”, helps bring out the best in her teammates and how “John”, who has a strength of “harmony”, helps to bring consensus within group settings.  Conversations that emphasize strengths help the students to see the possibilities that they bring within themselves.  By using their strengths and the strengths of others, they can find new and creative ways to solve problems and to tackle adversities.

In this age of computers and cell phones, it’s gratifying to have opportunities to engage in real conversations.  A discussion with my daughter about our strengths and what makes us the best of who we are turned out to be an inspiring engagement.  At LMU, Mr. Garrison-Engbrecht says that StrengthsFinder® gives students a language to better describe what makes them special.  He talks about how the leadership program helps these future leaders, through StrengthsFinder®, discover a “language” that allows them to express their “best selves” in their conversations.  He believes that by emphasizing their strengths and then by linking them to solid positive core values and beliefs, that he is truly giving them “A Language to Excel”.

By Larry Hammond Sr...2016 V1H Consulting®