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Hidden Strengths

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Build a Foundation for Continual Growth

In today's turbulent world you need to continually develop new skills to remain agile and adaptive—otherwise, your strengths will become crutches. But contrary to what many people believe, the best way to develop new skills isn't working on your weaknesses—it's identifying and elevating the underdeveloped abilities that lie between your weaknesses and your strengths.

Books like StrengthsFinder 2.0 have helped leaders build on what they're best at—but they stop there. If you only go that far you're missing a huge opportunity for professional growth. Leading Silicon Valley consultants Thuy and Milo Sindell argue that relying exclusively on your top abilities can actually hold you back—it's critical that you expand your repertoire of skills. The most effective way to do that is find your hidden strengths—midlevel skills that can quickly be elevated into learned strengths with attention and focus. This book shows you how.

Too many people waste their time working on their weaknesses, say the Sindells. Although focusing on shoring up weaknesses on the surface makes sense, they've found that it takes too much time and effort—the ROI just isn't there. The neglected skills in the middle, neither strengths nor weaknesses, are where the most potent development opportunities lie. They're close enough to being strengths that putting your energy there can offer a fast and powerful payoff. Us the Sindells' free online Hidden Strengths Assessment, along with the exercises and case studies in the book, you'll be able to identify your most promising hidden strengths and create a plan to turn them into major assets.

In today's work environment, not growing and stretching yourself translates into lack of innovation, stagnation, and obsolescence. You can't keep leaning on the things you're naturally good at or your strengths will become training wheels. But with the Sindells' help, you'll continually develop new skills that will keep you riding at the front of the pack.

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8 Chapters

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1. What Are Hidden Strengths?


When we are faced with a new challenge—playing a new game, building a new relationship, or getting a promotion—we usually rely on what we consider our strengths. And why not? Shouldn’t what has worked for us in the past work in the future?

On the other end of the skill spectrum, however, we tend to get mired in futile attempts to fix things and improve the skills that are our true weaknesses. Our glaring shortcomings become the most obvious targets for improvement. Why is it so easy to focus on the extremes—our strengths and weaknesses—and overlook the gold that lies in the middle? This book is about what lies between what you are already great at and what you are inherently just not good at doing: your Hidden Strengths. These underdeveloped skills are your richest resources for growth.

In our experience working with hundreds of leaders, we have identified twenty-eight skills that are necessary to achieve professional success (see Chapter 3). What we have also found is that for each person, these twenty-eight skills fall into three buckets: Natural Strengths, Weaknesses, and Hidden Strengths (Figure 1).


2. The Four Principles of Hidden Strengths


The rocket fuel for your development resides in your middle. With awareness, effort, and the appropriate resources, you can quickly turn Hidden Strengths into Learned Strengths. They may never come as easily to you as your Natural Strengths, but they will be equally as valuable to you and your organization.

The Hidden Strengths methodology, composed of four principles, provides an important framework for unleashing your Hidden Strengths and ensuring your ongoing professional development:

1. Leverage your traits, and develop your skills.

2. The middle is the source for your development.

3. Practice, practice, practice.

4. Always be working on your Hidden Strengths.

Being effective in the workplace requires a combination of underlying traits and skills. You are born with certain traits or talents, and they are not particularly malleable. On the other hand, skills are an adaptation to your environment. For example, if you are naturally opinionated and outspoken and grow up in an Asian culture, you learn to be quiet even though you feel the compulsion to speak. Learning to keep your mouth shut when you are naturally outspoken is a skill. The workplace often poses challenges where traits may need to be tempered or leveraged and new skills developed as a response to your organization’s needs.


3. Identifying Your Natural Strengths, Hidden Strengths, and Weaknesses


The most valuable information you can have is an understanding of your current abilities. With a clear view of your Natural Strengths, Weaknesses, and, especially, Hidden Strengths, you can identify where to focus your attention to help you move to the next level of your profession.

As we discussed in Chapters 1 and 2, pushing your growth and moving outside of your comfort zone are the keys to your personal and professional evolution. More often than not, it takes an event—in this case, getting critical data about where you stand—to jump-start the growth process. Gathering this information is easy to do and should be done annually to keep you on top of your game.

Several methods are available for assessing your skills, including self-assessments and 360-degree assessments. The latter tend to be more robust because they incorporate feedback from all of your stakeholders, including your managers, peers, direct reports, cross-functional partners, and customers (internal or external). In a 360-degree assessment, you might find that comments from various groups differ. For example, your peers and your manager may be harder on you than your team is. You might also find there are gaps between how you see yourself and how others perceive you. (In our experience, this is usually the case.) All of this information is valuable to your professional development.


4. Reviewing Your Results


You might have a sense of what you naturally do really well, and you probably have an idea of the things you don’t do well at all, but are you aware of the range of things that you do just okay? Imagine for a moment how many of those things you could be really good at with some focus and practice.

The Hidden Strengths Assessment does the hard work of identifying your skills in the middle so you can then take the steps to developing the ones most critical to your growth. Take a look at the skill rankings for George, the head of advertising sales at a publishing company, in Figure 3. The top-scoring items (i.e., the top 20 percent) were his Natural Strengths, whereas the bottom 10 percent were his Weaknesses. The items in between represented the gold mine of opportunity that lay in the middle 70 percent: his Hidden Strengths.

Year after year, George exceeded his numbers and received the company award for recognition of outstanding work. However, he felt his lack of attention to detail was holding him back from even better performance. His Hidden Strength report revealed that Thoroughness was in fact one of his lowest-ranking skills. In his middle range of skills were Strategic Thinking and Inspirational Vision, among others. He had some really great ideas for how to move the company from medium- to top-tier territory, but he had neither the time nor the discipline to create a compelling message and road map to convince others. His lack of Thoroughness was a real deterrent to his sitting down, creating a plan, and doing the pitch, and he wasn’t delegating anyone to pick up his slack.


5. Making Your Hidden Strengths Work for You


So you’ve completed your Hidden Strengths assessment and learned about the twenty or so skills that fall into your middle range (if you haven’t gone online to do the assessment yet, what are you waiting for?). Don’t worry—you don’t have to work on all twenty skills at the same time. In fact, we don’t recommend it. Rather, we have provided a five-step action plan for identifying and developing the Hidden Strengths that are aligned with your current professional objectives.

At the end of your Hidden Strengths report, you will find a guide to help you think through and create your personal Hidden Strengths Development Plan. You can also find an easy-to-use worksheet that summarizes the five steps in the Appendix.

1. Find your motivation.

2. Identify your goals.

3. Choose your Hidden Strengths to develop.

4. Turn your Hidden Strengths into Learned Strengths.

5. Evaluate your progress.

Before you embark upon this Hidden Strengths journey, there is one final question you need to ask yourself: Why am I doing this? Knowing your source of motivation is what will help you to commit to the behavioral changes necessary to develop your Hidden Strengths.


6. Leading Your Evolution


If there’s only one thing you take from this book, we hope it is this: You are so much more than what comes naturally to you. Within you lies a gold mine of Hidden Strengths just waiting to be unleashed. Don’t discount this treasure trove of opportunity lying just beneath the surface. With awareness and dedication, you can leverage these Hidden Strengths to continually reach new levels of performance and success.

Did you know that self-awareness is a key factor in high-performance and long-term career success?12 According to a study by the Korn/Ferry Institute, one way we frequently undermine our potential is by being ignorant of our skills. By taking a narrow view of our capabilities and relying too much on skills we’ve had for many years, we can become “obsolete.”13 Don’t keep your Hidden Strengths hidden. Assessments, feedback, and practice can help you realize your potential to improve. This ongoing evolution is the cornerstone of the Hidden Strengths methodology.


Appendix A: The Twenty-Eight Skills and Why They Matter


Table 3 The Twenty-Eight Skills



Leading Self


Emotional Control





Executive Presence

Work/Life Balance

Leading Others



Conflict Resolution

Influencing Others


Partnering and Relationship Building

Teamwork and Collaboration

Verbal Communication

Leading the Organization


Creativity and Innovation


External Awareness

Inspirational Vision

Organizational Awareness

Service Motivation

Strategic Thinking

Leading Implementation


Coaching and Mentoring

Customer Focus



Monitoring Performance

Planning and Organizing


This category covers how you regulate the kind of person you want to be as a leader and a professional. When you know who you are and can control your emotions, you exude a quiet confidence that inspires others. These skills may appear more like natural talents or traits, but they can be learned. We have worked with thousands of leaders to help them build stronger skills in these areas, and you can do it, too!


Appendix B: Hidden Strengths Development Worksheet


Why are you doing this? By keeping what motivates you up front, you will be more dedicated and disciplined in your efforts to grow and change. The three key sources of professional motivation are security (compensation and benefits, and job security), identity (organizational and self), and stimulation (new and different experiences and gaining mastery in new skill areas). Make sure that the reasons for change are meaningful and sustainable for you.

What do you need to accomplish over the next year in order to move up? Make sure these goals are aligned with the larger company vision and strategy. Which categories of skills—Leading Self, Leading Other, Leading the Organization, or Leading Implementation—will you need to use to achieve these goals?

Look for patterns in your middle range of skills. Find a cluster of complementary skills that supports your goals over the next year. These are the Hidden Strengths that you should develop next.

Figure out the behaviors you have to change and the new behaviors you need to adopt to turn your Hidden Strengths into Learned Strengths. Talk to your manager and HR department, and do your own research. Make every interaction—meetings, calls, presentations, emails, hallway conversations, and so on—an opportunity to practice these new skills.



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