Thursday, December 30, 2010

Mining for Strengths: 8 Tips For Helping Kids Discover Their Gold

With all we know about the benefits of living through our strengths and passions, imagine if kids learned about theirs early on, and went through all of their school years curious and ignited to grow into their best selves?

Maybe you have a little one, niece, nephew, or friend and you want to save them from arriving at early adulthood with the looming questions: "What am I good at?" or "What do I love and want to do for the next 40 something years?"

From reading lots of research, and living through my own personal experience as a teacher, social worker/therapist intern and mom to 2 incredible kids, I have found the following ideas key to helping kids discover their unique assets.
  • Make sure children have time to explore. Many kids are super-scheduled with piano lessons, tennis lessons, playdates and structured time, so much so that they don't have time to even think about what "they" really want or love to do. Imagination and creativity need time and space to flourish.
  • Give them opportunities to make choices from an early age. Now this doesn't mean everything should be a choice, but when kids can select an activity, an outfit, or even food from a list of your approved choices, it allows them to learn from their decisions. These experiences, seemingly minor, can lead kids to discovering their unique preferences.
  • Observe. From a young age, I could tell that my son loved to build things, test them, destroy his creations, and re-build. To nurture this strength, family members gave Nick legos, Knex and many other "constructing" items. Of course, it's important not to pigeon-hole and label a child so he also got a keyboard and a guitar when he showed musical interest and passion. Even though he is a mechanical engineering student at MIT grad school, Nick has a diverse range of strengths that he explores and enjoys. I often refer to him as my "Renaissance Kid."
  • Don't live vicariously. As parents, it can be easy to transfer the missed opportunities to work on our own strengths and passions to our children. If we are feeling strongly about our child taking those violin lessons, it's important to step back and reflect: Who really wants this?
  • Find role models and mentors. If your child is interested in a topic you are not informed about, it's easy now through the internet and social media, to find an expert to connect to. Why not use Twitter to find that scientist to answer your child's questions?
  • Erase the illusion of "easy." Just because a person has a strength does not mean that things come easy. In this "instant gratification" culture that we live in, it's often misleading when kids look up to celebrities or athletes who make success look effortless. Read and tell stories of hard work "paying off" for people who have found their dream niche.
  • Praise the effort, not "talent". As Carol Dweck discusses in her wonderful book, Mindset, the way we praise children is critical to their success. We can turn a child away from pursuing a passion if we instill a need to "be perfect" all the time. If we encourage hard work and progress that comes from failure, we give the message that will lead to a child persevering.
  • Be a role model. Are you living your strengths and modeling the joys of mindfully engaging in what you love to do? Do you have passions or hobbies that your kids see you participate in? The best way for us to show the benefit of using our strengths is to be "doing our strengths."
Of course, there are many ways we can foster experiences that will lead kids to discover their "gold." Please share your ideas and stories so that we can learn together.

Joan Young, (formerly known as Joan Mancini), is a 4th grade teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area after teaching Kindergarten/1st grade for many years. Before her life as a teacher, she worked for several years as a foster care social worker and therapist intern. She is passionate about helping kids discover their strengths and stay excited about learning. Joan is also the author of “25 Super Sight Word Songs & Mini-Books” published by Scholastic. She enjoys helping teachers find creative opportunities and solutions in everyday classroom challenges.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Unique Gifts

by J.T. O’Donnell

Why You Can’t Identify Your Strengths

Anyone who’s ever done some soul-searching about their career has stumbled across one or more experts telling them to focus on their strengths as a way to find satisfying work. I call them Unique Gifts because out of the 100’s of people I’ve worked with one-on-one, no two people have the same combination of strengths. Each one is different and special.

Identifying Unique Gifts Can Feel Impossible

I’d say at least 50% of the people who have completed a PSA (Personal Strengths Assessment) with me stop in their tracks when they get to the Unique Gifts exercise. They call or e-mail me completely frustrated. They say things like, “There is NOTHING unique about me, “ and “I don’t have anything special.” I love when this happens because I know a huge Ah-ha Moment related to their career is about to occur. Why? This is the point in their self-discovery process where I get to point out the power and importance of leveraging their Unique Gifts.

They’re Not Unique to You - Hence, Why You Can’t Identify Them!

Our Unique Gifts are strengths that we have developed over a lifetime. Without even realizing it, they are skills and abilities we’ve been nurturing. Usually, because we had early success or failures that made us realize we could use them to get the results we want. As a result, they don’t feel special. In fact, we usually make the mistake of thinking that everyone can do what we do. So, when we finally recognize what our Unique Gifts are, we find it easy to incorporate them into our career as a way to get results without it feeling like work.

EXAMPLE: Meet Jeff…

This past year, I had a mid-career professional named Jeff come to me for help developing his job search. He was being laid-off as a project manager and was worried that he would have a tough time differentiating himself amongst a sea of unemployed project managers. He was right. Most job seekers don’t understand how to identify and incorporate their Unique Gifts into their brand as a way to catch an employer’s attention. As we went through the process, Jeff was able to focus in on what his specific strengths were as a project manager. It turned out he had a successful track record of taking complex projects that involved input from multiple departments and creating communication and coordination strategies that helped everyone to stay informed and on schedule. He even had quantifiable proof that his project management resulted in on-time delivery and zero need for re-design after implementation – a pretty impressive statistic. Ironically, Jeff never saw this as unique. He said to me, “J.T., this is what a project manager is supposed to do. How can I say it’s a strength of mine?” It wasn’t until I pushed back and asked him how he learned this was something a project manager must do that he had the Ah-ha Moment I was waiting for. He immediately started speaking in an energetic and confident tone. He proceeded to tell story after story of projects he had seen fail when he was just starting out. He effortlessly shared how he contributed to fixing some of these past failures and how he eventually got put in charge of his first project after the manager had to be let go for incompetence. A powerful career story rolled off his tongue and you could feel the sincerity and passion he possessed. At that point, the expression in his face change as he realized his particular approach to project management really was his Unique Gift. After that session, Jeff revamped his career tools (resume, LinkedIn profile, cover letter template) to properly reflect his Unique Gifts. Jeff got three interviews and 2 job offers shortly after. He said talking about his Unique Gifts in the interviews was what got him the offers. He found it effortless to talk about his success without feeling like he was bragging. Why? Because he knew he was telling the truth.

How to Identify Your Unique Gifts

The secret to determining what’s special about you is to spend some time truly focusing on it. If you can’t do it alone, then get help. Often, others can see what is unique about us better than we can. I have my clients talk to family and co-workers. I also give them a set of self-discovery questions designed to guide them towards the Ah-ha Moment such as, “What was the last thing someone asked for your advice on and why do you think they came to you?” These kinds of questions can help you see patterns of success that point to your Unique Gifts.

Everyone has Unique Gifts. The key is to keep working until you identify them. Trust me. Once you do, you’ll find the process of job search and career development a lot easier.

Jeanine Tanner “J.T.” O’Donnell is a career strategist and workplace consultant who helps American workers of all ages find greater professional satisfaction. Her work has been cited in Wall Street Journal, USA Today, New York Times, The Boston Globe,,,,,,, and dozens of other national publications. In 2008, she founded the career advice site, which is now a top 10 world-ranked career advice blog, featuring the best career experts in America, and in 2009, she launched the first ‘Career HMO’ - CAREEREALISM Club, a virtual career center staffed by experts that helps professionals advance their careers. Her book, CAREEREALISM: The Smart Approach to a Satisfying Career, outlines her highly successful career-coaching methodology. Aside from her company, you can find J.T. on LinkedIn and Twitter, as well as her nationally syndicated column with Dale Dauten.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Playing From Strength Makes You a Rock Star

Do you typically think of your self as a rock star? Neither do I. Sure, we all have those exhilarating moments; and some of us even play Guitar Hero. Yet, when things settle down, we return to our own status quo – whatever that may be.

Imagine though, that the very concept of rock star were to be reinvented, allowing us to be a rock star in whatever career we pursue. Well, this is precisely the premise behind a well-known television ad for Intel. It features Intel Fellow Ajay V. Bhatt who is identified as co-inventor of Universal Serial Bus (USB), and “The Real USB Rock Star.” The commercial, which makes an event of Ajay grabbing a cup of coffee, ends with this point: “Our Rock Stars Aren’t Like Your Rock Stars.”

We know this intuitively. We know and acknowledge accomplished people who “rock.” Still, in one deft and creative move, Intel has elevated this cultural association and clearly redefined rock stardom. And yet, there is also a critical distinction here. Ajay Bhatt has attained his celebrity through achievements that reflect a strong commitment to and passion for what he does. Read his bio and you realize his work is more than simply a job – it is the reflection of a strong personal brand.

So, what does this mean to you? Simply this: By taking the time to understand who you are, what you excel at doing, and how you engage the world, you can attain the kind of clarity that can make you a rock star – no matter what your field of endeavor.

Walter Akana is a certified personal branding and online identity strategist, and career coach. After more than twenty-five years in the financial services industry, he founded Threshold Consulting, where he works with mid-career professionals in transition. In addition, he is a trusted resource for clients of Reach Communications and Right Management. Walter’s career advice has been featured on,, and He is a long-time blogger, an avid user of social media, and can be found on Twitter: @walterakana

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Strengths Project: Angela Maiers

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog piece for Angela Maiers' PassionDriven series. The more I read the series, the more I was inspired to start one based upon one of my passions, which is strengths development. So, I am starting The Strengths Project series here on PEOPLEGOGY. In the following weeks, I will be posting a series of posts by a myriad of professionals. Each of them will share from their expertise the importance of working from ones strengths. How fitting is it that Angela Maiers, who inspired this series, is the first up to bat.

by Angela Maiers

I was so thrilled when Will or as I know him @peoplegogy on Twitter, agreed to be a contributing voice to an important conversation on my blog about passion. But I am even more excited to see how far the conversation is taking us. Passion is not only a strength we should be working from; it is a critical attribute of success both in business and in life.

The word passion is thrown around in business and education so much that we need to "rescue " the concept as leaders by fleshing out what and thinking carefully about the strengths and habits of passion-driven learners and passion-driven teams considering questions like:

  • What is passion…really?
  • How do you define passion?
  • How could/does passion change the game?
  • How does passion present itself in your work? life? organization?
  • What does it mean for you? our students? your community? clients? the world?
  • Can passion be “taught”?
  • How is passion different than engagement?
  • What conditions are necessary for passion to exist?
  • Is passion a necessary or a “nice to have” quality?
  • What are the repercussions of being a “passion-less” person or organization?
  • Can we quantify passion? If so, how?
  • What is misunderstood about passion?
  • What can we do to change this? move the conversation forward?

I recently invited a diverse group of thought leaders from across the Blog/Twittersphere to examine this topic and weigh in with their perspectives and advice. Each with their own stories and insight examined the role passion played in their work, learning, and life.

I was not only awed and amazed at the candidness, honesty, and boldness of their answers; I was amazed at how contagious the conversation became. Hundreds of tweets and fifty plus blog posts later, confirms that passion matters to educators, innovators, marketers, bloggers, branding specialists, parents, radio personalities, project managers, PR pros, professional speakers, leaders, scientists, leaders, coaches, and students.

Seth Godin would say,“a tribe” like this, could change the world, and I couldn’t agree more! This small Twitter project is a microcosm of the potential these conversations could have in your world.

Passion, energy, and initiative are gifts that people choose to give or withhold day-by-day and moment-by-moment. Engaging these gifts requires managing and organizing our classrooms” and our schools in very different and distinctive ways.

What would happen if...

  • We Lead with more passion?
  • We worked to Amplify Passion with the tools and technologies to we have at our disposal?
  • We Noticed Passion and it's many faces?
  • Spread Passion?
  • Inspiring people to give generously of these talents and gifts requires a renewed commitment to passion. We need to help keep the conversations going. Join me in rescuing this very important topic by using the hashtag #passiondriven, so all conversations can be linked.

We CAN change the world, but not alone and not without passion!

Happy Holidays, Friends and Leaders!

Angela Maiers is an award-winning educator, speaker, consultant and professional trainer known for her work in literacy, leadership and global communications. She is a consistently energized and recognized worldwide speaker greatly impacting leadership through not only the education field, but the international business community as well. Challenging educational philosophies and business ethics, Angela strives to achieve total synergy and unstoppable energy by reconstructing the thought process of many dated ideologies. You can Angela at Angela Maiers Educational Services (515.554.2004) and at @angelamaiers