Strengths, Values, and that Pyramid

Longer article coming up.

Update for October 2011:
I have been referring to this post, and to Maslow’s pyramid quite a bit in my current writing. Use this tag to see them listed.

The people I coach are so smart. They constantly question me in ways that force me to reinvestigate what I have taught them and take my own refresher courses. As Adrian Trenholm says, “teaching is a virtuous cycle.” Indeed it is.

After reading my last two D5M articles (on The Daily 5 Minutes), a work team I am coaching as a group asked me for more clarity on strengths and values, because if you look at my own references to the Gallup StrengthsFinder strengths and then at my MWA values, there are duplicates. For example these show up on the same lists:

Gallup Strength – and – MWA Value
Responsibility and Kuleana
Achievement and Kulia i ka nu‘u
Command can be thought of as Alaka‘i
Harmony and Lōkahi

Clearly, there are more parallels (and yes, there are differences).

So how can something like “Responsibility” be both a strength and a value? Well, let’s break this down and talk it through.


Strengths were redefined for me forever forward after I had read FBATR- First, Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, and if I now understand it correctly, the late Donald O. Clifton was the mentoring genius of the Gallup “strengths revolution” — my own deduction after reading Clifton’s   Soar with your Strengths, written before FBATR. I start with that statement to give credit where credit is due, for I now define strengths the way MB and CC defined talent:

“Great managers define a talent as a recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied. The emphasis here is on the word “recurring.” Your talents, they say, are the behaviors you find yourself doing often. You have a mental filter that sifts through your world, forcing you to pay attention to some stimuli, while others slip past you, unnoticed. Your instinctive ability to remember names, rather than just faces, is a talent. Your need to alphabetize your spice rack and color-code your wardrobe is a talent. So is your love of crossword puzzles, or your fascination with risk, or your impatience. Any recurring patterns of behavior that can be productively applied are talents. The key to excellent performance, of course, is finding the match between your talents and your role.”

Don’t you just love thinking of impatience as a talent versus a weakness?

In the book (FBATR) MB and CC explain that you are hard-wired with your strengths; character-building is done as that unique “filter” you have was created. In the chapter titled “The Decade of the Brain” they explain how that happened for you in your first fifteen years of life through your “carving of synaptic connections” between brain cells.

Well, at the time I read FBATR I suppose MB and CC fortified one of my already strong synaptic connections. Their scientific evidence and extensive workplace research were enough for me, for today that’s how I think of strengths, as your predominant talents: They are pretty much set in stone and not going away although you can make the conscious decision to build on them and make them stronger.

  • You cannot teach talent. As a manager, you have to select people for the talents they already have. Why? Because,
  • The combination of a person’s talents will prove to be the driving force behind their job performance.
  • Your strengths are defined by how your unique filtering of talents forge the strongest predictable patterns of behavior for you. They create your character.

Neuroscience tells us that beyond your mid teens there is a limit to how much of your character you can change. Now in contrast to this, you can change your values.


Values are more intentional, more intellectually emotional if you will. I believe that over time you can change them, consciously discarding older values you had when you were younger for newer ones that are more important to you now as a calling — they connect with the personal mission you have harnessed as your guiding star. Where? On your way to self-actualization and making meaning in your life.

I’m reading Keith Ferrazzi’s new book right now, Never Eat Alone, and there’s a chapter in it he’s titled “Health, Wealth, and Children.” In that chapter he relates how he came to realize that those three things will engender deep emotional bonds between people when they somehow have come into play as part of the relationships they build together. He refers back to psychologist Abraham Maslow’s theory outlining our hierarchy of needs as human beings.

“We all have the same needs, Maslow believed, and our more basic needs must be satisfied before our higher needs can be addressed. The highest human need, said Maslow, is for self-actualization — the desire to become the best you can be. Dale Carnegie astutely recognized this. But Maslow argues we can’t attend to our highest needs until we attend to those at the bottom of the pyramid, like the necessities of subsistence, security, and sex. It is within this lower group [that] health, wealth, and children reside.”

Ferrazzi further offers that when you help others fulfill the needs they most need met, the relationship they have with you is one they will be very interested in remaining invested in, for “you allow them the opportunity to move up the pyramid of needs to tackle some of their higher desires.”

Now this is pretty profound for me: I’m really getting drawn into a connection I am sensing between Ferrazzi’s relationship evangelism and the RORI (Return on Relationship Investment) Don Clifton had talked about in Soar with Your Strengths. Related post is here ” don’t be surprised if I go off on that tangent at some point of my own continuous learning with this stuff. (But don’t worry, not in this post :-)

For me, based on my own years of managing and coaching, the Maslow Pyramid also explains much about our strengths and values. (Who knew you would actually use this stuff after that psych class you had in school???)

Maslow's PyramidWe move up the pyramid with the passage of time. Early in our lives we rely heavily on the strengths we’ve become wired with (i.e. those talents, filters and synaptic connections) and on the values our parents taught us, to make choices on our early job and career paths. These choices are highly influenced by others who have imposed their values upon us, such as family, teachers, sports coaches, and peer groups. At this stage of our lives, influencers still get to us fairly easily.

Midway up Maslow’s pyramid is Sense of Belonging: Think of how that need to belong can influence the next progression in life. (Memories coming back to you, are they?) During our college and early working years we start to move in different circles, and suddenly we understand why concepts like ethics, truth, and integrity are such a big deal. We realize that learning must be a lifelong pursuit because we have to filter all the messages better, and there are a whole bunch of messages out there we are starting to get bombarded with.

We move closer to Self-Esteem when that filtering of messages feels good and right to us, and we don’t hesitate to own our decisions based on the values we have consciously claimed as our true values. (In the language of MWA we have arrived at Pono.) We also will own the consequences of our behavior — even if it means getting arrested at a protest, or being snubbed for a promotion when we challenged the boss’s ethics — because our values have determined that behavior. Our values have become our mana‘o (our deeply held beliefs and convictions). Being true to our values equates to keeping our integrity and being truthful with ourselves. These values will continue to build on our strengths, and they will also make us feel okay with our perceived weaknesses: Chances are those weaknesses weren’t part of our calling anyway.

Within Managing with Aloha, great managers are those who are constantly seeking that Self-Actualization at the top of Maslow’s pyramid for themselves and for those they manage. They love the process of mentorship along the way. They talk a lot about Ho‘ohana (purposeful work) as connected to ‘Imi ola (mission and making meaning): Ho‘ohana and ‘Imi ola are the values of their mana‘o (deeply held beliefs and convictions).

Mahalo Zach for drawing the pyramid for us!

Together, Strengths and Values become a match made in heaven

So let’s go back to those duplicates of strengths and values in the very beginning of this post. Let me see if I can now bring this all together with one example.

Responsibility and Kuleana
Responsibility is your strength. It was one of your talents and predictable patterns of behavior early in your life, for you’ve always taken ownership of anything you promised to do. To not keep your word and deliver on something is unthinkable. You’ve always had a reputation for being utterly dependable and thorough. With this as your talent, it’s no wonder that you’ve normally been assigned those projects that have critical deadlines — whereas stressful for others, those same deadlines actually help you thrive.

In Hawaii, Kuleana is most often spoken as a question or a personal statement in regard to one’s personal sense of responsibility: “What is your Kuleana?” Or, “This is my Kuleana.”

As a value, Kuleana, responsibility, drives self-motivation and self-reliance, for the desire to act comes from accepting your responsibility with deliberate intent and with diligence. Your sense of responsibility to do _________ (fill in the blank with your personal mission) seeks opportunity. When that opportunity comes for you, it creates energy and excitement. Your Kuleana, your sense of responsibility, weaves empowerment and ownership into the opportunity that has been captured, and yes, you will be held accountable. There has been a transformation for you in Kuleana, a change, one that comes from ho‘ohiki, keeping promises. This promise is one you have made to yourself.

If you haven’t guessed by now, responsibility is one of my predominant strengths and talents. If you have read Managing with Aloha, you know that the mission of my book is to get all managers universally to understand the responsibility they have for the profound effect they can have on the people they manage. I hold them accountable.

I do what I do, and Ho‘ohana is my personal mantra, because I have accepted the responsibility I feel I have to get better management consistently practiced in our workplaces.

Strengths and Values. I love this stuff.

Related posts:
Strengths and Values.
Muses, Mentors, and Self-Talk.
The instinctive, natural selection of wanting.


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