I was a secretary early in my career, and I was a lousy one.
My primary downfall was filing (I either didn’t do it or things were filed in the wrong places) and I loathed sitting at a desk for eight hours completing the same clerical tasks over and over. As a result of me being mostly incompetent in a job I thought anyone could do (how difficult is filing, really?), I was miserable.
Being a secretary was definitely the wrong job for me and now I know why: My brain is not wired to be one. Sound like a cop-out? Numerous neuroscientists don’t think so.
For example, Dr. Dario Nardi is an author, speaker and award-winning UCLA professor who’s been studying the neuroscience of personality types using EEG technology. Over the last decade, about 70 of his students have performed a variety of tasks such as math and storytelling while wearing an EEG cap.
Nardi witnessed the brain regions of the students who shared the same personality type light up on the EEG monitor in the same patterns while performing the tasks. He also saw different regions light up while students with different personality types completed the same tasks. Nardi concluded that people with different personality types use their brains in fundamentally different ways.
“Truly, brain activity varies by type,” he said.
Our brains have four sections and we are born hardwired to use or favor one section more than the others, explained clinical psychotherapist Anne Dranitsaris, who co-created an assessment and developmental program called the Striving Styles Personality System. The section of the brain we favor provides us with our sense of identity and strengths.
According to the SSPS, I favor the upper right section of my brain, where foresight, insight, conceptualizing and synthesizing take place. This means one of my strengths or talents is the ability to creatively solve problems. This makes sense because I’m frequently told I come up with good ideas and I’m happiest when I’m doing it.
“The reality is that each person has unique talents that are strongly wired into the neural network of the brain through the building of dense synaptic structures,” said Paul O’Keefe in his article, “How Successful Organizations Maximize Employee Strengths.” “These areas of strength present as behaviors that are performed well and with ease. Conversely, each person has certain behaviors that are weakly wired into the neural network with fewer, thinner synaptic structures — areas of weakness.”
The weakest section of my brain is the lower left, which inspires behavior that is precise, mechanical, sequencing and following. No wonder I was a lousy secretary!
Now that I’ve been validated, what does this mean for you? If you’re an employer or supervisor, you should focus on strengths when:
• Filling positions. According to O’Keefe: “So often in companies, management puts people in positions that draw upon their weaknesses. Why do they do this? One common reason is that management is simply filling vacant positions, rather than waiting for the right fit. Another reason is that they misjudge their workers’ strengths and put them in positions that draw upon their weaknesses and neglect their strengths, thereby, setting them up for failure.”
• Communicating with employees. According to a recent Gallup poll, 61 percent of employees who agreed that “my supervisor focuses on my strengths or positive characteristics” were engaged in the workplace; 22 percent of those who agreed that “my supervisor focuses on my weaknesses or negative characteristics” were actively disengaged; and 40 percent of employees who felt ignored by their supervisor were actively disengaged at work.
• Encouraging employees. Said O’Keefe: “Employees who are encouraged to develop and use their strengths are more engaged and loyal. They perform better, produce more, learn their roles quicker and more positively affect their organization’s profits.”
If you’re an employee or looking for a job, follow this popular piece of advice: Find out what you like doing best and get someone to pay you for doing it. If you don’t know what your strengths or talents are, chances are you’ll choose a job that’s not right for you and be miserable. You’ll probably also be lousy at that job, which compounds the misery.
According to the latest edition of National Geographic, “Your Personality Explained: Exploring the Science of Identity,” “Only 1 worker in 3 can name her strengths.”
If you can’t identify your strengths, think about what you do well and enjoy doing. If you do something well but don’t enjoy it, it’s not a strength. Also, ask others what your strengths are — they can see talents that you can’t see yourself.
Being a training and development specialist is absolutely the right job for me because it allows me to mostly use the upper-right section of my brain, utilize my strengths and receive positive recognition for doing so. Also, I don’t have to file anything.
Robin Paggi is a training and development specialist with Worklogic HR.