To be an authentic and intentional leader, you need to start with your strengths in order to grow your stretches and move past challenges. In difficult moments, understanding your personal strengths is what will give you the confidence to figure out the best way to move forward.
Leading from your strengths is one of the most basic building blocks that I teach in my girls’ leadership classes. Most students start out not knowing where to begin if asked about their personal strengths, or they’ll only key in on one specific talent like art or sports. While these passions and talents can come out of their strengths, we try to go a bit deeper to get in touch with the underlying personal strengths that drive each student to succeed and influence her style in all parts of her life.
If you want to help your students start living more intentionally by leading from their strengths, here are a few resources I've found to be useful. I recommend trying them out for yourself to see which options might be best for your students in particular.
This is the only test in this list that isn’t free, but since it’s what I use in my leadership classes, I figured I would include it anyway. StrengthsExplorer is a paid quiz that helps kids to discover their personal strengths. (Gallup also makes a product for adults called StrengthsFinder.) This test goes fairly in depth to help students discover their top three traits out of a list of twelve: Achieving, Caring, Competing, Confidence, Dependability, Discovery, Future Thinker, Organizer, Presence and Relating. I like how each strength is presented in a way that allows the student to connect it to all parts of her life, and how there are parent resources to encourage further learning. There’s also an educational workbook to help students explore their strengths further, but I’ve preferred to create my own lessons for this kind of learning instead of using the workbook in class.
I took the StrengthsExplorer test to get a better sense of what my students would be learning, and even though the test itself is definitely geared towards kids, I still ended up with pretty accurate results. My top three strengths are Achieving, Organizer and Discovery, which means that I’m a curious life-long learner for whom setting goals and organizing my life come easily.
The Myers-Briggs test is the classic Jungian personality test with a combination of four characteristics: introversion (getting energy from within) vs. extroversion (getting energy from others), sensing (detail-oriented) vs. intuitive (big picture), thinking vs. feeling, and perceiving (go with the flow) vs. judging (organization and planning). I haven’t found a good kids’ version of this quiz, but there are dozens of free quizzes and explanations for each personality type online geared toward adults. This test is a great way to get an overview of your personality style. Understanding your style can help you make decisions that will allow you to be more productive, have more energy and better understand why some things come more easily or are more challenging for you compared to other people. If you understand what it means to be an introvert, for example, you can prepare yourself for events when you’re required to be social with a lot of people by scheduling quiet alone time before and after the event to recharge your energy levels.
I tend to score either as an ISTJ or an ISFJ. I’m really strong on introversion and judgement, but sensing/intuitive and thinking/feeling tend to be right in the middle for me. I’ve put this into practice by being intentional about giving myself quiet downtime after a busy week of teaching, and by embracing organization while being conscious that it’s okay to be flexible even if I’d rather plan everything in advance.
The Fruit Test
The Fruit Test is based on Dr. Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I use the fruit test with fifth graders in leadership class, and it works well for adults and kids alike. After choosing words from a list that you most identify with, the test sorts you into one of four categories: Grapes, Oranges, Bananas and Melons. It then describes the strengths, stretches and learning preferences for each type, as well as what each type can work on improving. I like the fact that it recognizes both sides of a strength in that, for example, having the strength of curiosity and constant desire to experiment as an Orange may mean that you have difficulty meeting deadlines or dealing with time management.
I was sorted into the category of Banana, whose strengths of organization and desire to achieve fit right in with my results from the more traditional StrengthsExplorer and Myers-Briggs tests. The fruit test stays on more of a surface level than those two other tests and doesn’t go into as much depth on all facets of your strengths, but it is a quick way to see fairly accurate results.
Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences
The Multiple Intelligences test determines your strongest intelligences out of the following: Language, Spatial, Logic/Math, Body Movement, Music, Social, Self, and Nature. Multiple Intelligences are an old standard in educational theory, but they can be interesting to gauge areas of interest if you’re uncertain where to focus your energy and actions. This can be an excellent way for students to start determining their passions and to look into new hobbies and learning opportunities that speak to their main intelligences.
I scored as Spatial, Nature and Self, which fits with my strength in art, interest in gardening, and personality style of introversion. Nothing too surprising, given everything else from the other tests. I’m already focusing most of my time and efforts professionally and personally to these three areas, so I think I’m on the right track.
Reflect on Your Strengths
To help your students get started on understanding their strengths at a deeper level, encourage them to take one or more of these strengths tests and record their results. Ask them to write down their thoughts about the following questions:
1. What are some key takeaways that resonate with you in the description of your strengths style?
2. Did anything surprise you about your strengths?
3. What is your favorite part about having these strengths?
4. Think about an area in your life that is challenging for you. What are some strategies you can use to work on these challenges by leading from your strengths?
Understanding and fully embracing your personal strengths can be the key to start living with more intention and confidence. When something comes naturally to you, it can be difficult to recognize that this is unique and doesn’t come as easily to others. If you can begin to find ways to capitalize on your strengths and use them to inspire yourself and help others, you’ll find yourself gaining more and more inner motivation and enthusiasm to take risks. Ask your students: what are your personal strengths and how have you used them to lead a creative and intentional life?