New Year = New You

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The New Year marks a time of change, a time when we can make a fresh start, a time when we might step back and reassess how we view ourselves. And while many people take this opportunity to develop a list of goals or resolutions, sometimes the biggest changes come from within. In fact, your greatest opportunity for growth in the New Year only requires you to do one simple thing.

Focus on your strengths.

This month, I had the opportunity to speak with Mathew Galloway, Office of Student Access and Wellness Manager at Ashford University, about how focusing on strengths can change not only an individual’s life, but also the way an entire team thinks about themselves, their careers, and the lives they impact through their work assisting others.

Strengths Focused

Matt Galloway might have one of the best jobs at Ashford University. “I oversee the Student Advocate HELPline, previously known as critical support; I also oversee outreach efforts related to disability support services; additionally, I co-chair the Ashford University Online Behavioral Intervention Team, and am active in all of our health and wellness promotion services.” Simply put, Matt works to cultivate the wellbeing and safety of the University community. Taking a step back, Matt’s team works to offer resources proactively as well as work directly with students who benefit from access to additional support. Whether that help comes in the form of disability accommodations, short term support services for individuals experiencing a personal crisis, or providing behavioral guidance and support, the individuals who report to Matt are constantly dealing with highly-sensitive situations. And although most people who deal with similar situations can often experience burnout, Matt’s team approaches their work with positive mindsets, confidence, and a sense of solidarity that is nothing short of remarkable.

“I think that keeping the Gallup StrengthsFinder in mind, and trying to be attentive as to what our team members have as their top strengths, and how that applies to their role on a daily basis, is key to our team’s approach to facing challenging issues,” explains Matt.

Data Driven

The StrengthsFinder tool Matt references is an assessment created by Gallup that provides users with a list of their top five talents, or “strengths.” Gallup, widely recognized for its public opinion polls, developed an assessment and language rooted in over 40 years of research to educate people about their unique strengths. These 34 different strengths serve as an indicator of how an individual can best succeed. Donald Clifton, the educational psychologist whose work led to the development of StrengthsFinder, described these strengths as “naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied” (Asplund, Lopez, Hodges & Harter, 2007).

Strengths themes range from Arranger to Communication to Belief to Positivity. So what are Matt’s top five strengths? “My top 5 are Consistency, Harmony, Developer, Adaptability, and Positivity.”

To identify your top 5 strengths, you must take the StrengthsFinder assessment. While you might not think this task sounds like the best way to spend your free time, it‘s not the kind of test you study for. The assessment presents a series of statements and asks you to provide a rating between “a lot like me” and “not at all like me.” Each item is associated with one of the 34 strengths themes and, together, your responses will result in your unique strengths combination. To give you a sense of how your responses are unique to you, the odds of receiving the same top five talent themes in the exact order as someone else is one in 33.39 million. The chances of having the same top five talent themes as someone else, regardless of order, is about one in 340,000 (Strengths-Based Campus, 2013).

Making it Work

So how does all this apply to the workplace? Matt explains, “It’s all about our team members finding value in the work that they do and allowing them to really connect with students and those they are supporting.”

To find out how Matt is able to ensure that his team is able to avoid burnout, you don’t have to look farther than his definition of what it means to have ‘Harmony’ as a strength, “Harmony is all about finding a middle ground. So if there are different people with different points of views, we have to find what is shared, what we have in common, and how we can move forward together.”

Taking it with You

Whether you decide to use a tool like the StrengthsFinder, or you want to start simply by focusing on the positives in your life, making time for yourself and the experiences that bring you joy or energy might go a whole lot farther than any traditional resolution ever could.

 

Written by Samuel Harvey

 Sam is a Content Specialist in the Office of Student Access & Wellness at Ashford University.

References

Asplund, J., Lopez, S., Hodges, T., & Harter, J. (2007). The Clifton StrengthsFinder 2.0 technical report: Development and validation. Retrieved December 20, 2013 from http://strengths.gallup.com/private/Resources/CSFTechnicalReport031005.pdf

Building a strengths-based campus, (2013). Retrieved December 20, 2013 from http://strengths.umn.edu/content/how-likely-it-have-same-top-5-somebody-else

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