Strengths Mastery: Rock or Roll?

Drawn from African American vernacular, the phrase ‘It’s the way I roll’ is increasingly used to express how people behave when they are being real and showing their true colours – literally speaking, the way they move.

On the one hand this could be considered a strong statement of authenticity and confidence; that their attitude and way of showing up is a reflection of their inner self – their being. In this sense, my tendency to see the positive loves the unabashed, proud statement of acceptance that conveys ‘this is who I am’.

On the other hand, depending on how it is delivered, this admission of a default modus operandi could be read as ‘this is how I am, deal with it’’. This comes across as inflexible, perhaps defensive, and what intrigues me most is the idea that the person has no choice, indeed they are fixed, either in their stance on something particular or their more general mindset.

My desire to learn, grow and take things from good to great doesn’t love this so much! This sparked some thinking about the journey towards mastery. For me recognising how we roll is just the start. It’s where the fun begins – after all, why would we choose to roll when we can rock?

How You Roll

From a strengths perspective, the way we roll describes how we make sense of, and habitually respond to, the world around us. Partly through nature (our genetic inheritance) and partly through nurture (childhood experience) we develop strong neural pathways, ways of navigating our experience of life which are smoother and easier to use than others – a bit like using the motorway vs a minor road to get to the same destination. Over time these pathways become stronger and easier to travel; they form deeply interwoven patterns of thought, feeling and behaviour that strongly influence our approach to life. Donald Clifton described these as our natural talents. They are the enduring source of our greatest energy and define the ‘way we roll’ – the instinctive ways of interacting with the world around us that creates the most ease and joy.

Yet, the potential of these gems is often hard to discern. How we roll is so natural to us that our true value and potential is often hiding in plain sight. These enduringly unique ways of interacting with the world fool us into thinking everyone sees things as we do, how could they not? (Buckingham & Clifton 2004). This can lead us to being blind not only to the uniqueness of others but to our own power and edge. Indeed our habitual patterns can actually cause us to get in our own way – the fixed implication of an unapologetic ‘this is how I roll’, or the frustration of ‘I can’t help it’. In other words, depending on our belief and level of selfawareness, the way we roll, our natural talents, can be both a blessing and a curse, a mix of light and shadow.

A Desire to Rock

The way up is to blend recognition and awareness of our natural talents with a growth mindset (Dweck 2012) and a desire to rock – to really move to strength and achieve consistent, near perfect performance in the areas which matter to you.

The first step is to identify your natural talents because these are form the blueprint to rocking your job, your life, your relationships. Whilst we are all capable of gaining new skills and knowledge, to truly rock in a given aspect of your life or activity at work, it’s important to harness how you naturally roll. Let’s pause to make a distinction at this point between how you roll and learned behaviour. Acquiring new skills and knowledge provide the steps, the what to do, and with practice and experience it is possible to become highly competent and proficient in a given activity. However, without natural talent to support this learning, and particularly if you are being asked to perform in ways that are contrary to how you roll (ie they require you to use the minor roads in your neural landscape rather than the strongly constructed motorways) the task may drain you of energy because your brain has to work harder. Willpower and determination, repeated practice and good intentions may ultimately run dry and lead to burn out. Sadly in a weakness fixing world this is all too often the case.

This is a very different picture than the results we get when we utilise the Rock-It fuel of natural talent. Building skills, knowledge and experience onto the powerhouse of natural talent produces results that are exponentially greater and more consistent than learned skills alone because it is based on an instinctive pattern of response and it feel good. Success feels like a no-brainer!

So, if you want to learn more about how to harness your own Rock-it fuel, to shift up a gear, to stand up and say, ‘this is how I Rock’ … walk this way.