Where Do Your Strengths Live—In the Basement or the Balcony?


Many of us in Higher Education are familiar with the Strengthsquest instrument, created by Gallup. After decades of research the masterminds behind Strengthsquest created a list of 34 talents that are valuable in the workplace. This 30-minute self-assessment gives each person a list of their top 5 strengths. While every person can theoretically have some talent in each area, your top five individual strengths should reveal a lot about yourself, your preferred work style and can provide insight into how you approach relationships with others.

Members of our Division of Student Affairs at DePaul University recently had the opportunity to take an in-depth look at our own strengths. Kyle Robinson from Gallup presented a two-day workshop where we learned about each of the 34 strengths, how they work together (theme weaving), as well as the perceived “negative side” (barrier labels) of the strengths.

Kyle asked us to consider if we were leveraging our natural strengths (i.e. living in the balcony) or if we were not utilizing our strengths (i.e. living in the basement). It is an interesting concept to ponder.

For example, let’s look at the strength of “Communication.” According to Gallup, a person who possesses this strength will “…generally find it easy to put their thoughts into words. They are good conversationalists and presenters.”

Living in the “balcony” of this strength could mean that a person who has Communication in their top five could be an excellent spokesperson for an organization. People could be drawn to them because of their natural story-telling ability. They could also be blessed with the gift of written communication, which could assist their department in terms of creating proposals and new resources that resonate with your target audience.

However, living in the “basement” of this strength could mean that a person is not strategic with their communication, which could lessen the impact of this talent and diminish the message. It could also mean that they talk too much and others could tune them out.

I buy into the concept of strengths because it has helped me to understand how my co-workers prefer to work as well as recognize what they need as an employee in order to be successful. I understand that strengths-based leadership encourages people to focus on what they do well (i.e., moving from good to great) instead of trying to improve areas of weakness to a level of mediocrity.

Perhaps as mangers we should change our language from “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” to “How do you leverage your strengths in order to compensate for your weaknesses?” This puts the onus on the employee to think about how they can live in the “balcony” to maximize all of their natural strengths.

Where do you live? Tell me about how you leverage your own strengths!

Follow me on Twitter @annmarieklotz
My strengths: Achiever, Activator, Woo, Strategic and Maximizer.

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About annmarieklotz

I write about all things education, personal & professional development and growth. Once is a question, twice is a discussion and three times is a blog post! Born and raised in Detroit Michigan but currently calling the Pacific Northwest home. I work at Oregon State University and belong to a fantastic community of higher ed professionals around the globe! Lover of theater and the arts. Live your best life!
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9 Responses to Where Do Your Strengths Live—In the Basement or the Balcony?

  1. Hey AMK- Great post. I saw your tweet that said something like this yesterday (or was it the day before?).

    I think I live at least 3 of my strengths from the balcony: Arranger, Learner & Input.
    I’m not so sure how much I use my Empathy or Achiever strength. However, others around me would argue that I use the Achiever one all the time.

    I do think that, as with most anything, you apply things in your personal life one way and in your work life in another. I tend to use some of these more in my personal life than in my professional life & vice versa.

    Thanks for challenging us though & sharing the knowledge that you picked up during the two days with Gallup!

  2. Julia Roberts says:

    “How do you leverage your strengths in order to compensate for your weaknesses?”

    LOVE this question…

    I really like StrengthsQuest and just wish I knew how to better utilize it… sounds like your sessions helped you do just that, AMK! 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  3. Judd Harbin says:

    Thank you, AMK, for this blog. My signature themes are achiever, connectedness, focus, futuristic, and deliberative. I myself have been using StrengthsQuest since 2004 or 2005 in my career but only in the past couple of years have had a press to apply those themes at my job and in my personal life.

    For me, the difference between the basement and the balcony is a matter of intention or mindfulness. When I respond reflexively (or merely react) to something, I am much more likely to ramble around in the dark basement and crash into things. When I respond thoughtfully or proactively, I am much more likely to enjoy the sunlight and fresh air of the balcony. Also, the more practice I get responding thoughtfully and intentionally with my talent themes in mind, the easier it is to get to the balcony.

    Nice blog. Thanks for provoking thought 🙂

  4. Christine Feit says:

    I too appreciate StrenghtsQuest. It has given me words to articulate what I already knew about myself, but (not having the Communications strength) found it difficult to articulate clearly.

    I know some people have difficulty with any “personality tests”. But as you indicated, they do give a common language for a group of people to communicate, and StrenghtsQuest is the best for this in my opinion because it is very difficult/impossible to be categorized within a type because there are too many combinations. You must rely on another to articulate their strengths for you to truly understand.

    I must now to revisit my strengths to see where I am living…

  5. laurieaberry says:

    Love this post. I believe I use my strengths in balcony with my professional and personal life. I am an input, intellection, ideation, learner and strategic. I love to live in my mind and process ideas and possibilities. Perhaps I could use strategic more often and share these with staff and family.

    I also love the revealing of your question to leverage strengths. Thanks for putting this out there.

  6. Thanks for a great post! I was recently on a retreat with students and we facilitated a discussion about their Strengths, and I had the opportunity to re-take StrengthsQuest for the first time in about 2 and a half years. I was surprised at first to see that only 2 of my 5 stayed the same; the rest were new… but not surprising in content.

    I’ve started to realize how often I rely on my strengths at work, so I picked up my StrengthsQuest book and read it in one night! I love the idea of “balcony” vs. “basement,” and this week I’ve been trying to live in the balcony for all of my strengths. Some of them are easy–I practice my talents of empathy, developer, maximizer, and positivity every day. But my newest strength, adaptability, is exhibiting itself more now in an avoidance of thinking about the future, rather than enjoying the present, so that’s a strength I’m trying to take to the balcony!

    Again, thanks for such a great post 🙂

  7. Thanks everyone for their great thoughts! I love what Judd said in regards to intentionality: “For me, the difference between the basement and the balcony is a matter of intention or mindfulness.” Right on.

    As an “Activator,” this is key for me. I want to try to live in the balcony of this strength which will require to pause and consider all options instead of just “doing”–which is my natural mode of operation. We are all “works in progress” my friends!

  8. Todd Porter says:

    Hey AMK,

    Thanks for the post. It gave some great insight and provided me some things to think about. I specifically had to note my own reaction to the “How do you leverage your strengths in order to compensate for your weaknesses?” question that you posed. Initially, it struck me as though this still seems to operate from a deficit model where we are still placing emphasis on the things you aren’t good at and needed to use your strengths to compensate for that, rather than focusing on “what are you truly great at, how do you capitalize on your strenghts, and how do you intentionally surround yourself with people that have different strengths than yourself to craft a team that is holistic in talents?” While they seem to be asking the same question that was stated, it seems to approach it from more of an appreciative paradigm. However, you are right on in the need to shift towards a hiring model that focuses on positive psychology.

    As someone who is one of the recruiters for my department, I would love to shift the standard interview questions of our profession to be me much more behavioral in nature. Have candidates reflect upon a specific experience, discuss how your strenghts were addative to the situation, what themes of strengths were woven together, what strengths were needed in a situation that you didn’t have, and how would you utilize your strengths differently in the future to foster a better experience.

    I love that we are critically looking at how to use strengths for the betterment of our field. Thanks for posting!

  9. carolfoasia says:

    LOL! I was googling what “basement” and “balcony” was in the Strengthsfinder, and I find your post, and you are (or were) at Oregon State. I live in Corvallis! I got my Maters in College Student Services at OSU. I am a Myers-Briggs teacher now, but I am learning about the Strengthsfinder too. Top 5: Learner, Empathy, Achiever, Connectedness, Relator and me to a “T”!

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