This should be a reply to Ganesh's post (thank you!) but I am having posting issues and figuring it out is not a strength I possess! And, not enough time at the moment.

I have been thinking about the connection among strengths-based leadership, engagement and Mihaly's Flow. They are definitely interconnected, would love to hear what others think. Here is a basic diagram for flow.


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Thanks to your reference, I was compelled to dig to see which thread you are talking about!

In my mind, there are some obvious connections between Mihaly's Flow concept and the Buckingham-Gallup strengths approach and some other linkages that are occurring to me via such discussions.

Two aspects set the context to the thoughts I am sharing below:

1. I believe the distinction and relationship among the three types of ingredients of any strength, namely, knowledge, skills and natural talents (traits), are a key component that aid in understanding strengths and flow

2. The summary of key points of the B-G strengths approach I depicted here ( is one of my reference points.

Now, about flow, strengths and the diagram above:

a. The indicators of being in flow state are clearly the clues to the use of one's "talents" such as "losing track of time when immersed in a particular activity", "wanting to be involved in a task again and again without feeling bored" and "experiencing and enjoying quick learning"

b. Knowledge and skills are the acquirable components, talents/traits are not. Two distinguishing attributes of skills are that a skill is that thing where proven methods and sequence of steps lead to more effective results, and any skill has to be practised in order to retain that ability

The way I look at it, the diagram on flow emphasizes skills but perhaps flow state cuts across skill and natural talents. The "10000-hour rule" and "Talent is Overrated" concepts similarly highlight certain aspects of the skill building process without necessarily negating the important role of natural traits. The messages behind those concepts are much needed to counteract our tendency to label and slot ourselves and others in a finalistic manner.

c. The strengths approach says that when we acquire, use and improve skills in an activity that brings to play a natural talent, we set higher and higher benchmarks without any external expectation pressurizing us to do so, which is why it says, "our areas of strengths are the areas of maximum growth opportunity". So, in a way, the boredom and relaxation zones are not places we would stay for too long, if these are truly our strengths

d. IMO, most of the tasks or activities in our jobs offer multiple ways to combine talents, skills and knowledge to perform that task or activity well. Therefore when we realize a gap in skill or knowledge, we tend to overcompensate with the existing repertoire of talents. We may partner with someone, we may willingly imitate someone else who has achieved mastery, or we may simply shift focus to aspects where we are comfortable. In other words, we may do things to move away from the Worry and Anxiety zones and move in the direction of the Arousal zone.

Real-life Example-1: I have seen some management trainers who are not exactly masters at explaining concepts or at asking questions but their overall facilitation and harmony-inducing abilities make them encourage interesting discussions across participants that ensures that many perspectives are shared, even doubts are clarified by others. If such trainers build further on some of the skills of facilitation, they would deploy those skills masterfully and become master trainers in a different path than someone who is passionate about explaining or highly skilled in raising insightful questions. Sure, asking questions is a skill that can be learnt and is a core part of facilitation, but this person may spend just enough effort to be good/average at it.

Real-life Example-2: A project manager I knew used to apparently violate the conventional conflict-resolution methods of listening to each side, looking for the common ground or positive elements and so on. Often, he used his sharp analytical ability and idea generation capability to engage subordinates in interesting mini-projects and was seen as a successful leader of the team. I am aware that these vignettes are open to debatable interpretations but the point is that we naturally tend to deploy what we have and there are situations where this is not avoidance or dysfunctional with respect to the goal.

In all this wonderful progress of understanding human ability and achievement, we are yet to reach sophistication or standardization in what we call a skill and what we believe is strong performance. There is a lack of consistency that leads to viewpoints that appear contradictory.

I hope to see more comments on this interesting thread you have started.

Craig: Thank you for bringing these concepts together.

Ganesh: I appreciate your thoughtful outline of this.

I tend to take my strengths for granted and often fail to see how much flow they produce because they seem easy, to me. I know that utilizing my strengths on a daily bases certainly contributes to both engagement and flow and that when I am stuck I should often look towards my strengths for assistance.

I am personally tired of strengths being reduced to a list derived from some inventory. This can be a useful first step but is too anemic and often I hear people say they did the "strength thing" believing that an assessment and results are the answer rather than a starting point towards a daily discipline of strong work.

I will be writing more about strength work in another week as I outline it as one of the 10 blocks of the pyramid of full engagement.

Take care all and stay strong as we move fully into 2012,



You can scarcely imagine how these statements echo my thoughts.

I am personally tired of strengths being reduced to a list derived from some inventory. This can be a useful first step but is too anemic and often I hear people say they did the "strength thing" believing that an assessment and results are the answer rather than a starting point towards a daily discipline of strong work.

The original work on strengths avoided this confusion by clearly stating that a detailed specific strengths statement is highly context- and individual-specific, there cannot be a list to choose from whereas "talents" (personality types) have been cataloged by many schools of thought and can be a useful starting point in building relevant strengths. The subsequent glossing over the difference between talents and strengths seems to be a case of commerce conquering common sense and common good!

More power to you and your writing in 2012!


As far as bringing flow and engagement together, credit to Ollie who did the same for me quite some time ago. Thanks, Ollie if you’re out there!

Ganesh, your post that you linked was the one that I was trying to respond to. I apologize for not clarifying, it was so difficult to reply and I got distracted!

David and RG, agreement from me on the dislike of lists which leads to things like doing the “strengths thing”. Why do we have to tidy things up into neat little compartments so we can do a check-box activity?

Maybe in the case of flow and / or engagement it’s more “I know it when I see it” or more accurately “I know it when I feel it”? See the two areas on either side of the “flow” state in the diagram: the feelings of arousal and being in control. For me this means I am really pumped up by the task at hand, and I feel very good about doing it, very probably because I am very good at it. When arousal and control are at maximum power, “flow” is the outcome.

The closest I’ve come to being ‘in the flow’ is playing music, but we call it ‘in the groove’ because that sounds a lot more hip. No orchestrated parts, no structure. All the band mates know where to go and feel what the others are playing so much that we know where the others are going before they take off to get there.

The moral of the story? Stop over-analyzing, stop dissecting things down to the molecular level, stop relying on intricately constructed sheet music and simply ‘go with the flow’. Or, get in the groove.

You know it when you feel it, and superlative results verify that you feel it.

To me, all the above indicates high engagement too. Now, if I could just get the boss to understand that it’s a good thing and good for business when I say “Hey, mon--we be jammin now!”

This is interesting. I would add to not loose sight of the targeted behaviors of employees here such as motivation, retention, performance, how they influence colleagues and if they would recommend the organization to others.

Though this is an old conversation thread, I believe it has the potential to be enriched with many more perspectives (anybody listening out there?).

I am in the midst of reading Marshall Goldsmith's "Mojo" where his use of the term and how to gain it reminds me a lot about flow and strengths. His excellent example stories from his coaching clients and his humble sharing of his own learning situations can help people discover their natural talents, develop strengths and reach flow state more often.



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