Context: Reflecting on the Past

A CliftonStrengths Theme Spotlight

"People exceptionally talented in the Context theme enjoy thinking about the past. They understand the present by researching its history." -The Gallup Organization

One of the reasons I love the CliftonStrengths assessment so much is that it doesn't try to put people in boxes. We're all much too unique for that to work. Instead, each one of the thirty-four CliftonStrengths themes represents the presence of talent (recurring patterns of thought, feeling or behavior that can be productively applied) in a general area, but each person with a specific theme will use it differently. The core of the talent remains similar, but the expression will change based on so many other factors.

For example, consider the following descriptions of two people I know:

#1. I have a close friend who's passionate about movies. If you dig underneath that passion a bit, you'll find that the reason he loves movies so much is because he's passionate about the concept of story. He loves to tell stories, listen to stories and watch stories unfold on television and in film. He's not a passive observer of stories, though. It annoys him when a writer has characters do something inconsistent with their history or character arc. He notices when small details don't line up with the origin of the story and he can typically predict where a story is headed based on the clues he's gathered along the way. He's the best movie critic I know.

#2. My brother is passionate about horse-racing (so much so, my nephew's nursery is currently decorated in a horse-racing theme). As a young teenager growing up in a community with a horse-racing track, I can remember my brother would study the racing program and try to predict the horses that would win based on their prior races. He wanted all the background information he could get. He ate it up and got really good at it. He'll tell you that his ability to analyze the horse's history made him much more successful in his predictions.

In many ways, these two are very different from one another. They have different careers, different interests and passions and different personalities. But they share a fascination with the past and the ability to use the past to understand the present and predict the future.

They both have Context in their Top 5.

The Talents of People High in Context

People who are high in Context are passionate about the past. They understand today in light of yesterday and all the yesterdays that came before that one. Not only do they remember significant events and "mile-markers" from the past, but they typically have phenomenal memories and can call back specific time-frames that others have long forgotten.

Remembering and studying the past is the best way forward for a person high in Context. In fact, people high in this theme are characterized by their ability to intuitively sense the link between where they've been and where they want to go next. Knowing the past helps them avoid making the same mistake twice.

One of the most charming things about people with Context is that they typically love telling and listening to stories about the past. They love folklore, photographs, anecdotes, case-studies, documentaries, novels, non-fiction books or memorabilia that shine a light on days gone by. They are nostalgic and love reminiscing, sometimes by themselves, but often with others.

When working in teams and groups, they have the ability to contribute relevant background information for important discussions and decisions. If they've been on the team or in the organization for a while, they'll have a treasure trove of institutional history to share. If they're newer to the team or organization, they'll be the voice in the room asking for more background and perspective before wanting to move forward. Their presence on teams provides a strong frame-of-reference for others. Perhaps they will speak to why specific decisions were made, why an initiative succeeded or stalled, or how circumstantial factors impacted the trajectory of the organization. Whatever the task at hand, the person high in Context will serve as a rear-view mirror for the rest of the team.

Up until just recently, the brother I mentioned earlier worked as a sales manager at a car dealership. When describing his Context theme to me one time, he said:

"It explains why I love reviewing the potential customer's employment and credit history, and why I'm fascinated with the past. Being able to understand how people have previously managed their finances helps me forecast the future, and ultimately helps us minimize risk associated with the loan process."

Regardless of the roles they fill, people with Context will bring perspective and wisdom to their teams and organizations. While others are quick to forget the lessons of the past and move hastily into the future, those with Context will advocate for action only when it's rooted in the past.

The Temptations for People High in Context

Because those with Context are always thinking about past, they can sometimes struggle to move forward. If they aren't intentional about using the lessons of the past to move ahead in meaningful ways, others might perceive them as "stuck in the past" or might accuse them of seeing the past through "rose-colored glasses." Their love of history and tradition can keep them from adapting to change or preparing for what's ahead. If one only looks in the rear-view mirror while driving, a crash is inevitable. But if the driver uses the rear-view mirror as intended, he's much more equipped to handle the road.

People high in Context also hate when the past is overlooked or downplayed. This can cause conflict in the workplace, especially during seasons of great change or transition. A person with Context might feel that others are ignoring tradition, forgetting original intent or discarding policies or procedures that were established with careful thought.

Finally, those with Context can also struggle when they need to get caught up to speed quickly, especially in fast-paced working environments. Their desire for all the relevant background information might result in them asking too many questions or stalling when it's important to make a time-sensitive decision.

Add More Context

Here are a couple of quick ideas to get you thinking about how to leverage and self-regulate if you've got a dominant Context theme:

  1. Look for opportunities to use your knowledge and/or appreciation of the past to strengthen the perspective of your colleagues. It might not occur to them that reflecting on the past can provide valuable lessons that will lead to better decisions and future outcomes.

  2. Try partnering with people high in Futuristic, Strategic or Restorative. These individuals are interested in moving forward and solving important problems and will appreciate the context and perspective you bring to the table.

  3. When leading a team or working with others, make sure you communicate clearly about your desire to learn from the past when it's time to make a decision or take action. It isn't that you're stuck in the past. Rather, you're convinced that history provides clues we need to reach our goals and to stay true to who we are as a team.

At ROI Talent Development, we try to help people fall in love with every single talent theme, even if it isn't dominant in their own theme sequence. Because when we all take the time to understand and appreciate one another, we build happy and healthy workplaces where employee talents are valued and developed.

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