Adaptability is High School Students' Number One Strength

As Student Launch Pad’s work with four public high schools in the Atlanta area wrapped up for the semester, I compiled results from the students’ assessments to see what patterns emerged. Each student who is a part of Student Launch Pad takes the StrengthsFinder assessment, and definite trends appeared. (For background, although Student Launch Pad coaches college students and recent graduates, the results below are only from students in high school, primarily ages 15 to 17. StrengthsFinder is an assessment measuring your top 5 strengths out of a total of 34 strengths themes. All strength theme names are trademarks of Gallup, Inc. For more information, visit their website.)
The key finding was that high school students’ number one most common strength is adaptability. 
From the results, the three most common strengths were: 
  • Adaptability (38% of high school students had it as a top 5 strength)
  • Empathy (32% had it in their top 5 strengths)
  • Futuristic (32% had it in their top 5 strengths)
The three least common strengths were:
  • Arranger (0% of high school students had the strength)
  • Analytical (2.7% had it in their top 5 strengths)
  • Learner (2.7% had it in their top 5 strengths)
The chart below shows what percentage of high school students had the listed strengths in their top 5 strength themes. (Click the chart to enlarge.)  HS strengths As defined by StrengthsFinder 2.0, “People exceptionally talented in the Adaptability theme prefer to go with the flow. They tend to be “now” people who take things as they come and discover the future one day at a time.” What is interesting is that high school students’ second highest strength is Futuristic, defined as people who “are inspired by the future and what could be. They energize others with their visions of the future” (StrengthsFinder). So on one hand students are very excited about opportunities for the future and gain a lot of energy by picturing what “could be.” Yet, these same students live their everyday lives in the “here and now,” rather than planning for their desired future. To add to this, 27% of students have Deliberative as a top strength, “best described by the serious care they take in making decisions or choices. They anticipate obstacles” (StrengthsFinder). Not only do students see a vision of a potential future, they also see all of the obstacles it will take to get there. The Adaptability and Deliberative combination can make for slow decision-making, as students prefer to wait and see as they anticipate obstacles. Perhaps this dynamic explains why students are now taking longer to graduate from college, decide on a career, and move out of their parents’ houses.
In general, high school students are very focused on the future and can see themselves years down the road. Yet they don’t know how to get there or are overwhelmed by all of the possibilities of the future, which paralyzes them from making important decisions.
Students’ least common strengths are also very telling. 0% of the students had Arranger in their top 5 strengths. “People exceptionally talented in the Arranger theme can organize, but they also have a flexibility that complements this ability. They like to determine how all of the pieces and resources can be arranged for maximum productivity.” The Arranger strength would be beneficial for students making plans for their future, as would Learner, which only 2.7% of students had, and Focus, only present in 5% of students’ strengths. Learners have “a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve” and those “talented in the Focus theme can take a direction, follow through, and make the corrections necessary to stay on track” (StrengthsFinder). These strengths, especially “Focus,” would bring a determination to followup on visions of the future.
Yet for all of high schoolers potential decision-making procrastination, their strengths do have numerous upsides.
  • These students grew up in a world that changes at lightning speed. Their Adaptability allows them to be flexible enough to not be satisfied with the status quo and be able to make changes quickly. Older generations can benefit from the ease at which they can change course, make a new plan, or learn a new technology. Teachers can build in some flexibility into their lesson plans, allowing students to discover class material more spontaneously.
  • With Empathy tied for the second most common strength, these students have high emotional intelligence, which is a more important factor for success than IQ. They can “sense other people’s feelings by imagining themselves in others’ lives or situations” (StrengthsFinder). This strength also allows them to understand a product or service through the customers’ or recipients’ eyes.
  • Futuristic mindset means these students rally around a cause and are champions for improving generations that come after them. They are visionaries who love to dream about opportunities for themselves and others. They will bring high energy to their areas of passions. For teachers, tying class lessons to why it matters for the future is key. Even if students won’t necessary use the material in their own line of work, they need to understand why it is useful for the world in general (also sparking students’ high empathy). Futuristic students will also excel at projects requiring brainstorming ideas for the future.
Although this is a sampling of high school students, hopefully it gives some guidance into how these students think and act. Knowing students’ strengths enables parents, teachers, and future employers to understand their motivations and relate with them according to how they are naturally wired. One caveat: The results only showed students’ top 5 strengths, so some other strengths could have been present in their top 10. As students develop and get more opportunities to use their strengths (i.e. in college and work experiences), other strengths can emerge and grow.  

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