Use Your Strengths:
the MBS Tool

Management by Strengths, or MBS, is a tool I learned about and used in the corporate world. It is by far my favorite tool because it is useful, practical and easy to understand. It's used to understand your own communication style, or temperament, which is called a "strength", and you also learn to understand other people's communication styles, or temperaments.

Developed by a company called MBS, Inc. and located in Olathe, Kansas, MBS, Inc. has been in business since 1979.

MBS: How does it work?

The basic idea behind MBS is that we all have certain strengths. These strengths relate to how we communicate and how we perceive others. If we understand our own strengths and those of others we'll be able to communicate better, create stronger teams and better utilize our talents in the workplace.

The MBS survey takes about 10 minutes to complete. There are two lists of words. The first list asks you to rate the way other expect you to act. The second list asks you to rate how you feel you really are. None of the words are difficult, but you can use a dictionary if needed.

After completing the assessment, you will receive a detailed analysis with a description of your strengths, what motivates your and your communication style. You will fall into a color code (red, green, blue or yellow) that identifies your highest strength, and charts all four personality types as they apply to you.

Assuming you've given an honest response to the words on the survey, you will be amazed at what you learn about yourself that you didn't fully realize. It puts words around your communication style and places it into a positive framework. The simple color coding along with the graph gives you a visual understanding at a glance - very useful and simple.

It's best if your entire team does the survey and learns about how to use it at the same time. Things about other people that used to irritate or annoy you will suddenly seem understandable, and typically the group dynamics improve as a result.

Practical and Positive

In most work environments it's common to focus on the negative traits of co-workers. Most performance reviews dwell on the negative, on your weaknesses or developmental needs. The MBS tool appeals to me because it is practical and positive.

Using the MBS tool helps us to understand what each of us brings to the table. By placing the focus on everyone's strengths we're able to understand better how we can contribute to goals, to team objectives and even to our individual endeavors. And it helps us to identify the people who can help us accomplish the things we're not so good at doing. (This is especially wonderful.)

For example, I have a high score in the "Direct" (red) category. I see the big picture and want to get things done quickly. This is a good when it comes to leading a project, having a sense of urgency and getting things done on time. But rushing a complex project is not usually the best approach. Left to my own devices I would probably take some shortcuts that would get me in trouble in the long run - or cause a lot of sleepless nights.

Using the MBS tool I'd pull other people onto my team to balance out my own style. In particular, I would want a person who is "paced" (blue) to slow me down (a little) and work to a schedule, and also someone who is "structured" (yellow) to make sure we've covered all the details before we speed ahead. I might also want someone who is an "extrovert" (green) to help sell the concept to stakeholders or customers.

Another example: I also have a high score in the Extrovert (green) category. Basically this means I get energy from being around people and out in the world. If you put me in an office to work on a project alone behind a closed door I will be miserable. But send me out in the field where I'm meeting new people every day and I will thrive. Once I understood this part of my personality I only accepted job assignments that matched this trait -- and work became a lot more enjoyable. Even today, as a self-employed person, I steer clear of solo, isolated projects because I know I will be miserable working alone.

Recommendations Based on Experience

I used MBS in the corporate world for several years when everyone at multiple sites took the test. The MBS folks provided us with little stickers to put on our badges so that we could easily see each persons profile and utilize those traits for communications and team building. I know this sounds like some sort of weird categorization technique but it didn't really come off that way. We were all trained in using the tool, it's non-threatening, and it was fun getting to know people through their strengths - especially people we already thought we knew! Mostly we started to appreciate people more for what they contributed using their strengths, and also how to communicate better based on each person's style.

Did this tool solve all of our problems? Of course not. It mainly helped us communicate better with each other, look for strengths that were useful on our projects and assign tasks to the best person for the job. Until we started using MBS, I always seemed to get stuck doing documentation which I hated - but after learning this tool I also learned about who was better suited to accomplish this task, and how to say "no" to people who tried to push it to me.

Having a good balance will get most jobs done better than a team that is unbalanced, for example too many people on the team with the same strength. I once served on a team of senior leaders where every member was high "Direct", a very common personality attribute for managers in our industry. After weeks of meetings, we failed to complete the project.

Every project team needs a leader, some structure, someone who likes looking at the details and keeping track of them, a communicator, and so on. Understanding strengths helps to divvy out the tasks to the right person who will enjoy doing that task - and who will do it well because they enjoy it.

I even used this tool at home. My employer encouraged us to have family members take the survey, so my husband happily went along with it. It turns out that we are both high Direct. People with Direct as a strength tend to be intensely straightforward, often sounding rude to those more sensitive than us (we don't mean to be rude). We were perfectly comfortable being straightforward with each other - no hard feelings - but it turns out some of our friends were uncomfortable around us when we got all fired up on a topic. So instead of wondering why our friends were overly sensitive, this tool helped us to understand how we "appeared" to others and we learned to tone it down a notch or two when we were around other people.

Now you have a little bit of information about MBS based on my experience with the tool, but there's much more to learn. The MBS website has a lot of information if you're interested in learning more or taking the survey. At the time of this writing the fee was $24. The survey is available in English, Spanish, French and German. You should complete it in your native language if possible.

If you have a small business or a team of people that you're trying to get to work well together, this is a great tool. I don't receive any compensation from saying this -- it's all based on my personal and professional use of this tool and having experienced productive, positive results. And this isn't the official word -- only my positive experience with the tool. If it sounds interesting to you, check it out on the MBS website at

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