Talk About a Revolution!

“What would happen if we studied what was right with people versus what’s wrong with people?”

–       Don Clifton, Soar With Your Strengths

Several years ago a colleague and I attempted to start a “Strengths Revolution”.  Buoyed by the work of Marcus Buckingham (First, Break All the Rules and Now, Discover Your Strengths), we wanted our organization to embrace strength-based development.  Doesn’t that sound like something that should occur:  focusing on strengths?

Our manifesto fell on deaf ears, however.  Why? 

As a society, we focus more on fixing our weaknesses than promoting our strengths.  For some reason, the “powers that be” may think it is easier to fix something that is broken instead of improve upon something that is not broken.  Maybe it is a result of accessibility or availability.  Matching strengths to tasks or jobs takes time, they may say.   And in the fast-paced working Square peg in a round hole with hannerenvironment in which we all seem to exist, time is a rare commodity.  The ineffective manager thinks, “You are the only one available so you are the one that has to do this task.”  Result – a square peg is forced into a round hole.  The job may get done, but it will probably take longer and/or not be completed as well as it could be.  It seems to be easier for the ineffective leader to say “try your best” as opposed to “do what you do best”.

“You have development needs – areas where you need to grow, areas where you need to get better – but for you, as for all of us, you will learn the most, grow the most, and develop the most in your areas of greatest strength.  Your strengths are your multiplier.  Your strengths magnify you.”

–       Marcus Buckingham, Go Put Your Strengths to Work

The Strengths Revolution encourages (requires) a shift in mindset.  Turning our focus to the areas in which we excel demands an increased level of self-awareness and the courage to pursue those assets.

What is the organizational value of strength-based development?   At a minimum: 

  • Increased productivity.
  • An engaged workforce.
  • A culture of respect for the employee and what he/she brings to the workplace.
  • A high performing environment.

Think about your “best day ever” at work.  (If you can’t think of one at work, think about your “best day ever” outside of work.  Then let’s talk for you might need to seek an alternative to how you are spending your days.)  What were you doing?  As you think back on that day – or series of days – you are reviewing activities in which you excelled.  Maybe you didn’t realize it at the time, but your contributions to that “best day ever” were indicative of your strengths.

I remember one such day.  Another colleague and I were brainstorming ideas for content of an e-learning program that would introduce users to the navigational aspects of a new computer system.  As we shared our thoughts, you could feel the energy in the room increase.  We quickly added to each other’s ideas spawning imaginative ways to connect the learner to the concepts.  As time went on, observers would see each of us running to the other with words of “what about this?” starting each discussion. 

This “best day ever” exposed the creative process as one of my strengths.  I am happiest when I create; when I take a blank piece of paper and turn it into a visual or written image. 

What about you?  How do you identify your strengths?  And then what do you do once they are identified?

1.  Start with a “strengths audit”. 

StrengthIn addition to thinking about your “best day ever”, I recommend Tom Rath’s book, StrengthsFinder 2.0.  The book contains descriptions of 34 strengths and descriptions of these strengths in action.  The related online assessment produces a list of your top five strengths.  Take the assessment, read the descriptions of your top five, and analyze your workday.  How often do you get to use these strengths?

For those who want to go further with the “strengths audit”, couple the StrengthsFinder data with other assessments, such as the Simmons Personal Survey and/or Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, to determine your behavioral tendencies. 

 For example:  The Simmons Survey tells me that I have a strong tendency toward embracing change and that my normal decision making mode involves collaboration.  The Myers-Briggs tells me that I would rather imagine “what will be” as opposed to “what is”.  And the Strengths Finders tells me that I am futuristic, always looking toward tomorrow and painting a vision of what appears.  When I analyze my “best day ever”, I am doing just that.  Working in a collaborative setting, combining existing pieces to create something new and different for “tomorrow”.

And don’t forget to include additional data in your strengths audit.  What have you learned about yourself from other feedback sources:  performance appraisals, multi-rater assessments, comments from colleagues, etc.?

2.  Analyze your current job. 

When do you use your strengths?  In what ways might you start using your strengths?

Not to foment a rebellion (even though I do want to start a Strengths Revolution) – but, if you do not use any of those top five strengths in your job, then I think it is time for you to look around for work that is more suited to your talents.

3.  Talk with your manager about opportunities to use your strengths on the job.

Look around.  Does your team need to build relationships with other teams?  If your strength is one of “winning others over”, then suggest that you become your team’s relationship building liaison.  If your strength is in details/research, suggest that you lead a data-driven project.

Use your manager’s influence to help create opportunities to develop your strengths.

4.  Seek opportunities to use your strengths outside of the organization. 

Think outside of the workplace.  Volunteer opportunities and hobbies also become havens for us to exercise our passions.  (And, you guessed it – within those passions one can find his/her strengths.)

5.  Assess your progress. 

As you work within your strengths-set, examine how your performance has increased.  Also, observe your energy and your optimism.  Focusing on strengths changes outlooks.

A Strengths Caution!

Beware of the “strengths-on-steroids” syndrome.  At times, we overuse our strengths to such an extent that our performance is negatively impacted.

For example, the ability to speak one’s mind and have managerial courage or the Command strength could very well turn into overly aggressive behavior and the lack of empathy, if overused.  This “strengths-on-steroids” behavior results in an inability to build relationships and work collaboratively with others.

Take caution that those behaviors and tendencies that make you unique don’t become derailers on your path to success.

As Terence, a comic playwright of the Roman Republic said, “Moderation in all things.”

Your Call to Action

It is time to reignite our “Strengths Revolution”!  And I invite you to join me.

For the first three respondents to this invitation, I offer a complimentary “strengths” consultation.  Using the Strengths Finder, the Simmons Personal Survey, and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, we will analyze your strengths and discuss ways in which you might further use and improve upon these talents.  If you are interested, please send your contact information to me at susan@leadershipelements.com.  I will respond with instructions on how we get started.

I look forward to collaborating with you as we spread the news regarding the power of strength-based development.

Join the Revolution

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