Sun, 24 June 2018
Today’s episode is a question that came up this week when I did an event for one of my awesome tech clients here in Austin, Texas. I was checking in with security and he asked about the purpose of my visit. I said I was delivering a StrengthsFinder team session. Pretty soon, he's telling me his top five talent themes and we were asking each other questions about our CliftonStrengths profiles, which led to the answer highlighted in this episode.
Have You Downloaded Your Strengths Tools?
One of the best ways leaders can build a strengths-based culture is to offer an appreciation of strengths in action. If you’ll notice what works, you’ll get more of what works because people can replicate what they’ve already done well. Get started by downloading this awesome tool that offers you 127 Easy Ways to Recognize Strengths on your team.
My First Major Strengths Insight … Ever
He asked me a unique question, which was what my first ever major insight was from strengths. So here I am, quickly scanning over 13 years of insights, and boom — it hit me like a bolt of lightning. My answer was that seeing my strengths and the strengths of people on my team (my direct reports) helped me understand that I had some dangerous unconscious biases. Now, I am not talking about the biases that many workplaces are focused on right now, like racial biases or gender biases. Cognitive bias is another layer entirely. What I discovered is that I had strong cognitive biases. And being in a people-manager role, it was leading me to value the thought processes of certain people on the team more than others. It was leading me to appreciate the relationship styles of some people over others. It was leading me to think that some people were high maintenance and not enrolled in our vision. But once I explored our talents at a team level — our natural ways of thinking and feeling and acting — it helped me discover that I placed the greatest value on people who thought most like me. It was a dangerous bias because I didn’t realize I was doing it.
Cognitive Biases Are Extraordinarily Powerful Yet Often Unconsidered
Just imagine what this awareness could do to improve performance on the team. For example, one person on the team leads through the Consistency, Deliberative, and Intellection themes. She is probably at peak performance when she can think deeply and carefully about changes, how they will affect the people and processes on the team, and how they could be implemented prudently. Meanwhile, imagine my Strategic theme: decision-making and pressing the go-button fast. And my Individualization theme leads me to rarely feel married to a consistent, standard way of doing things. If a situation calls for something else, I love to adjust and customize and change. To take it further, my Maximizer loves to tweak and change and make things better. All the while, I am driving her crazy with my constant changes. And if you’ve read the book Strengths-Based Leadership, you know that stability is one of the deepest needs of your team. So in this scenario, which happens to be a real-life memory from one of my teams, my personal biases and preferences were leading me to create an environment that put her at her worst and left her feeling frustrated every day.
Self Awareness Of Your Patterns
To apply this to yourself, think about your talents and consider these questions:
As a manager of a team, if you will take the time to understand these things about your team members, you can have massive insights about where you are similar and where you are different from people on your team. And if you’re honest with yourself and you’re willing to be very self-aware, you may find that you are biased toward people who are like you. Or, you might be biased toward experiences that honor your talents or bring you personal energy. Even when these biases are totally fine (which they sometimes are), it’s great to have an awareness of them.
Here’s a super simple example of being biased toward experiences that honor your talents: When I was sitting in the lobby with that guy, chatting about strengths, there was a Rolling Stones song playing in the background. It’s the one called Sympathy for the Devil. Nope, I’m not about to dive into a lesson on devilish biases. What happened is that just as he asked me my talent themes and I finished with my #5 Woo, the song breaks into the part where the rest of the band does the “Woo Woo.” I pointed at the speakers and add in my own “Woo Woo.” He thought it was awesome because his Connectedness talent knows that song came at the perfect moment for a reason and that there are all sorts of connections like this for us to make if we’re looking around for it. My Positivity talent theme loved being able to create a second of comic relief by singing in the middle of the lobby and getting to crack up together. We each had a bias toward that moment, yet it came from a different place. So that’s another reason why this concept of cognitive biases is fascinating because your preferences might be similar on the outside, yet on the inside, you have vast differences in the motivations and values that sit underneath them.
Differences Are Differentiators
The beauty of a strengths-focused culture is that you can see differences as differentiators rather than seeing them as annoyances. It helps you understand how to use each person's unique awesomeness to improve your overall team performance. And rather than viewing those “different” team members as high maintenance, you can reframe that to understand that there are people on the team that do not think like you. Which means they cover important ways of thinking, acting, doing, and performing that do not appeal to you. And likely, your organization needs some of that “other way."
So if you can value those ways of thinking, you can make the person a superstar in that area. And — bonus! You don’t personally have to spend your headspace in that zone. For example, I don’t personally love to think about all of the risks and possibilities for where things might go wrong. There are usually people on my team who do enjoy that. So, in this example, I could delegate risk management-related responsibilities to the person who enjoys it. I could send juicy problems to people with the Restorative talent theme — to people who have a great time working out the solutions — people who love the puzzle of exploring the problems and fixing things. It’s no surprise that my Positivity talent theme doesn’t get energy or enjoyment from wallowing in problems. To give you another example, a manager I met with last week is not strong in relationship talents and so rather than lamenting all of the critical customer relationships he needed to build, he instead delegated that authority to someone on his team who leads through Includer, Empathy, and Connectedness. Then both people get to have more fun and be more aligned with their highest and best use. The customer gets a better experience. And the company gets better overall performance.
Reflections To Consider Your Biases
So to summarize, take a look at your own biases. Here are three questions to get you started:
Burnout Might Bring Your Bias Out
As we bring this in for a landing, it's important to note that I don’t believe that our strengths and natural talents bring us negative cognitive biases all the time. But we’re human, which means we’re flawed. And you’re probably a growth-minded lifetime learner if you’re listening to a show like this. So think of these cognitive biases as states of mind that you can change. And that might be more likely to crop up in you when you’re overtaxed, burned out, and falling into lazy thinking. But when your awareness is high, you can invest in those talents to apply them as contributions — and you will be on watch for other people’s contributions (especially the ones that are different from yours). I’ll leave you with the idea that using your strengths on the team will help you build stronger performance on the team. To keep your biases in your awareness, watch for differences and use them as differentiators!
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