Lead Through Strengths

In this episode, Lisa answers the question: Will a strengths approach work in different cultures and countries? She the shares how leaders can use strengths to fulfill the five different needs of Mazlow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Have You Downloaded Your Strengths Tools?

Remember to grab the strengths-focused 1x1 and team meeting resource to get your 12 weeks of conversation starters. That will help you start applying the conversations to your cross-culture understanding.

Will A Strengths Approach Work In Different Cultures and Countries?

Today a question came in from Molly about whether strengths-focused development will work across any culture or country. If you manage a team of people from around the world, or if you’re about to roll out a strengths approach across your company or university — this is an important question to ask!

The short answer is, yes strengths-focused development will, in fact, work around the world. Let’s break the question down from a literal translation standpoint and then the conceptual.

Can You Translate Strengths Language?

Yes! And If you want to give team of people a native language experience, I definitely recommend looking at Clifton StrengthsFinder or the VIA Character Survey. Both of them are available in more than two dozen languages, so whether your native language is Polish, Croatian, or Indonesian, they have you covered. I think that’s an important factor to know because if you’re answering questions about your natural thoughts and feelings and behaviors (on a 20 second timer), you can’t waste time looking up vocabulary words because it would impact your results. The other good thing is that you'll also receive your reports in the native language.

Something you might find fascinating or surprising is that even after millions of people have used the tool, the data shows us that the differences are negligible when you break them down by race, gender, age, and nationality.

If you’re into the data side of things, you can also find some interesting factoids in different countries, like with CliftonStrengths, the #1 talent theme in India is Responsibility, whereas you see Learner #1 in Mexico, Panama, and Argentina. And then you see Maximizer and Harmony in the #1 and #2 spots in Japan.

As you can see, different countries do have some different “typical” top spots, and yes, those differences by country probably tell us something about the strong effect of cultural values.

But one thing we haven’t been able to isolate with empirical research is how much of this is nature vs. nurture. Our hypothesis is that it’s both. Your environment, your upbringing, your family values, your experiences, and your DNA all play a role in how your strengths show up and what your unique lineup of talents is.

How Strengths Can Bring Understanding Across Cultures

This question about whether strengths can bring appreciation across cultures first made me think of Grace. She’s a client in Taiwan. And she was thrilled about StrengthsFinder because she works for an American manager and it gave her a way to map work conversations to her values and her natural way of thinking.

If you’ve ever studied different cultural dimensions, you might instantly think about the potential for Grace, with her #1 Harmony and #2 Responsibility to be on a different page from her manager with #1 Individualization and #2 Competition because she’s from a country high on the collectivism scale and her manager is from a country high on the individualism scale. And their personal talent themes happen to reflect their country’s values pretty closely.

Using the language of strengths, it gave each of them a way to describe what they bring to the team. And it helped Grace find a language for talking about her potential contributions to the team without feeling like she was running against her country’s values of saving face, being humble, and showing loyalty to the team — even when it means putting her personal agenda last.

By the way, if you’ve never studied cultural dimensions, it’s totally fascinating. You can see how each country maps on continuum across 5-6 categories. The super quick preview is that these continuums cover your relationship to people, power, certainty, and time.

My favorite resource on cultural understanding is the book Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands. It helps you understand each country’s government, religion, decision making values, negotiation styles, and how they tend to process information. It goes even further to help you out with gestures, gifts, and clothing so you can be sure that you know the basic expectations and keep you from making a fool of yourself.

Different experts use different labels, yet most look something like this:

  • Individualism <——> Collectivism
  • Accepts Unequal Power <——> Rejects Unequal Power
  • Uncertainty Avoidant <——> Accepts Unknown
  • Cooperation <——> Competition
  • Short-Term Orientation <——> Long-Term Orientation

To bring this back to strengths, I look at it like another layer of understanding. Cultural differences can run sooooo deep. And we don’t know where we might view a topic differently from another country.

I remember the first time I visited India and learned how uncommon it is for men to wear shorts. The more traditional view is that if they have shorts on, something must have happened to their pants! I also found it so fascinating that it’s totally normal to wear a sari to work and show your midriff. Whereas in the US, it would not be okay to show your midriff and work. Don’t even get me started on how hard I worked to tame my left-handedness. It took a few visits to work that one out.

My point is, when you are working across cultures, there are a million ways for people to spot their differences. Of course, the visual ones like clothing are the easiest to spot. Then there are many ways to accidentally offend colleagues during conversations. And there are some stressors when team members bring their local assumptions about how work relationships work. And they assign meaning to things differently — not just the meaning of men’s pants.

Strengths give you a language to talk about these things in a productive way. For example, Grace, with her Responsibility talent, would naturally see ways that she could jump in to help the team meet its commitments. But before having some strengths-focused conversations, she didn’t volunteer because she was used to a more hierarchical approach where she would wait to be assigned those responsibilities.

How Strengths Can Help Leaders Create Significant Meaning For Their Team

Now let’s add one more important layer: it’s that basic human needs cut across all cultures.

No matter where you live in the world, your team shares the same basic needs. Most people remember hearing something about food, water, and shelter when they think of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

If you do some digging on this topic, you’ll see that there are a bunch of others that managers can impact. And these others are where you’re really helping people feel seen, heard, and appreciated in a way that gives them purpose. And strengths-focused conversations make it easy and natural for that to happen. Let’s look at each of these 5 needs.

1. Physiological Needs

If you look at this like the typical pyramid, you’ll see physiological needs at the bottom. Yes, that’s where you get your food, water, shelter, and sleep. After you get past this one, it gets really interesting as you layer in strengths.

2. Safety & Security Needs

The next one is safety needs. In Gallup’s extensive leadership research, Stability is one of the four primary “follower” needs. Yes there are some safety needs that have nothing to do with work, but employment stability, social stability, and sometimes health are items that you can address through strengths.

Or, you can think about your natural talents and how they might lead you, at your default, to make your team feel un-safe. For example, my Maximizer talent constantly leads me to change things. Over the years, I’ve seen how that can feel unstable because people don’t know what to expect from week to week. And strengths have given me a way to look at that with a different lens because I can acknowledge that people need to feel a sense of stability.

3. Love & Belonging

Yes, there are friendships, family, and other parts of life where people fill this human need. Now switch over to work. People want to belong. They love knowing that they’re contributing to the team. They love knowing they’re doing important work — that the 8 (or 12) hours they spend every day is for something that matters. They love accomplishing something bigger than themselves.

So when you use strengths, you can use their talents to help them see their superpowers. You can use their strengths as a lens to help you see when to recognize them. And you can help them feel the connection between their actions and the bigger cause they are a part of.

If you want to help your team members feel a bigger sense of belonging by connecting their strengths to the contributions they can offer the team, be sure to get the conversation starters in your 12-week Activation Series.

Each week, you’ll get a strengths-focused 1x1 conversation starter and quick team meeting topic so you can keep learning more about what puts your team members at their best so that they can feel like they are a meaningful part of the team.

4. Self-Esteem

Moving up the scale, you have self-esteem, which includes things like feeling respected, being recognized, knowing their strengths, and achieving. Strengths help you create a culture of recognition. It helps people know what they’re great at.

And I call them your “easy buttons” to high performance. If you provide your team members an easier path to high performance, they’ll achieve more and feel better about themselves, which tends to create a virtuous circle where they feel better and better about their contributions and they continue to achieve bigger things for the team.

5. Self-Actualization

Finally, you have self-actualization. This includes deeper life meaning and living up to their potential. It’s all about being the best they can be. It even gets into things like innovation and creativity because their outputs reflect a unique view of the work that no one else could bring.

Now think about this in terms of strengths and workplaces. When teams are in turmoil with RIFs, re-orgs, and conflict, they revert back to safety mode. They give less because they’re trying to survive the explosion of uncertainty or despair.

But if you contrast that with a fully functional team, you can start to imagine some moments and some team members who have been way up in this self-actualization zone. And as a leader, you have the ability to move people through these categories. Of course, it’s not 100% on you. They have to take personal accountability in their lives. Yet, you have a heck of a lot of influence on helping them unlock these other categories.

Basic Human Needs Exist Across Cultures

It may have surprised you that the question on culture led to this angle for an answer. Yet when I think about international businesses and organizations, the best ones cut across cultural differences by getting to the humanity of it all. We all have some basic needs, and strengths can give you a way to have conversations about these human needs without feeling weird.

And when it comes to the cultural dimensions I brought up at the beginning, each person’s talent themes can give you a great doorway into talking about how their personal thoughts, feelings, and actions line up with cultural norms. I can’t tell you how many times someone has told me, “Aha! No wonder I am a fish out of water at this company (or in this country).” And then rather than feeling bad about it, their strengths give them a way to see the other side of it — the side that brings value.

Remember to grab the strengths-focused 1x1 and team meeting resource to get your 12 weeks of conversation starters. That will help you start applying the conversations to your cross-culture understanding. It helps you open up topics like their ideal work culture, their untapped strengths, and even get them to fess up about the soul-sucking elements of their job. Each week, it gives you one question to ask in a 1x1 and one question for the team. That way, you can spend your time having these conversations rather than spending a bunch of time trying to come up with new strengths conversations.

Enjoyed The Podcast?

To subscribe and review, here are your links for listening in iTunes and Stitcher Radio. You can also stream any episode right from this website. Subscribing is a great way to never miss an episode. Let the app notify you each week when the latest episode gets published.

Direct download: 057-strengths-across-cultures.mp3
Category:careers -- posted at: 3:30am EDT

In this episode, Lisa answers the question: How can you share your awesomeness without sounding arrogant or entitled?

Have You Downloaded Your Manager Tool For Strengths Conversations?

If you’re a manager and you want to help your team members feel less awkward about speaking positively about the contributions they can make to the team, please please please, open these conversations and make them a regular part of how you operate with each other.

And since it’s tough to put this into practice, we actually have a 12-week series made just for people-leaders. You’ll get 12 weeks of conversation starters for strengths-focused 1x1s and quick team meeting topics so you can keep learning more about what puts your team members at their best. 

Resources of the Episode

Awesomeness Without Arrogance

Today you’ll explore a question that came up in a strengths workshop I did with a group of high potential team members who want their talents to shine, yet they don’t want to seem like braggadocios jerks. Their question was, “How can you share your awesomeness without sounding arrogant or entitled?”  

What an important question. I hear it from all levels, and even from every cultural background I’ve experienced so far.

For example, Australians will tell you about the tall poppy syndrome. This concept is about cutting down someone who is higher in stature or prominence to bring them down back to size. Of course, many Aussies are reluctant to talk about their standout areas because it has been such a cultural faux pas to try to stand out. 

My Japanese clients tell me about the saying, “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.” 

In Western cultures I hear things like, “Don’t rock the boat” or “Don’t make waves.” 

Regardless of the country, most of these sayings are meant to keep you humble and remind you to not run around being an arrogant jerk. Yet, unfortunately, they also keep a lot of people from sharing their gifts with the world.

So, back to thinking of this in a self-reflective way, how do you begin to offer your personal strengths to the world while also staying humble and being perceived well? Here are three steps to becoming known for your talents without having to brag about them.

Step 1 - Know What You Want To Be Known For

First, take some time to imagine what you want to be known for. Yes, this can be knowledge, skills, or abilities. If you’re thinking about natural talents, think about how you would be getting work done if it brought you energy — if you were totally in flow — and things even felt easy. Imagine the kind of work you’d be doing and how you’d get work done.

To help you with this, try the "More Of Inventory" where you’ll see a list of phrases to spark your ideas. You’ll can imagine that someone who picks “give advice” and “poke the bear” as the two things they’d want more of — well, they would be more of a status quo busting person who wants to push the team forward and get people on the edge of discomfort — maybe even someone who loves living risk-taking mode.

And you can imagine another person who wants to “ensure quality” and “work carefully” — well, they would be way more excited about a project or role all about operational effectiveness or safety or compliance.

That’s why it’s important to do this step first. If you don’t know what you want to get known for, you’ll get known for what you did well last. I’ve seen way too many people become known as the quality assurance guru or the best team notetaker or the one who delivers the quarterly ops review presentation — and they’re only known for it because they did it well last time. 

When actually, it may have sucked the life out of them. It may have taken up all of their mental energy for days. It may have drained them and felt dreadful, but when you’re a highly accountable high achiever, you’ll try to knock it out of the park. Even on work you hate. 

You’ll use brute force to become competent, even in your weaknesses so that your performance is solid. And if you’re not a complainer, no one will ever know you don’t like that work. That’s why you need to spend a bit of time thinking about what you’d really love to be known for. In your ideal world. Then you can start aligning to that reputation over time. 

Step 2 - Focus Outward

This is all about taking an outward focus. It’s thinking about a business outcome your talent can serve. It’s thinking about a person you can help. Since your talents will help you feel ease, energy, and enjoyment on the job, people will see the enlivened version of you while you serve another person or a team goal or business outcome.

For example, if you’ve been nerding out on the peer-reviewed Journal of Applied Physics literature on the understanding of dark matter — and you happen to have the Clifton StrengthsFinder talent theme of Input — you could move toward the enlivenment scale by sharing your findings with the team rather than just reading the journals for your personal education.

You could summarize the key findings and mention a team goal that it applies to. This would be fun for someone with the Input talent and it would also help the team. They’d see your awesomeness and would appreciate it. 

And if you offer your talents this way, you’ll often uncover where one person’s trash tasks are another person’s treasured tasks. That can lead you to task swapping opportunities where you can do a task-switcheroo with teammates to get more of the work you love. 

You can also volunteer your talents. You may have heard my interview with Ben Fanning where he talked about finding all of the things you look forward to on your to do list or your calendar. Then he encouraged you to find the trend in the things you enjoy.

He also suggested seeking out more of them by volunteering to help a teammate in one of those areas. Or offer a Lunch and Learn to the team on something you get jazzed about. Offer data or articles on topics that would be helpful to the team. It’s basically sharing things with others that would be fun for you to do anyway. 

This is all about finding ways to offer up your talents as a contribution to the team — and not waiting for someone to offer you the golden-ticket job. It’s more about creating small moments for yourself that put you in a state of flow or energy or enjoyment so that over time you can become known for that. And once you build a reputation for it, the offers for project work and roles and assignments (even at small task levels) will begin to match up with your strengths.

Step 3 - Talk To Your Leader About It

This is an important step, of course, because your manager has a lot of sway when it comes to the tasks and responsibilities of your role. 

Here are three flavors of conversations that work well when you want to put your strengths on your leader’s radar. These are great for 1x1s. Or you could tweak them for email. Put them in your own words, and you’re on your way.

Flavor 1: I Want To Support A Team Or Company Goal  

"I’ve been thinking a lot about how I can personally support [goal], and wanted to volunteer some help around [talent or thing you want to build a reputation around]. Are you game to hear an idea?”

So an example might sound like, “I’ve been thinking a lot about how I can personally support [our goal to increase customer retention by 15%], and wanted to volunteer some help around [our contact center coaching]. Are you game to hear an idea?”

And then, once this conversation opens, you could volunteer a small or large contribution — anything from the creation of a quick cheat sheet resource, all the way through spending one day each month coaching contact center reps in your area of expertise.

Flavor 2:  I Want To Bring My A-Game To The Company

“As you know, I’ve been digging into StrengthsFinder and thinking about how we can amp up our performance. It got me thinking about what puts me in A-game mode, and one of them is [talent or thing you want to build a reputation around]. Next time you’re assigning a project like that, would you consider me for it?”

So an example might sound like, “As you know, I’ve been digging into StrengthsFinder and thinking about how we can amp up our performance. It got me thinking about what puts me in A-game mode, and one of them is [that I’m really on fire when I’m pushing my limits of learning]. Next time you’re assigning a project that has a steep learning curve on a short timeline, would you consider me for it?”

Managers in my training sessions tell me that they’d love it if they knew what kind of projects their team members want to be considered for. A simple “please consider me …” request increases the chances that when they’re making decisions in the future, they’ll think of you.

Flavor 3: I Will Be Applying Self-Development To A Project And Would Love Feedback

“This has been a year of big development for me. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to amp up the contributions I make to the team. One talent I’ve decided to consciously leverage more is my [talent or thing you want to build a reputation around]. It’s different from the way I’ve approached my projects in the past, so wanted to mention it to you for feedback purposes. If you see or hear comments (both good or bad) about me, I’d love to hear them. I’m going in thinking that it will be well received, yet it’s different from how we normally do it so wanted to get your antennae up for it.”

So an example might sound like, “This has been a year of big development for me. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to amp up the contributions I make to the team. One talent I’ve decided to consciously leverage more is my [natural ability to build an use a network]. It’s different from the way I’ve approached my projects in the past because we’ve stayed pretty siloed on this project, so wanted to mention it to you for feedback purposes. If you see or hear comments (both good or bad) about the new collaborations, I’d love to hear them. I’m going in thinking that it will be well received, yet it’s different from how we normally do it so wanted to get your antennae up for it.”

Three steps for bringing awareness to your awesomeness without sounding braggadocios. And if you’re a people manager, as many listeners are, you can see why these strengths-focused conversations are so tough. They’re awkward for people. Yet if you initiate the conversations, you give them permission to unleash their talents. Ask them what puts them at their best. Ask them what their most favorite and least favorite elements of the job are. Ask them what they would love more of. 

Extra Help For Managers

Remember to grab the strengths-focused 1x1 and team meeting series. You’ll get 12 weeks of conversation starters for strengths-focused 1x1s and team meetings. It’s super simple in format. It opens up topics like recognition, motivation, and their favorite elements of the job. Each week, it gives you one question to ask in a 1x1 and one question for the team. That way, you can focus on learning more about them rather than spending a bunch of time coming up with new strengths conversations.

Enjoyed The Podcast?

To subscribe and review, here are your links for listening in iTunes and Stitcher Radio. You can also stream any episode right from this website. Subscribing is a great way to never miss an episode. Let the app notify you each week when the latest episode gets published.

Direct download: 056-awesomeness-without-arrogance.mp3
Category:careers -- posted at: 3:30am EDT