Lead Through Strengths

We have now reached the ninth and final core concept in our STRENGTHS series, where we’ve been discussing the importance of engaging in strengths-focused conversations with your team over time. If you’ve been following this conversation, congratulations on getting this far! And if you’ve been applying even just some of our tips and taking on our tiny but impactful challenges, then you’re well on your way to becoming experts at finding CliftonStrengths blind spots in your team and building on everyone’s natural strengths!

Before we dive into the final topic of this series, here’s a quick recap of the core concepts that we have already gone through. Notice the magic word that the initials of these topics spell (STRENGTH). 

  • S.E.T. (Skills. Experiences. Talents)
  • Troublemaker talents
  • Regulate by Situation
  • Easy Buttons
  • Not an Excuse
  • Gimme That Escalation
  • Takes Time and Intention
  • Honored and Insulted

And now, in this episode, we explore the breadth of what we call the Starved and Fed Continuum -- turning our magic word into STRENGTHS. It’s just one letter added, but it makes all the difference, especially in the context of teams. The more strengths-focused you and your colleagues are, the stronger your team will be.

In any team or group, your differences are your differentiators — and this is the foundation of this core concept. And when you think of your differentiators, these come to life and look like your strengths when you've been feeding, nurturing, and developing them over time. 

Feed Your Talent The Same Way You Feed Your Body

What would it be like if you were starved for food as a human? Physically and even mentally, you would feel weak, which would most likely impact how you feel or think. You're not at your best. Being hungry can cause you to be grumpy and to ill-treat others, which can negatively affect how you relate to other people. In short, you wouldn't be able to show up in your full force. 

But on to the other end of the continuum, you're well-fed. On this side, you've been nurturing your body right -- not overfed or stuffed to the max that you need to loosen up a button on your pants. Just well-nourished and well-taken care of. 

Let’s use that as an analogy for your strengths, particularly your CliftonStrengths blind spots. You can ignore your strengths or starve them out because you don't think they would be valuable in your workplace or you didn't know it was one of your strengths. What happens next? They just shrivel up -- it's not going to look like when it's at its best. 

On the other hand, if you've been developing yourself by feeding and nurturing your talents, what you look like at your best keeps getting better and better. When you feel well-fed, well-nurtured, you feel strong, and your STRENGTHS strengthen your performance. That's why this all matters in a workplace context. 

Jack-In-The-Box: What Happens When Your Natural Strengths Are Squashed Down

You may remember having or seeing a Jack-in-the-box toy as a kid. It's this little box which has a handle on the side that you can twist. As you keep twisting it, Jack surprisingly jumps from inside of the box. That’s half the fun of it all when Jack jumps out suddenly and scares you. 

It’s the same thing with your strengths. If they have been squashed down, like in that box, you don't know when they're going to come out. They can jump out when you least expect it and scare people who may not find it cool, like when you scare them with your unmatured, talent themes. When that happens, collaboration becomes a challenge and it can lower down the equity of your career brand. 

Your CliftonStrengths Blind Spots Want Your Attention And Nourishment

Sometimes, we are driven to hide our strengths because we feel they are not suited in the kind of work environment that we have. 

Here are real-life examples from a person who leads through Connectedness and another person who leads through Command.

Scenario 1: Letting Connectedness shine in a ‘tough’ culture

Someone from a previous Stronger Teams session came forward with a concern on the report about her talent theme, Connectedness. While she liked that the report said she’s kind, gentle, and that she can see the ripple effect of her action on people, she found that the descriptions sounded “soft and wimpy”. For her, being viewed that way might not sit well within the tough work culture she belongs to if ever she will let that part of her out. 

She had valid concerns; however, it may not be enough to starve her talent just to fit into a specific work culture. There's so much more dimension to Connectedness that she can explore, one of which is the fact that she was very well networked. 

What Can She Do?: It is common among many who lead through Connectedness to see all of the connections among departments and people and the effect of what they're doing. This person can see the ripple effect of each team’s work as though she is watching from a higher place. It will not be a surprise if she notices and says things such as:

“If we make this decision here, it might be a challenge to roll it out to this particular department. Given the potential effect on their work, they're going to put up as much resistance as they can during the implementation.” 

This ability to make these web-like connections is what you can highlight when you lead through Connectedness. As you’re able to really relate well with a vast network of people, you’re able to establish where there was going to be a challenge in project implementation. This is quite practical. 

So, rather than starving out a talent because it doesn't seem to fit the company culture, direct the development at the part of it that would be most valued by other people. 

Scenario 2: The newbie is a strong leader inside

Another real-life example is from another person who leads through Command. He expressed his concern on being conflicted, knowing that he’s a natural-born leader but at the same time he’s young and in an entry-level position. 

Some of the things he said:

“I feel like when I'm decisive here, it feels unwarranted, and people look at me weird.” 

“I feel like I don't need a bunch of the inputs from other people and expected to go get them.” 

“I'm not really sure how to wrangle this all in or make it valuable here.” 

This guy therefore felt that he needed to push down his talent until he’s gained a certain status in the organization. Also, he didn’t seem to want to show that he was too cool for his entry-level job and therefore needed to skip all other positions just to be in a leadership status.

What Can He Do?: There are other dimensions of the Command talent theme that he can explore. A sample case he was presented with was in the event of big changes happening in the organization where: a) he's behind it and b) other people are complaining about the effects of the change. In this scenario, he can easily leverage on his influence to convince others into embracing the more positive impact of the change. 

  1. Roll out short and powerful demos. He could be part of the peer group and is giving others a demo about how good and important it is on the other side. 
  2. Summarize to make it clear. He could also often be in the meeting and summarize into fewer words what someone else would take 10 minutes to get out. He, of course, has to do it in a well-honed and kind of not too overbearing manner, lest he embarrass them. Maybe he could say the following:

“Yeah, that makes me think of the team motto which is _______________,” or “This could be our headline. As we roll this out, I see this could be kind of our mantra as we get this going”.

How Conversations Can Help Feed Or Starve CliftonStrengths Blind Spots

It is a natural tendency for people to see something about their talent theme and think it may not be of value to others that they try to stuff it down. Natural talents refer to how you naturally think or feel or act when you're at your default. The thing about them is that they always come out anyway, no matter how much you suppress them. But when they do after so much squashing down, they come out unrefined, which may not look good on you. 

The most important thing, before you ever decide to squash down your talent for whatever reason, is you’re able to explore some of these nuances of what your talent themes look like when they're at your very best, versus what they look like on the full end of the continuum where you’re not at your best, where everything seems to go wrong and these talents have really been starved out. 

This kind of introspection can be effectively facilitated if you have consistent strengths-focused conversations within your team – quite another reason why meaningful conversations really, really matter.

I hope that you liked these nine core concepts that spelled out the word STRENGTHS, and that you pulled at least one thing that was an unconsidered angle, something that gave you a new way to apply strengths with your team that you hadn't before. Get in the habit of recognizing what works in other people because when you notice what works, you'll get more of what works. 

Direct download: 117-Starved-or-Fed.mp3
Category:careers -- posted at: 3:30am CST