Lead Through Strengths

This Episode’s Focus on Strengths

Today's episode is a unique opportunity to hear from someone who has already been there, and done that - Lisa's Grandma Venetta. Lisa interviews her Grandma to get valuable insight into better ways to value your own life experiences, use your own strengths, and see the good in others. In my opinion, this is one of the best podcast interviews yet, because it includes real-life lessons that you can immediately apply to your own life.


What You’ll Learn In This Episode

There are five lessons you will learn in this episode, and they can be applied to both your home and work lives.

Lesson 1: Stop The Fussin' And A Fumin'

  • Show respect for everyone, regardless of their title or position.
  • Be a bridge builder between the various people at your company. Listen to what employees and managers are saying, and help bridge the gap between them.
  • Remember that relationships are important, even when you are busy. Treat people like they want to be treated. Treat people like they matter.
  • Stop taking yourself so seriously. One of our favorite companies here in Austin, Texas is Kasasa. They have some great examples in this video about humanizing the workplace. They have a good time, and it helps people get more done because they live out their values and respect each other. These are not pedestrian kumbaya games. They have a wooden spoon challenge and a hula hoop competition that I'd like to join, even though I don't work there.

Lesson 2: Your "Fastest Zipper Sewer" Skill

  • Be on the lookout for your unique skills and talents.
  • Notice what works for you and leverage the heck out of it. You'll have more moments of success and high energy. Help your team members do the same.
  • Recognize someone on your team for something. It could create that moment that they'll remember for the next 50 years, just as Grandma Venetta remembers the moment she was declared the "Fastest Zipper Sewer" in the Midwest.
  • Create fun, unique titles and awards for your team, such as "Fastest Zipper Sewer". It doesn't have to be fancy or expensive. In another awesome Kasasa video, you can see how they give recognition for employees showing their badassitude and living out their other "Patch" values.

Lesson 3: Your "Cancer is Contagious" Kindness Factor

  • Grandma Venetta's family moved an uncle into their home. He had cancer, and they moved him in, even when they thought it was contagious, because that was the kind thing to do.
  • You should do anything you can for your friends and neighbors (and co-workers too).
  • Find what your "Cancer is Contagious" kindness factor is. Here are some ideas: smile first thing in the morning, even when you're tired; hold the door for others, even though it will delay you by a whole 14 seconds; volunteer to call the customer with difficult news because you are the one with the best relationship, even if it's not your job. These are moments when you can be proud of yourself.

Lesson 4: Actions, Not Words

  • Your values and expectations are all shown through your actions.
  • Remember that people are always watching you, so they will know who you are, what you value, and what you expect from others.
  • Everything you do shows them how to interact with you, and what you expect from the culture at work. Remember these things when you walk through the door in a bad mood.

Lesson 5: Feeling Lucky No Matter What

  • Grandma Venetta accidentally ran over herself with her own car, but that didn't stop her from driving. She only stopped when she was afraid of hurting others. Rather than feeling sorry for herself about the medical issues, she finds amusement in the absurdity. She quickly moved to the gratefulness for the lack of serious medical issues.
  • Even though Grandma Venetta is unable to drive now, and has to ask family to take her places, she still feels lucky to be alive, and to have family who loves her and is willing to care for her. Even though she still hates asking for help and feeling like a burden, she chooses to focus on feeling lucky for being loved.
  • Look for the good in things, even when you are stressed at work and feeling overwhelmed. Step back, get some perspective, and find some good in what you do. This will help you feel lucky and happy for what you do have.

Grandma Venetta says to live every day like it's your last. Your life is always going to have its ups and downs, but if you focus on the good parts, it makes it much easier to deal with the challenges.

Resources of the Episode

Here's a fascinating compilation of elder wisdom. It's actually one of the things that inspired Lisa to travel to St. Louis to interview her grandmother. It's called The Five Regrets Of The Dying. Of course, the lessons are different from this episode because most of the subjects knew they were dying. In the book, Bronnie Ware tells stories of caring for people in their last weeks or days on earth. Not surprisingly, one of the key lessons is, "I wish I hadn't worked so hard." My favorite is, "I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me."

That concept is in perfect alignment with what we teach in StrengthsFinder training events. It's about finding your personal yearnings and natural talents so you can build a life that feels rewarding and energizing. If you spend a lifetime taking jobs that impress other people, you might just look up in your 80's and realize that you didn't impress yourself at all.


Subscribe To Lead Through Strengths

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.


StrengthsFinder Monthly Training For Managers

If you’re a people-manager and you want to sharpen your strengths based support, come join our monthly virtual training. We don’t charge for this because we want to help you keep the StrengthsFinder momentum going. Teams who receive strengths feedback have 8.9% greater profitability. Yowza! Sounds like a great reason to join. Source:  Asplund, J., & Blacksmith, N. “Strengthening Your Company’s Performance.” Gallup Business Journal.


Go Live Your Talents

Remember, using your strengths every day at work makes you a stronger performer. If you place a lopsided focused on fixing your team’s weaknesses, you’re choosing the path of most resistance. Go claim your talents and share them with the world!

Read The Full Conversation

Grandma Venetta: [00:00:25] I’m Venetta Joedicke. I used to be a supervisor in garment factories; just getting old and creepy. I need to find something to do. [laughs]

Lisa Cummings: [00:00:38] So, you just heard my grandma’s voice. Is she cute or what? As you can tell, this will not be your usual Lead Through Strengths interview. So, when I do StrengthsFinder training events we often get on the topic of personal legacy. And so, I often ask people about their rocking chair moments, when they’re my grandmother’s age, what do they want to be proud of when they look back.

[00:01:03] So, I thought it would be fun to interview her and see what someone who’s really in the rocking chair phase does look back on, and what do they see as important in life and work from that perspective. So, you’ll find, as we open the conversation, just like many of us, she was attracted to promotions for the same reasons high achievers today are attracted to promotions, because she wanted more money.

[00:01:28] And one of my favorite viewpoints on this topic comes from Marcus Buckingham. He warns people to not just look at the adornments of a job, like titles and money, but to really be focused on the activities of a job, what it’s like really doing the work. So let’s fast-forward back into your insights from Grandma and what it was like being the breadwinner when that wasn’t a very common thing to see.

[00:01:58] Okay, since you brought up garment factories and being a supervisor, let’s talk about that first because I think it’s so fascinating that back then – when was back then when you actually were a supervisor of people?

Grandma Venetta: [00:02:11] Probably about 1965.

Lisa Cummings: [00:02:13] What made you want to be in a role like that at work?

Grandma Venetta: [00:02:17] More money. [laughs] After I had been supervisor for a while and work was getting slower, I went up and worked with our designer on new things. I learned a lot from him. I was the only one, I think, that they ever had as an operator and supervisor that went into the designing with him.

Lisa Cummings: [00:02:40] A special job?

Grandma Venetta: [00:02:41] Yeah, it was more of like one of them that you’d like even if you didn’t get paid any more.

Lisa Cummings: [00:02:48] Did they pick you for that or how did you know that that was available?

Grandma Venetta: [00:02:52] Oh, they came by the machine when I was working with a girl one day, and they said they wanted to see me in the office, and I thought that probably I was going to get laid off. But as it turned out, Jack Hefner was our plant manager and he’s the one that came and got me. He talked for a while and he said, “What do you think about being a supervisor for us?” So, I told him yes, and that was the beginning of it. I was basically just turned loose to learn how to talk to people.

Lisa Cummings: [00:03:25] That’s not so different from what happens today all the time. I talk to new managers and they were really good employees, and then they get promoted and they just have to figure it out.

Grandma Venetta: [00:03:34] Mm-hmm.

Lisa Cummings: [00:03:35] How did you learn how to figure out people and how to get their best out of them?

Grandma Venetta: [00:03:40] Getting along with people was more… I paid attention and listened to what the workers said, along with the supervisors, and tried to work as a bridge between them. It just seemed the right thing to do. I’m the go-between. [laughs]

Lisa Cummings: [00:03:56] You’re a bridge builder, family, work, everywhere in your life.

Grandma Venetta: [00:04:01] It didn’t hurt me. I’m going to be 85 right away and I guess it’s alright.

Lisa Cummings: [00:04:07] I think you do that in life in general that you’re a really good listener and observer, and you figure out what other people care about.

Grandma Venetta: [00:04:16] I think maybe you’re right because I cared about all of them. It nearly killed me to lay somebody off. In fact, they used to tell me I was too big a softy, but it was always I treated people like I wanted to be treated. I think it really works out that as long as you do that, you may not have a perfect life, but who does? And yours’ can be a lot brighter if you’re not fussing and fuming with somebody.

Lisa Cummings: [00:04:44] I like that. No fussing and fuming around.

Grandma Venetta: [00:04:46] Yeah. [laughs]

Lisa Cummings: [00:04:48] Oh, that’s making me think of another interesting piece of the story. I remember you telling me once that you were the breadwinner in the family. And that must’ve been a really weird dynamic for those times. What was that like?

Grandma Venetta: [00:05:02] It was kind of rough at times. It used to make Emil [Venetta’s husband] aggravated because I made more money than he did, and he thought the man was supposed to be the one that did all the work but he never refused me going to work.

Lisa Cummings: [00:05:17] How did he handle it?

Grandma Venetta: [00:05:19] I think the best thing that describes it was I worked days and he worked nights. We didn’t have to worry about a babysitter then. It was just something that we just automatically… we met in the hallway one morning, one going in and one going out.

Lisa Cummings: [00:05:33] Almost like a team to be able to figure out how to do what you had to do, huh?

Grandma Venetta: [00:05:38] Yeah.

Lisa Cummings: [00:05:40] Let’s talk about good work memories. Tell us about some recognition you received that you remember, or a work situation that you were most proud of.

Grandma Venetta: [00:05:49] I got the notice of being the fastest zipper sewer in the St. Louis area.

Lisa Cummings: [00:05:56] Oh, my gosh, I love that – the fastest zipper sewer.

Grandma Venetta: [00:05:59] Yeah.

Lisa Cummings: [00:06:00] I want to say fastest zipper sewer in the West but it wasn’t really in the West, in the Midwest.

Grandma Venetta: [00:06:04] Yeah.

Lisa Cummings: [0:06:05] What are you most proud of?

Grandma Venetta: [00:06:07] It means a lot to be able to look back at your family and think about things that they did. I remember when my Uncle Perry had cancer, a couple of weeks later mother and dad went up and they moved him in with us. And back then, mother was so sure that cancer was contagious.

Lisa Cummings: [00:06:29] That’s the most wild thing to even imagine today knowing what we know.

Grandma Venetta: [00:06:36] Mm-hmm.

Lisa Cummings: [00:06:37] So, when you look back, what lesson do you feel like you learned?

Grandma Venetta: [00:06:41] You want to do anything you can for your friends and neighbors.

Lisa Cummings: [00:06:46] You’re kind of reminding me of a song lyric. It’s one of Jewel’s lyrics, and she says, “Only kindness matters.” It reminds me of that when you’re talking about being helpful, be a good neighbor, be a good friend and family member. How do you react to that song line?

Grandma Venetta: [00:07:05] I think it’s appropriate. You should be good to your friends and neighbors. It’s going to make you a better person because you put out the extra effort to take your batty and along with your own problem that you had.

Lisa Cummings: [00:07:19] This reminds me of what you told me about – tell me if I get this wrong but I’m paraphrasing how I understand grandma philosophy – that you have good stuff and bad stuff, and you’ve always focused on what’s good. How did you come to that philosophy?

Grandma Venetta: [00:07:36] Oh, I think a lot of it had to do with my mother and dad. When I got out of school she took me over and talked to the boss and he hired me then as just a worker.

Lisa Cummings: [00:07:48] Was that your first job?

Grandma Venetta: [00:07:49] That was my first job.

Lisa Cummings: [00:07:51] And how old were you?

Grandma Venetta: [00:07:52] Thirteen. You know, it was right after the end of the war. I always figured that if people thought enough of me to hire me then I should do as best I could.

Lisa Cummings: [00:08:01] I can tell in you that you’ve always put your best effort. So, you’re a little bit of a rule breaker or at least a little stubborn and you don’t want help from anybody. I know that you’ve passed down this gene to me because I have a real independent streak as well, and I feel proud that I can take care of myself, some of those things that came from you. Where do you think you got it from?

Grandma Venetta: [00:08:22] I think from my mother. Mother was so persistent that I think she kind of drilled that into me, and not by saying anything but just by doing, because she would work at the factory, she’d take in laundry, she would do ironing for people, she cleaned house for people. I know that she worked Saturdays all the time.

Lisa Cummings: [00:48] I love the lesson of instilling that in you through actions, not through trying to tell you but by showing you.

Grandma Venetta: [00:08:55] Yeah, she always thought she had a duty to us kids.

Lisa Cummings: [00:08:59] It sounds a lot like you, that you keep those things to yourself and you’re very humble and you instill a lot of good lessons, and you probably look at your kids and say, “Hey, look, I have a nurse and a pharmacist, and people who owned construction companies, and they’ve all found their way to make their way in the world.” And you can be really proud of them, and you didn’t go tell them who to go be, right?

Grandma Venetta: [00:09:22] No, I never told them who I thought they should be. I thought that had to be their decision.

Lisa Cummings: [00:09:28] How do you teach people about values?

Grandma Venetta: [00:09:32] Basically, just by showing them. Back to the same old basics, as long as you do right and do the best you can toward anybody, I think that you’re more satisfied, the people around you are more satisfied, and that’s what you really want. You want people that like you for you not because of what they can give you or something like that.

Lisa Cummings: [00:09:54] It’s the same at work, it’s the same with friends, it’s the same with family, isn’t it?

Grandma Venetta: [00:09:58] Mm-hmm. In my opinion, it is.

Lisa Cummings: [00:10:01] So, one other last thing, you’ve said to me something about figuring out how to appreciate what you have right now because you never know when you’ll lose it all, whether that’s thinking about your job or your life and your happiness right now. Say more about that.

Grandma Venetta: [00:10:18] Well, I think that’s true. You should live everyday like it’s going to be your last because you don’t know it may be. You never know when the loved one that you have might pass away or might get sick. When I get to thinking back, I think about how lucky I am. I had cancer. It never flared back up. And I had a pacemaker put in, and it worked great. Now I’ve got a valve in my heart and I’m sure it’s okay. I hate having to ask the kids to take me places. I decided not to drive. I supposed I’d maybe hurt somebody else. I gave the keys to the kids.

Lisa Cummings: [00:10:59] What might be important? Because people listening to this might not realize that you only stopped driving when you were afraid of hurting someone else. But when you ran over yourself trying to get into your own car, that didn’t stop you from learning to drive. [laughs]

Grandma Venetta: [00:11:14] [laughs] Yeah. I still don’t understand how I did it.

Lisa Cummings: [00:11:18] [laughs] Who else has a story where they ran over themselves? That takes talent.

Grandma Venetta: [00:11:23] Yeah. [laughs]

Lisa Cummings: [00:11:24] I bet anybody who’s hearing this, who doesn’t know how it all goes down, is thinking, “How is that even possible?” But I can just imagine you hanging off of the running board and trying to reach in and put it into gear, being half in and half out.

Grandma Venetta: [00:11:38] Yeah.

Lisa Cummings: [00:11:39] If that doesn’t make you feel like Wonder Woman.

Grandma Venetta: [00:11:40] That’s what I did.

Lisa Cummings: [00:11:42] I like it. I thank you for the stubbornness you’ve given me and the independent spirit to be able to just figure things out. Well, I really appreciate getting to do this this way. It’s really fun to hear your stories and I know we don’t talk usually as much about work kind of stuff. Usually it’s more fun family, weaving that stuff in, or tales of your childhood, so it’s kind of cool to get a new angle this way.

[00:12:09] But I think it’ll be fun for people to hear what it’s like from the perspective of somebody who worked in a day that when we didn’t have all the technology to help us where we want to get. And you really stripped it back to the simple human interactions that matter.

Grandma Venetta: [00:12:24] That’s something that I’m proud of if it helped you.

Lisa Cummings: [00:12:28] Well, I hope you think my grandma’s insights are useful as I do. There’s so much perspective to get from people who have been around the block already. And I want to offer you a recap of five key lessons that I think you’ll find useful from my grandmother.

[00:12:46] So, lesson one is stop the fussing and the fuming. That was so cute. So, rather than working in dysfunction, be a bridge builder. Show respect regardless of people’s levels and titles in your organization, and remember that relationships are important even when you feel too busy to give them attention.

[00:13:08] Lesson two is to find your fastest zipper sewer moments at work. Now, even if you don’t get an award that shows your best skills and talents, you can certainly be on the lookout for your skills and talents. And, hey, you can make up whatever award or rewards you want for people that you work with. I mean, come on, fastest zipper sewer in the West? You can make up something like that for your team.

[00:13:31] And this gets to the heart of strengths-based career development. If you all notice what works for you and you leverage the heck out of it, you’ll have more moments of success and high energy. And the same goes for you noticing those things in others. I mean, isn’t that cool? She remembers almost 50, 50, five-zero, years later some recognition that she got at work.

[00:13:53] So, especially for those of you in a people manager role, doesn’t that say something huge about the ripple effect you have on the world? Every person reading the notes to this episode has the power to recognize someone for something great they did at work. And who knows, maybe you’ll be part of their rocking chair moments 50 years later.

[00:14:13] So, lesson three, what’s your cancer-is-contagious kindness? I mean, I don’t know about you but, whoa, did you catch that story? I mean, just the notion that people thought cancer was contagious kind of blew my mind but then go beyond that. My great grandparents were convinced that it was contagious yet they still took in family members into their home to care for him.

[00:14:37] If you apply this on a work scale, think about simple acts of kindness. Are you taking time to smile and look people in the eye? Are you holding the door when someone is 10 steps away and you could’ve just walked in, but instead you wait 15 extra seconds, and you hold it open for them? Do you volunteer to call a customer with difficult news because you’re the one on the team with the best relationship even when that call is not going to be something you look forward to?

[00:15:03] Those are the moments when you look back that will make you proud of the actions you took, and make you proud of the person you were becoming. Speaking of actions, lesson four, it’s about actions not words. Just like grandma said, your values and your expectations are shown through your actions. Throughout the workday you’re constantly teaching people what your values are and what your expectations are and who you are. Those are all shown through your actions.

[00:15:30] When you’re a leader, people are always watching you. And because of that, everything you do is showing them how to interact. It’s showing them what you value. It’s showing them what you expect of that work culture. It’s great to say what you expect, and what’s more important is that your words and your behaviors actually match up.

[00:15:51] And the fifth lesson is feeling lucky. Can you believe that she singlehandedly ran over herself with her own car? I know this may just be completely crazy when you read about it. You can’t even imagine how that is possible, but she did do this. She got in the car and was halfway in it, put it in neutral and then it started rolling backward. She fell out and it ran over her. Crazy!

[00:16:16] But even more wild than that is that she has been through a lot, lot more, and she still feels lucky. She still looks for the bright spots every day to keep perspective and remember what’s going well. This reminds me a lot of the challenge that I set for people in my workshops to make it really practical: it’s to go catch someone doing something right.

[00:16:39] You know, there’s such a negativity bias that’s natural in people’s minds and it’s easy to get overwhelmed by stress and too many meetings, too many emails, too many requests for TPS reports. Yet, if you step back, make yourself get some perspective. You can always find some things that are going right and celebrate them. So, get out there and catch someone doing something right.

[00:17:00] Well, I think that’s the perfect transition out. When you lead through your natural talents you automatically keep your superpowers and your energizing work moments in front of you. It helps you remember why your colleagues are lucky to have you around and it helps you see the same in them.

[00:17:18] So, thanks for reading this episode of Lead Through Strengths, and if you want to get some more practical ideas for building a strengths-based culture join our virtual training series. It’s at LeadThroughStrengths.com/monthly training. It’s usually the second Tuesday of each month. No charge the first couple of hundred people because it’s our monthly pay-it-forward event, and I personally come on camera and meet you with your fellow managers and strengths champions, and we meet up live for 30 minutes, and I give you some tools to apply the strengths-based approach in your workplace.

[00:17:47] So, with that, remember, using your strengths makes you a stronger performer at work. If you’re putting a lopsided focus on fixing your weaknesses, you’re choosing the path of most resistance. So, instead, claim your talents and share them with the world.

Direct download: 032-Grandma.mp3
Category:careers -- posted at: 2:30am CDT