Lead Through Strengths

Austin, TX StrengthsFinder Training for Leaders

Strengths Focus For This Episode

In this episode Lisa answers the question, "Should you stop using natural talents that cause you trouble at work?" The short answer is no. The talent, or combination of talents, that's causing you trouble is your natural talent. No matter what you do to squash it, it will pop out somehow and scare people. It's much better to work to find other ways to utilize that troublesome talent. Lisa provides two different exercises for you: one for you as an individual, and one for your team.

Resources of the Episode

You'll find lots of StrengthsFinder, leadership, and team tools on our Strengths Resources page.

If you or your team hasn't completed the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment, you will find the list of adjectives on our website useful for the exercises in this episode.

Strengths Tools

One of the best ways leaders can build a strengths based culture is to offer 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. On our home page, you can download this awesome tool that offers you 127 easy ideas for recognizing your team. Scroll down and look for the box that says "Great Managers Notice What Works".

Here's a Full Transcript of The Show

You’re listening to Lead Through Strengths, where you'll learn to apply your greatest strengths at work. I'm your host, Lisa Cummings, and I gotta tell ya, using your strengths is one of the most energizing things you can do on the job. Today's question and topic is about what to do when your strengths are making trouble for you. I know it sounds completely backwards, but there's this concept I call troublemaker talents. What happens is that sometimes your greatest strengths, your talent themes, if you will, (if you're doing this from a strengths finder lens), they can sometimes be overused, underused, misapplied. They can be unrefined if you've been ignoring them, or squashing them down. Let me give you an example. You have someone with the Includer talent and he says, “You know, I don't like my Includer. When I saw that on the list, I wanted to give it back because it makes me too slow.”

It makes me miss deadlines because I'm always getting everyone's opinion and I put the word out. I ask the question, I go one on one. People ask me for more time, and by the time I get everyone's input on something, I'm already behind schedule. Another one I've heard recently in a big corporate training was a woman with the Communication talent who said, “you know, I don't see this one as a strength at all. I get told I talk too much.” I can also give you my personal example. It's my Maximizer and Strategic. They come in together like a one-two troublemaking punch, and it's me always tweaking things. I'm always trying to make them better, but this concept of me never being done, also sometimes means me never sleeping. On the surface, all of those things I just mentioned, yes, they are real troubles.

The thing is though, you can't just get the effect you're having on the surface and decide to squash it down, and stamp it out and say, “Oh, that one's not serving me. I don't want it anymore,” because remember, your natural talents are patterns in you. They’re how you think, feel, behave at your natural default so they're gonna come out. It's like the jack in the box. Do you remember that toy that you might have had when you were a little kid, and you push this toy down into the box, close the lid, and you start turning the crank and you hear that “Du, De, Du, Du, Du, Du, Du, Du, Du, Du Du Du Du Du Du to BAM! Then that thing jumps out and scares you when you least expect it. Your talents are really just like that. If you squash them down because you think, “ah, my boss doesn't seem to like that one.”

“Ooh, I got bad feedback on that one once, so I don't want that one. I'll just put that one away.” Or you stamp it down, because you don't perceive that the culture you work in is appreciative of that talent, so you decide, “I'll just use that one at home. I’ll use that one at work.” These are all things I hear in training constantly, but the thing is it's kinda like the jack in the box. If you try to squash out those talents, they are going to jump out and scare people, because they're your natural default ways of thinking and feeling and acting, so they're going to come out. Since they're going to come out, what you want to do is spend more time refining it, nurturing it, putting it to work, send it to the gym, get others aware. Think about how that talent shows up on other people.

It really will help you invest in it, in a targeted way. For example, you take that person who mentioned that about the Communication talent. Imagine how refined it would be, if she knows who is willing to talk it out loud. She likes to talk it out. She knows the audience of people who love to talk it out with her. She can do that. But she also needs to be aware of those peers who perceive it like a waste of time because they don't like ideas that aren't well thought out. So part of it is knowing your audience. Another thing she could do is really think about different modes where she could practice her Communications talent - email, spoken word, written word. Maybe she's getting this feedback because she was taking over in meetings, and not letting anyone else have a voice. So we're taking one situation (meetings) and one mode of communication (the spoken word) and she just decided, oh, I don't want this talent at all. It’s not serving me.

Actually, she has all these other ways of applying it and refining it. You take the other example that I brought up with a guy who has the Includer talent. It was making him slow; it was making him miss deadlines,because in his way of applying it naturally, he was asking people for their opinion, but he wasn't giving them any time binding around his question. He would throw something out there in person or in an email and tell them he wanted to hear their voice, but he didn't give them a deadline. Something really specific here when he asks, now that he's refining it, he's still noticing people. He's still getting the unheard voices to be heard. He's still making people feel seen and heard and appreciated, but now he gives them deadlines, so he can also meet his commitments.

The other thing that he's been doing is running experiments for in-the-moment Includer. When he's in a meeting and he notices, everyone's spoken up except these two people, now he can say, “you know, John, we haven't heard from you, what do you think?” He started to give himself some script items that we haven't heard from you. What do you think? It's a great way to be able to feed the talent, without discarding it altogether. Don't squash them; refine them. Action item for you to apply. Now you're listening. You of course have your own personal set of talent themes, or natural strengths, that you bring to this world.

StrengthsFinder Activity: Experiment With New Ways To Use Your Talents

What's your troublemaker talent, or what is your combination of talents that kind of team up to create trouble, like I mentioned, my Maximizer and Strategic? Then, once you think of your personal answer, what experiments can you run to try them on in new ways? Remember, it's not an either/or. It's not that your strengths, or your talents, need to be turned on or off. Keep giving them new environments to play in, because the more you nurture them and experiment with them, and try them on and aim them to specific performance, the more refined they're going to be.

StrengthsFinder Activity: Work As A Team To Use Talents

Now, if you want to apply this at a team level because you're a strengths champion or you're a people manager who is awesome, here's an activity that you can do with the team.

Give everyone around the table a blank sheet of paper and then write down their troublemaker talent on that piece of paper at the top, like a title. If you've done StrengthsFinder, that would be one of your StrengthsFinder talent themes. If you haven't done StrengthsFinder then one resource on our website, you could use LeadThroughStrengths.com/adjectives, and that page gives you a bunch of words that might describe you as a person, and you can have people go through an additional exercise before you come to the meeting, where they get two or three words that define them most strongly, and usually each of those words, even though there are positively framed, they're going to have the great side of them, and they also might bring a shadow side with them.

It'll take a little extra work if you haven't done StrengthsFinder, but you can get there by reframing it into the troublemaker, out of that adjective list. Back to the sheet of paper, where you have your thing written at the top. For example, it might say Responsibility is the troublemaker talent for this person on your team. Then, they write one sentence about the trouble it's causing them; what is the pain? For example, if you had the responsibility talent, it might say, “I can't say no.” If you're leading this exercise, be sure you've thought of your own in advance so that you can model for them what yours sounds like. You can use the example I just used, and then you give your own as well, and then they'll see how to make a nice crisp problem statement.

Then what you do, just pass it to the right one time. Of course they know who it came from, because it came from the person sitting right next to them, and as it gets passed you asked for the person who receives it to come up with one way you could address the situation while still honoring the talent That part, while still honoring the talent, is important because if you pass the Responsibility paper over and the person writes, “just say the word NO,” that's not going to work for someone with the Responsibility talent, but maybe the person next to them writes something like “next time you feel yourself needing to set a boundary and having a tough time with it, imagine the other commitments this will put at risk if you say YES.”

That's more of a thinking exercise. The next person might give a different tip, but it still honors the Responsibility talent and they give them a script, some words that they might use, that would feel comfortable for someone with the Responsibility talent. So they might say something like, “next time you feel like you want to say no, but you can't find the words. Tell them, ‘Ooh, that project sounds really valuable. Let me look at my calendar and review all of my commitments and I'll get back to you by tomorrow.’” Essentially they're offering a stalling tactic, so that they can get their head together and find the right words and the right approach instead of just saying yes in the moment, so you get where I'm going here. The idea is to give the person ideas that can solve this challenge while still honoring the talent.

If you know all of your talent themes, what can be really cool with StrengthsFinder, to make this even more layered and get people learning the StrengthsFinder talent themes and get them to really honor the person, is to write all five of their talent themes in a corner and then do the same thing I already mentioned, so that when you see the person with Responsibility also has Command, also has Includer, also has Connectedness, also has Individualization. Then, you can give an answer that is, Ooh, look, this person has Individualization, so in this way the person with Responsibility would probably find it important to give a custom answer to every person who asks for something from them, so you could give them something like a formula for finding the words we're saying no, but that also allows it to be customized to the person who's receiving it, so that's the exercise. I like passing it to the right three times because you get three different layers of answers and then you send it back to the original person, and it just gives them a way of thinking about the world that isn't in their typical mind-frame. It's a nice way to help them brainstorm some potential solutions and see how other people view the same situation at work.

A final thought on troublemaker talents is to remember there's not an on and off switch as the right answer here because something's not serving you today. Don't shut it off, squash it down, stamp it out. The idea is to refine what you have. It's gonna come out anyway, like a jack in the box. It will jump out and scare people if you choose to not invest in it. So with that, I'll see you next time and I can't wait to hear how you've claimed that talent invested in it and shared it with the world.

Subscribe To The Lead Through Strengths 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: 046-talents-causing-trouble.mp3
Category:careers -- posted at: 2:30am CDT

Strengths Focus For This Episode

In this episode Lisa clearly answers the question, "Is there proof that strengths focused development works?" First, she presents a case study. It's research from the University of Nebraska that proves focusing on strengths yields better ROI than training yourself in your weakness zone. Second, she offers the metaphor of a fish and a cat to bring the point alive.

Resources of the Episode

You'll find lots of StrengthsFinder, leadership, and team tools on our Strengths Resources page.

Lisa also mentions this classic book by Donald O. Clifton and Paula Nelson, Soar with Your Strengths: A Simple Yet Revolutionary Philosophy of Business and Management

Strengths Tools

One of the best ways leaders can build a strengths based culture is to offer 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. On our home page, you can download this awesome tool that offers you 127 easy ideas for recognizing your team. Scroll down and look for the box that says "Great Managers Notice What Works".

Here's a Full Transcript of The Show

You’re listening to Lead Through Strengths, where you'll learn to apply your greatest strengths at work. I'm your host, Lisa Cummings, and today we cover the question, “Is there proof that strengths-based development works?” If you're considering StrengthsFinder or strengths-based development, strengths based culture in your organization. This comes up pretty often. People say, “Hey, if I'm going to move away from this thing that you call a lopsided obsession with weakness fixing, I want to know is it actually going to work?” What I have for you today is 1) a proof point through a case study...some actual research...and then 2) the other is a metaphor because it's a really clear way of thinking and making it obvious that strengths-based development is the way to amplify performance on the job. First, for your proof point, some researchers at the University of Nebraska did a study to quantify the effects of what it is like when you invest in your strengths, versus when you invest in something that you're just average in.

They did this test with the topic of speed-reading. They brought people in off the streets and subjected them to this speed-reading test, and at the end of the speed-reading test, they divided the subjects into two groups. Group 1: they were naturally talented at it. Group 2: they were average at the skill. The average people read 90 words per minute and the naturally talented people read 350 words per minute in this is the first round with no training. Just imagine bringing you in off the street and testing you on how fast you can read. Next, after that first round: they offered the same training to all subject. What they were going to look for, of course, is the answer to the question: "Can the naturally talented people use the same training to amplify their performance at a better pace than those who didn't have the natural talent?"

Well imagine this is very much like work. You see people come in to the same job, but they have different background, skills, talents, knowledge, experience. You see that one person really takes to the job easily. And another person - they don't ramp up as fast, and the work is not intuitive to them. They're slower at it and it never feels quite right for them.


Now, back to the study. All the subjects were given the same training and in the second round, after this training, those average participants, who started out only being able to read 90 words per minute, made some improvements. They went up to a 150 words per minute. This is very much like what you see on the job. You bring in people from off the street. You say, “Hey, you're going to go through the phone rep training and everybody's going to go through the same thing, and everybody who tries hard is going to improve.”

So, as expected, these subjects got better. They made a 66% improvement in their performance. That's great. It did something, yet the first piece of insight here is if you remember back to a minute ago...I said the naturally talented group already read 350 words per minute in their first round. So they already beat the trained (average) people right there. That's an interesting insight because you see how your natural talents can help you perform, even when you've never been trained in something. Now, the real magic in this story, in this case study is what happened to the people who were naturally talented. That group improved 828%. So if you ever hear me talk about your triple-digit-performance-improvement-shortcut being strengths, this is what I'm talking about. They went from 350 words per minute to 2900 words per minute with the same training as the other people.

One group of people improved to get to 150. The other group of people improved to get to 2900. You've seen this in the workplace, if you've looked around. You have the same people with the same training exposure, and you see very different performance levels. With those performance levels, you can see high performers who try really hard, but you can also see low performers who try really hard and they're just not getting it because it's not in their zone of genius, so there's the proof point for you: 828% performance improvement for that group of people who focused on what they were already naturally talented in. Now I mentioned that I would give you a proof point and then I would also offer you a metaphor that demonstrates it I think had a real guttural kind of level like, yes, this is how we should be thinking.

So there is a book put out by Donald Clifton and the Gallup organization called Soar With Your Strengths. Now this is an older book and it's actually a fable. It has a really good metaphor in there about taking an animal and sending it to training in something that it’s not good at. I'm going to extend the metaphor and do the Lisa version of it. It's a little bit silly, but this way if you read the book, you can still get something out of it, so imagine this. Imagine you're going to work and at work you have a fish, and at work you have a cat, and it's been a year into their experience at work and you say,

“Fish, it's time for the performance review and I’ve gotta tell ya, we've had you on that responsibility of mouse catching and you've been doing a really cruddy job at catching mice. We're going to really focus in, we're behind you, we want you to be successful, so we're going to spend the next year putting you through a training program so you can be really good at mouse catching. Fish, you're going to go to mouse-catching school."

"Now, Cat, time for your performance review. Gotta tell ya, you did great at mouse catching, but you've also had that responsibility of swimming and you know every time we put you near the pool...you scream...you scratch. You’ve got people in the HR office because their faces are all cut up when they're trying to throw you in the pool. It's been a real nightmare. We want you to be successful though. We're going to send you through a year long training program to make you a great swimmer."

soar with your strengths metaphor - try to get a fish to climb a tree

Ok, so got my weird HR conversation here and you can imagine how ridiculous it would be to spend a year trying to teach a fish to catch a mouse and how ridiculous it would be to get a cat to swim. But if you flip that around and send that fish to swimming school and make it the best fish on the planet, you can see what would happen. Oh yeah! That's its natural tendency and that's what it was made to do. Same thing with a cat. It's made to catch a mouse.

This is something that of course it's not as easy and clear with human beings what they were born to do and we're a lot more complicated because we've probably been squashing a lot of those things out of ourselves and hiding them and it's more difficult to make them apparent. But even the notion that you as yourself or that you as a people manager are looking for the genius in that other person that is exactly the path that's going to unleash performance in the organization. So get your fish in fish school. That's the big lesson.

StrengthsFinder Activity: Conversation With Your Team

Now let's talk application. As you listen to this audio and think about yourself personally, think of a time when you learned something new and it came really easily to you...more easily than that same thing would come to most people. If you make yourself think of 5 or 10 of these types of things, you're going to see some trends. You can extend those trends into your current role and think, “all right, if this stuff comes naturally to me, then how can I extend that into my current job?” If you want to apply the same question at a team level because you're a people manager or you're a strength champion (and awesomely) you are bringing this to a bigger conversation, then you can answer the question by going around the table and having a chat about it.

For example, somebody says, “OK, you know, every time we have to learn new software, it is just so easy for me. I don't even know why user manuals exist. I don't know why help screens exists. I can't believe they have to be built out in such detail, because it's just obvious to me how it's going to work.”

Maybe another person in a sales role says, “you know, you're doing a new initiative on storytelling,” and when that gets launched, the person is like, “Yeah! That seems easy and fun. This is how you want me to sell. Okay, no problem. Forget those other models we've been talking about. This is what I've been wishing for all along.”

Or, maybe you have someone in a project management role and they say, “you know, I can really spot the dependent tasks, I mean like nobody's business...even when the rest of the team can't see the connections. They're oblivious to some of these things that are really connected to each other and are going to make the critical path, and others have to experience the whole thing to realize that some of those steps were connected and that they matter.

That's the start of the question as a team, and then of course the magic isn't just knowing that something in the past happened. Then, the next part of the question is:

“How do we amplify this talent? If this is something you're naturally gifted in, how do we get you more of that? How can we get more of your genius on display at work?”

That makes a great team conversation. Based on the size of your team, you can spend however much or little time you have for this. I'd recommend allocating about 5 minutes a person, so it might be a 30 minute conversation, but if you only have 5 total minutes to spare at the beginning of a team meeting, ask people to submit the answer to you in advance. Put it in a spreadsheet. Collect it before you show up in the meeting so that you've done the first-level work in advance.

Then when you get in the room, it's 5 minutes of, "Here we go. Rapid fire. How can we amplify this stuff?" And then you can take it further in the time that you're actually in person together.

Okay, with that, you have a new question. Hopefully you have a newfound appreciation for how strengths based development really does work - how it does amplify your performance more than an obsession with weakness-fixing would. Now you have some questions to discuss as a team, and some things to think about on your own so you can amplify your own performance at work, and the performance of those around you.

So with that, I'll leave you until next time. Thanks for listening to Lead Through Strengths. To find more strengths-focused tools, go out to our website at LeadThroughStrengths.com/resources. There's a whole host of documents and videos and things that you can do to apply this on your team. I'll see you next time.

Subscribe To The Lead Through Strengths 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: 44-proof-strengthsfinder-works.mp3
Category:careers -- posted at: 2:00am CDT

Thanks for listening to Lead Through Strengths! 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 claim your talents. And share them with the world. 

If you want some strengths-focused tools to use with your team at work, also check out leadthroughstrengths.com/resources - there are a bunch of tools related to StrengthsFinder, strengths-focused leadership, and on noticing what works so you can get more of what works.

Direct download: 044-announcement.mp3
Category:careers -- posted at: 2:30am CDT

This Episode’s Focus on Strengths

This week Lisa chats with Cheikh Tall, Maya Tremelling, and a Project Director at FHI 360. Their amazing company is working in 70 countries to find cures for many of the world's deadliest diseases, provide water for villages in Africa, and promote the health and well-being of all people.

In this special episode, you'll hear how FHI 360 has built a strengths-based team, while nurturing a strong company culture. You'll learn about these 10 ideas:

  1. Charity Cube
  2. Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)
  3. Focus On The People
  4. Offer Awesome Grants
  5. Randomized Coffee Trials
  6. Thank You Cards
  7. Now Awards
  8. Annual Awards
  9. Leaders Set The Tone
  10. Creative Work Schedules

[caption id="attachment_3508" align="alignleft" width="400"] FHI 360's Awesome Mission[/caption]

Meet the interviewees (see photos below):

Cheikh's Top 5 Clifton StrengthsFinder Talent Themes: Maximizer, Adaptability, Achiever, Responsibility, Deliberative (such a great fit for getting a financial analyst in the zone!)

Maya's Top 5 Clifton StrengthsFinder Talent Themes: Positivity, Includer, Woo, Developer, Harmony (what a beautiful set of relationship talents to bring to a records management role!)

Lisa’s Top 5 Clifton StrengthsFinder Talent Themes:   Strategic, Maximizer, Positivity, Individualization, Woo

Resources of the Episode

You can connect with the FHI 360 team through their website, Twitter, and their interesting and informative blog.

Strengths Tools

You'll also find lots of StrengthsFinder, leadership, and team tools on our ="https://www.google.com/url?hl=en&q=http://leadthroughstrengths.com/resources&source=gmail&ust=1487264698482000&usg=AFQjCNHUtPcayNXycHfGq_r2Crj5sPIU7w">Strengths Resources page.

Subscribe To The Lead Through Strengths 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.

Here's a Full Transcript of the Interview

Lisa: You’re listening to Lead Through Strengths, where YOU'LL learn to apply your greatest strengths at work. [music break]

I’m your host, Lisa Cummings—and I gotta tell ya, whether you’re leading a team or leading yourself…it’s hard to find something more **ENERGIZING** and productive than using your natural talents every day at work.

Today, you’ll hear a special episode, where I’m onsite in the Raleigh Durham area of North Carolina. I’m with an organization called FHI 360. They do work in 70 countries, and wow...talk about bringing out the best in humanity…

I was onsite, delivering a StrengthsFinder program to their Global Leadership Team. They came from all over the world and, man, we got to apply the concept of strengths to [00:01:00] suuuuch a wide range of job responsibilities.

We had research scientists, we had country directors, we had clinical operations leaders, and we had people whose career mission is to cure malaria. We had leaders who devoted their entire lives to getting clean drinking water to villages in Africa.

It was amazing, and their organizational culture really stuck me.

It feels different (in a special way) when you walk in their building. So [00:01:30] I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to chat with some of their team members about what makes this organization so special.

Now, bear with us. The audio on this episode is not as good as our usual standard. We’re on site, in a common space, with four of us on one centralized microphone. The setup was not ideal for your ear buds, yet we made it work on the fly.  And, even with the extra fuzz and distance in your ears, you’ll absolutely benefit by listening to their creative tips and culture-building ideas.

In just a sec, they’ll start giving you 10 specific ideas you can borrow for YOUR work culture. If you find it tough to follow who is talking (because there are 4 of us), take a glance over at leadthroughstrengths.com/listen. When you see the podcast episode art with three faces, you’ll know you found them. We added photos of each person throughout the show notes - so I think you’ll love checking out those visuals (we even have some that show the 10 tips in action). That page also includes each person’s StrengthsFinder talent themes, so it might be fun for you to spot their natural talents as you hear how they describe their ideas.

We kick it off with . She jumps right in with their [00:03:00] Charity Cube idea. Here she is, giving you a cool use for the empty cubicle in your office!

Project Director: Hi,  I'm a project director. My favorite thing about working here or one cool thing I look forward to is an initiative we have called the Charity Cube. It's an empty cube that we use as a mini-thrift store to raise funds [00:03:30] for charities that are nominated by our staff.

Sometimes it will be a charity that our staff cares about, local or national, or sometimes it'll be something thathas personal significance to someone, right? Now for example, this month, the funds raised through the Charity Cube are going to the Leukemia Society because one of our colleagues lost her husband recently to leukemia, so it's raising money in honor of him.

Lisa: I can already tell it's something of meaning here. Tell me a little bit [00:04:00] about what that cube looks like. If you walk up to that cube, what do you see? Because I imagine almost everybody listening has an empty cube somewhere around the office and they want to do this. What does that look like?

Project Director: Sure. We invested in a portable clothing rack. I think a company called Neatfreak makes it. We have clothes hanging there. We ask people to only bring in really nice stuff. We usually have some shoes and purses. There are books, CDs and DVDs [00:04:30]. Knickknacks. People bring in all kinds of things. Some things we wish they didn't, but usually what happens is the good stuff is gone in a second. What's left over is the stuff that nobody wants, so once a month, we get volunteers to come clean it out and to purge it, then we start over. We've raised $5,000 in the Charity Cube.

We've been doing it two years and each month, it's a different charity and [00:05:00] staff nominates it. It's fun. It needs to be placed somewhere strategic. Our Charity Cube is placed right next to the canteen, so everyone who's going to warm up their lunch stops by. It's an honor system. There's a moneybox. People put in the cash and once a month, we add up all the money and send it to a charity.

Lisa: It's like a little retail store in a cube. I wasn't even imagining it at first.

Project Director: Yeah. It manages itself, for the most part.

Lisa: And anybody listening to this could implement something like that. They don't have to be a people [00:05:30] manager to do that. That can be anyone who wants to demonstrate leadership and do something meaningful. Ooh. Maya, this is a lot to live up to. What kind of cool thing do you love here?

Maya: My name is Maya Tremelling [00:05:43]. I'm responsible for record management and I’ve worked for FHI for almost nine years. What I like most about working in this company are the people.

Lisa: Let's talk about relationships for a second and what happens when you're so far away. I talk to more and more people at companies, organizations everywhere that have remote employees all over the place. Your tightest knit team might not be anywhere near you, so how do you ... This answer could be for anyone even though, Cheikh, you haven't been able to introduce yourself yet. How do you stay connected like that relationship-wise when you're not physically seeing each other?

Cheikh: The ERG.

Maya: Yeah, ERG. I don't know if you heard of them [00:06:29].

Lisa: Employee Resource Groups?

Cheikh: Employee [00:06:30] Resource Group. Yes.

Lisa: Yes. Talk about them.

Cheikh: And then people that share…

Project Director: Common interests.

Maya: We have so many groups. Maybe I can talk for “Tapioca” [00:06:38], which is Asian people, but people who care about Asia also can join. You don't need to be Asian to join. We have really good causes too, like fundraising. We celebrate New Year's for all the countries in Asia. We have potlucks. Being away from our countries can feel lonely, but it feels like we are family here. It's just nice.

Lisa: Yeah, so you mentioned Tapioca. You mentioned Young Professionals. Is that an Employee Resource Group?

Maya: Yes.

Lisa: What are some other ones?

Maya: Africa.

Project Director: Working parents.

Cheikh: I think a bicycle group.

Lisa: Bicycle?

Cheikh: They have a bunch of bicycles. Yeah.

Project Director: Yeah. We have a bicycle one, working parents. Oh, Toastmasters, public speaking, Africa, Asia. Military veterans? [00:07:25] Oh, a fitness one that does yoga and meditation.

Lisa: It's as if you find a special connection point, you could make one of these.

Project Director: Sure. You can propose it.

Cheikh: The last one is a women’s group.

Project Director: Oh, yeah. The women's group? Yeah.

Cheikh: I attended that one [smiles].

Project Director: That's awesome. Good for you [cheerful crosstalk].

Lisa: Okay, so now people have sort of met you.

Cheikh: Yes.

Lisa: Tell them who you are and one of the cool things you love about working here.

Cheikh: My name is Cheikh Tall [00:07:52]. I've been with FHI for about a year. The purpose for me to join FHI was the work that FHI was doing. I was just sitting at my old job - just working and I guess it wasn't meaningful to me. It wasn't about the money, it's about what I want to do personally. I think working here - and the work that FHI is doing, that's one of the main things that I like about working here.

Lisa: Yeah. I think people listening to this will almost feel like you [00:08:30] have an advantage because when you're in a company like this, that is so mission driven and so out for humanity and what the world could become, you certainly (on the purpose and meaning part) have something special.

Let's just say you're a manager listening to this and they work in a manufacturing company. They're making widgets and you're trying to figure out - how do you tap into meaning? You've obviously had this experience when you didn't feel that connection. [00:09:00] Do you think that connection can be made when it's a hardware product or something like that?

Cheikh: Yes. I think it's good to take time to understand what somebody's motivation is. It's important to tap into that motivation and keep that person going.

Lisa: If you just asked one question to try to get at somebody's motivation, what would that thing be?

Project Director: Whenever I work with someone that I don't know, I make sure that the very first meeting has nothing to do with work. That it's [00:09:30] just about getting to know each other and understanding. You don't want to make people say things that they're not comfortable sharing, but just opening a dialogue for people to share what they're comfortable with about their life and their family and where they went to school or what books they love, what music they love, what their hobbies are, so that you can build trust. I think in order to be able to be on a team and have healthy conflict about ideas, you have to trust each other. In order to build trust, you have to know something about the person [00:10:00] beyond their name and their title.

Lisa: It doesn't cost any money, either. That's a great one, Project Director, for that.

Project Director: Exactly. You do it over lunch. You go out, "Hey, I'm so glad we're working together. Can we go and grab lunch?" You just talk about life and each other. Also in keeping that feeling going and building that relationship too, a lot of times, we work with people that are overseas.

I had a team that was all in Kenya. We did so much better, we were so much more engaged when we were on video, rather than when we were on the phone. As much as we could, we did Skype and video calls more than just being on the phone. When you're on the phone and someone could be doing something else and it's too passive. When you're on video, you have to really focus.

So yeah, using video and just keeping a personal relationship just when you start meeting like, "How's everything going with you guys? How's your family?" You know what their kids are doing. "How's soccer going?" or something. "How's your garden going? You grow tomatoes. Do you have any tomatoes yet?" Just to have ahuman connection and not be so boring about work, because things can get boring sometimes.

Lisa: [00:11:00] It's big. People say, "Oh, you're not focusing on work", but you're focusing on work by focusing on the people that do the work, so you have to have that piece.

Cheikh: Adding to that, I might be an introvert sometimes. I don't like to talk. I just sometimes just keep it business as usual.

Lisa: Perfect for having someone on a video right now, right? [sarcasm] “Let's do an in public interview with someone to make him feel really uncomfortable.”

Cheikh: I've been working with my manager for a while. She can tell by how I react if I'm excited about something or not. She knows that I like to be challenged. If a new challenge comes up, she can see the excitement in me. I think paying attention to the non-verbal action of people pays a lot. They can't help unless they are 100% sure what motivates that person.

Lisa: I like how practical your ideas are. You were talking about the fact that someone can read you [00:12:00] and know. The same thing applies with anybody that you're working with whether they're your direct report or a colleague who's a peer. If you get to know each other at those informal lunches and they know, "Oh, you want a little more time to think about things" or "Don't put me under pressure to speak in the moment" or "Now I can see that eye twitch means that's a good thing". All those little signs.

Project Director: One of the things that I love about FHI is HR has set aside funds and resources for employees to come up with [00:12:30] ideas. We have the Awesome grant: give us an idea that's awesome that you can do for $1,000 and we'll consider it. Everyone can submit his or her ideas. One of the Awesome grants was to get some bicycles that employees can check out and go for lunch, go ride into downtown and grab a coffee or a lunch.

HR, it's not tons of money, but it's very encouraging to feel like your ideas are valued and for HR to say, "We want to know what ..." [00:13:00] The Awesome grants are about the culture. $1,000 projects to make our culture better. I love that HR is thinking that way because that's creative and it's not expensive. It's pretty easy. The staff is doing all the work. They're coming up with an idea they're implementing.

Lisa: And executing. I hear that and I think if someone said, "Oh, we don't have that. We have $100", you could do an Awesome grant with $100. That's cool.

Paige Winn (cameo appearance): Do you guys know about the randomized coffee trials?

Maya: Yeah. Every [00:13:30] month, people who register to be part of it will get an invite. They match us with other people and we can have talking and it's just having a coffee or tea or even lunch if you want. I meet most of the time with someone new that I never met before. It's really good because we are such a big company. So many new people - we benefit.

Lisa: Yeah. Say more about how this actually works. You're an employee and I'm imagining [00:14:00] it could be something like networking and I just want to meet someone in whatever department?

Maya: Yes.

Lisa: Networking, mostly? Does it happen through software or how does this happen?

Maya: It's just an email.

Project Director: It's part of the Awesome thing. Someone manages it. They get all the names of people and then they use random matching and send out emails.

Cheikh: Usually the people that they match are in the same department.

Project Director: Yeah.

Cheikh: We end up being matched to somebody who is doing something totally different than your area of work, so you can talk about projects you’re working on.

Project Director: The ones that I've been in, we talk about work some and what kind of projects you're doing and what excites you about what's coming down the pike.

Maya: Most of the time. Yeah.

Project Director: "Where did you come from? Who are you?" It's all the employees who schedule it and reschedule it if you need to cancel. That's your gig. They just tell you whom you're matched to and then you can take it and run.

Lisa: You're hitting [00:15:00] on an enormously important concept. I talk a lot with managers about individualizing to each person and what makes them tick.

Project Director: One thing I really appreciate is that we get handed out stationary that is a thank you note. It has a logo and it says 'We are FHI'. You get those and when someone does something that you appreciate or helps you out, you can send them a handwritten thank you note. I have handwritten thank you [00:15:30] notes from people in leadership that mean so much. The power of that is just so real and wonderful. We can do that to each other. We also have an ability to nominate people for awards.

Cheikh: Yeah. The Now Award.

Project Director: On an ongoing basis, we have a Now Award, which is just someone helped you out. It can be a $10 gift card or $20, whatever. Once a year, then we have the big award. They take nominations from around, many, many offices around [00:16:00] the world. It's nice. There's a ceremony and people get to tell their story. You hear why people got this award and they give it to teams. It's not about individual accomplishments, it's about team accomplishment and project accomplishment. That's awesome because then you're really creating a culture that values teamwork.

Cheikh: Also, what I like especially about the Now Award is that it is something that you get from peers. You're working next to each other.

Maya: Right. In the same department.

Cheikh: It doesn't come from the top leader. [00:16:30] My direct manager or my direct coworkers are the ones that can nominate me. Just getting an award from them means a lot because they are the people that you interact with all the time, and they see you putting in the work. The direct manager knows what I'm doing every day. Getting recognition from them sometime means a lot.

Lisa: As I was listening to your answers, I was thinking about how that gave people a [00:17:00] big, bigger, biggest option where thank you cards, recognition cards can be big, Now Awards can be bigger, the team impact thing, the biggest. But that something as simple as a peer recognition getting a handwritten note whether it's from a peer, even an email, that it's big.

It's a big meaning to you even though it's a small easy action to take. Anybody can keep a stack full of blank cards at their desk to recognize peers, even if their company doesn't [00:17:30] provide something. Okay. Closing thought. It's a simple question, yet a deep question. What do you know about team dynamics today that you didn't know five years ago?

Project Director: I don't know if I didn't know it five years ago, but I certainly know now that the leader sets the tone. I'm on a team now where the leader will send out a message [00:18:00] and it's completely heartfelt. "This morning I woke up and there was a beautiful sunrise and I was on my run. I was just thinking about how much we've accomplished in the last month, and how hard you guys have worked, and how much I appreciate it. I'm just thankful that you all are my team."

He's setting the tone. He's setting the tone and then that becomes the tone of the team. I think it goes all the way up to our CEO. We have a CEO suggestion box. You can say anything you want in the suggestion box. Anything. [00:18:30] He will respond publicly unless it's private, if it's an HR issue that is private.

He sets the tone for communication. That would be my nugget: the leader sets the tone. It's your responsibility to set the tone for your team. If there's gnarly-ness going on in your team, you have to not just want to blame it on them but look inward and accept some responsibility. How do I turn this around? What can I do? Instead of just saying, "All those people are hopeless." I [00:19:00] believe it comes from the top.

Lisa: It takes a lot of small interactions to make that openness happen, so that's a really good lesson.

Project Director: You know one thing we didn't talk about, but I think is really great, is that I only work 60% of the time. That's a choice that I made, so that I cannot make my kids eat TV dinner every day, right?

Lisa: Ooh, it is a big one.

Project Director: I work less and I make less money, but I still know, and I think most people here know, that you don't get all this [00:19:30] stuff. Culture is not going to just ... someone else is going to create it. You have to put the time in even though I'm only working 60%, but I put the time in for the Charity Cube. We put the time in for the ERGs. We do it because we know that it's our responsibility. We get to own whether this place is awesome to work at or not. It's everybody's responsibility and we all chip in, don't we?

Maya: Yeah. [00:19:53].

Project Director: People chip in. We're not getting compensated for these things that we're doing. We shouldn't be. We're doing them because we want to work at an awesome place [00:20:00] and that's what it takes to work somewhere awesome. If you're not willing to give a couple of hours a month or one hour a month to make this place awesome, then it's not going to be awesome. That's why it's awesome. If you think everyone else is going to create the culture and then you get to benefit from it? No. That's not how it works.

Lisa: It's so uncommon to see any fractional work schedule.

Project Director: Yeah. It has to be that your project, it meshes with your project needs, but yeah. If you can justify in how it will work and it works [00:20:30] for your group, then you can do it.

Lisa: The Project Director ended it so perfectly, didn't she? You know what, if you want your workplace to be great, it's built from the inside out. A culture's not an HR initiative, it's not a vision from one single leader. It's actually a reflection of the past and the present and all of those actions, habits, preferences, commitments and trusts that are going on in your organization.

Building a strengths-based culture takes [00:21:00] some time, effort, and ongoing communication. They did such a great job of showing how yes, it does take an effort by many people over a long period of time to shape a culture yet at the same time, they demonstrate really beautifully that these 10 ideas can be executed by anyone at any level and really with any budget level.

To do a quick recap, here are the 10 ideas. I hope you will take some inspiration [00:21:30] and implement a spark that you got from this episode in your company.

  1. Turn an empty cube into a Charity Cube.Use it to give to causes that employees select and care about.
  2. Form Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), and don’t limit them to ethnic diversity groups. Allow team members to find connection points and create groups, like their cyclist group or veterans group.
  3. Focus on the work by focusing on the people doing the work. Build human connections by being willing to chat about non-work topics. Get on video for remote team members. Going deeper builds trust that translates into results.
  4. Offer Awesome Grants. Give people the opportunity to apply for grants that build a great workplace. They implemented everything from a sharable bike program to buying StrengthsFinder assessments - all from their Awesome Grants.
  5. Create a program like their Randomized Coffee Trials.They literally get matched up with a random person from another department to have coffee and try on a conversation. It has been awesome for cross-functional networking and collaboration.
  6. Provide an inventory of Thank You cards. They provide stationery to each employee so that offering appreciation is convenient. This removes cost barriers and convenience barriers that would otherwise keep people from doing it. I know, that sounds like a lame excuse to not say thank you…yet I don’t see fat stacks of thank you cards on people’s desks, so this idea rocks. Make it easy.
  7. Now Awards.Start a peer-nomination system. Get rid of the bureaucracy and approvals. Allow people to give something simple, like a $10 gift card to a peer.
  8. Annual Awards.This is their big team award, so it’s different from peer awards. This one recognizes project level success. They go all out with stories that describe the team’s experience together. And they pump up the pomp and circumstance to really make a celebration out of it.
  9. Set the tone.As a leader, FHI leaders are comfortable with a heartfelt tone. They are willing to listen and help each person feel important. They see from their results and loyalty that it's a big deal. Whether it’s a meaningful team message or their CEO suggestion box, they’re out to show people that they matter.
  10. Get creative with work schedules.FHI offers what they call “Reduced LOE” where any professional on their team can work fractional hours and get prorated benefits. What a creative way to keep your best employees through different seasons of their lives. It makes team members feel accountable to keeping the amazing culture train going - what a brilliant way to build a feeling of ownership all the way through. At its simplest level, consider offering a job sharing program or part time roles. The important differentiator here is that it’s not just for entry-level jobs. When you show people they have a career path with flexibility, you can keep your top talent rather than having them opt out of the workforce entirely.

It makes the team members feel accountable to keeping the amazing culture train going, you heard that from Project Director, and what a brilliant way to build a feeling of ownership all the way through the organization. If you offered this at its simplest level, just consider doing a job-sharing program where two employees can share a job 50/50 or maybe you offer part-time roles.

The important differentiator is that it's not just for entry-level jobs. I do see people experimenting with part-time offerings, yet they stop at the entry-level jobs. The magic here is that when you show people they have a career path with flexibility, you can keep your top talent rather than having them opt out of the workforce entirely. All right. With that, I'd love to hear what this episode inspires you to put into practice.

If you've done the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment with your team, it's a great [00:27:00] spark. I say this often. It's a great start, it's a great spark, but it needs the continued conversation and execution to have the deep impact on an organization. First, I'm virtually high fiving you if you've gotten the conversation started already and the examples in this episode are a great way to support talents and put them into action.

Just think about this for a second. If someone on your team leads through the Discipline or Focus talent themes, maybe they create the calendaring process for something like those randomized coffee trials because they really dig the organizational skills and the follow through part. If someone leads through restorative, maybe they institute their own ERG.

They create an employee resource group called the Fix It Amigos, I don't know, to tinker on electronics or solve business issues that people submit. If someone leads through the developer talent, maybe they propose a mentoring program or they offer to be someone's mentor so they can take them through those small steps of development and have someone who they can celebrate the success of.

If someone leads through Includer, they might offer to become the onboarding welcome wagon and offer tour guides to ensure that new hires feel totally comfortable and grounded in their first week on the job. You get the idea here. I'm just spit balling. The idea though is take your talents and the talents of people on your team and aim them at culture building conversations. Aim them at specific company programs.

Get people involved in ways [00:28:30] that light them up. Encourage people to contribute in ways that bring them ease and energy and enjoyment about the workplace and about their culture and about their roles. After all, if they're obsessed with fixing their weaknesses, you know what I'm about to say here. They are performing on the road of most resistance. So help them claim their talents and share them with your culture.


Direct download: FHI-360-Culture-Building-Tips.mp3
Category:careers -- posted at: 2:30am CDT

Should You Stay Or Should You Go Now? With Scott Barlow

This Episode's Question
Ingrid says she's pretty close to knowing what she wants to do with her career. And she even has a list of potential employers collected. These are companies where she could put these new ideas to use. Yet she's just not sure of the timing.  She's afraid once she actually gets into the career change...will she still be happy? Will she have picked the right thing?

She asked, "Is it okay to go after what I think (at least right now) my dream job is...simply because I need to have the experience of it to know what it is all about? Or do I need to know exactly what my dream job is before I go after it."


What You'll Learn In The Audio
- Whether to take the risk of the grass not being greener in a new job. Sometimes you worry that you might be romanticizing the role or the company. Or you worry that the interview process is not what the "real" day-in-a-life will be like.

- How you can Happen To Your Career rather than slugging through your work days by letting career "happenings" get imposed upon you. Note: you'll get some super special Scott Anthony Barlow wisdom in this department. And you'll leave wanting to subscribe to his podcast or sign up for his One Stop career shop for getting you where you want to go. This guy rocks.

- Examples of times when a dream job didn't turn out as planned. Yup, even your hosts have experienced these "wrong" turns and came out on a great note. And why you should go for it...even if it turns out to be one of your "not it" roles you're bound to experience in your career.

- Why it's good to go through some career conflict and get outside of your comfort zone. You'll become more self-aware, you'll know better what your strengths are, and you'll get clearer on what you want.

- If you don't try it, you'll miss the chance of knowing whether this is "it" for you. And why not? Because what you want and need today won't be what you want and need in the future. You'll keep changing, growing, and evolving as a person. So go for what feels right today because it will change tomorrow.

- Humans are wired with a survival instinct. You'll tackle pain head on. It's your fight or flight response. You'll take risks to avoid pain. Yet when it comes to gain, humans take far less risk. That's why Ingrid's feelings and question are 100% normal. To get massive career happiness, sometimes you have to take risk on the gain side. And it's a lot tougher to muster up the courage on that end.


Resource of the Episode
At Happen To Your Career, you can find a  14 day course on how to figure out what you want to do with your career.  There's no charge. What a super resource to get you started.


Subscribe to the Career Q&A Podcast
To subscribe and review, here are your links for listening in iTunes and Stitcher radio. Subscribing is a great way to never miss an episode - let the app notify you each week when the latest question gets published. 

Ask Your Career Question
Send your question on Twitter @careerpodcast or on the Career Q&A Facebook page.

Even better, leave your question through the audio hotline so we can hear your voice.

Related Episodes to Go Deeper on The Topic
- People who are in a similar career space are often debating about money and happiness...trying to find out if it's possible to have both.

- They also wonder if their current team is the right set of peers and colleagues to keep their game moving upward.


Direct download: 014-Scott-Barlow.mp3
Category:careers -- posted at: 10:48am CDT

This Episode’s Focus on Strengths

This week Lisa chats with Murray Guest. They focus on embedding strengths into your company culture after StrengthsFinder training. Instead of just participating in a training, then putting your results and notes away, find ways to sustain the use of strengths at work and home.

Using your strengths will improve your company culture, inspire your team to learn and grow, and increase your bottom line (and it will improve your family life too)!

Murray is a consultant who works with companies and leaders to weave StrengthsFinder into their businesses. He shares this list of four things he addresses when helping people build strengths-based cultures: 1. Systems 2. Physical Environment 3. Leadership 4. Attitudes. He and Lisa also give a ton of easy-to-implement ideas to infuse strengths into your everyday life, most of which are free, so listen in.

Murray's Top 5 Clifton StrengthsFinder Talent Themes: Relator, Futuristic, Individualization, Communication, Responsibility

Lisa’s Top 5 Clifton StrengthsFinder Talent Themes:   Strategic, Maximizer, Positivity, Individualization, Woo

Resources of the Episode

You can connect with Murray through LinkedInTwitter, Instagram, and his website. Murray also created the Strengths Culture Toolkit to help teams use the Clifton StrengthsFinder beyond their initial team building event.

Strengths Tools

You'll also find lots of StrengthsFinder, leadership, and team tools on our ="https://www.google.com/url?hl=en&q=http://leadthroughstrengths.com/resources&source=gmail&ust=1487264698482000&usg=AFQjCNHUtPcayNXycHfGq_r2Crj5sPIU7w">Strengths Resources page.

Subscribe To The Lead Through Strengths 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.

Here's a Full Transcript of the Interview

Lisa Cummings: [00:00:10] You’re listening to Lead Through Strengths, where you’ll learn to apply your greatest Strengths at work. I’m your host, Lisa Cummings, and I gotta tell you, whether you’re leading a team or leading yourself, it’s hard to find something more energizing and productive than using your natural talents every day at work.

[00:00:27] Today your guest is a Strengths expert who I wanted to bring on the show because of a conversation we originally had about sustaining Strengths on your team over the long haul. So both of us had too many experience where we sparked an interest in Strengths in organization with a speech, or the training, or some coaching, but the company didn’t have the infrastructure or resources behind it to make it part of the everyday culture. And we’re both making it part of our personal mission and our business models to support leaders in a way that helps them embed Strengths into the fabric of the company and to the everyday culture at work.

[00:01:04] A fun fact about your guest’s uniqueness, we shared a crush on Lita Ford in the 1980s and we’re both drummers. How fun is that? So, Murray Guest, let’s rock this show. Welcome!

Murray Guest: [00:01:17] Woo-hoo. Lisa, so good to be with you today. I’m excited to talk about Strengths, but also, yeah, we’ve got a bit of a love of rock drumming. I’m learning. I’m behind you in my skills. I know it’s all about practice, and I’m loving when we connect and you just encourage me to keep going and keep practicing.

[00:01:34] And, yeah, I’ve a crush on Lita Ford and I got to see her recently play live. And to see someone that was so excited and so happy on stage doing what she loves, and I’m sure she was tapping to her Strengths while she was doing it too.

Lisa Cummings: [00:01:46] Such a good metaphor for what Strengths do for you when you’re in flow and you’re just totally in your groove at work or on stage, because you love it and it shines through and it makes people want to work with you. It’s a good reason to embed Strengths into your culture, because you get to experience people like that at work.

[caption id="attachment_3365" align="alignleft" width="400"] Murray In Action - Inspiring Someone's Business Growth[/caption]

Murray Guest: [00:02:01] Yeah, I’m so passionate about the idea of people being in the state of flow. Unfortunately, not everyone’s in that place, and I think Strengths is such a perfect vehicle for people to get in that state where it’s energizing and it’s not, “Thank God it’s Friday,” it’s, “Thank God it’s Monday.”

Lisa Cummings: [00:02:18:] I saw that in your Instagram, TGIM, and I thought, “Yes, that is the kind of movement I want.” So, okay, let’s talk about that from the perspective of loading up listeners with ideas for vetting Strengths into their culture because they take the StrengthsFinder assessment, maybe they do it as a team, and then they don’t mean to go back to work and put it in a file and forget about it, but it does happen. We know it does, and it’s sad because we see the spark and they know they’re going to find their flow with it, and then sometimes it can wane.

[00:02:47] So I want to get into a whole bunch of actionable tips and viewpoints about how people can use this, but I do want to start everyone off by being able to hear your Strengths, so kick us off with your top five first.

Murray Guest: [00:03:00] My top five: Relator, Futuristic, Individualization, Communication and Responsibility. I completed my Strengths assessment back in 2012 so it’s been five years that I’ve really known my Strengths and everyday thinking about how they sharpen and how they apply. But actually, Lisa, so like a bit of a path or a bit of a structure in my top five I just want to quickly explain that. So, for me, Relator is all about building these relationships. Number two, Futuristic, where you want to go as a team or as an organization or a leader and how can we get there.

[00:03:32] Individualization, how can we connect and specifically what it is for you? Communication then is about how we communicate that out for you as a leader or within your business, or if it’s someone running their business, how they market themselves. And the Responsibility, that’s me and it’s a foundation of how I can continue to serve you as a coach. And it’s a process, I think, that’s showing up and working for me really well as a coach.

Lisa Cummings: [00:03:56] Just last week, I did a training session and we had cards where they were representing each person’s talent, and this people manager called me over and he said, “I think my Strengths in this order are like a process that I use for how I handle situations or how I think about things.” So as you were saying that I was having a flashback to this guy, and I thought, “Wow, that would be really interesting to ask people to see, ‘Does this represent like a thought flow or almost like how you operationalize how you work through challenges or situations or something new?’” Because I bet your talents do reflect an order, not necessarily the order of the Talent Themes number one through five, but an order in how they work in your brain. You might be onto something cool there.

Murray Guest: [00:04:37] Yeah. Well, I love that he identified that in your course last week because I think that’s such a great awareness and a claiming of his dominant Themes. If there’s a way that we can think about a lot of what you’re saying about the thought process, or the way we might problem solve, or the way we might organize ourselves, any way that we can connect and really claim those Strengths that we have is part of the process.

[00:05:02] In my previous life, I worked for an organization where what we did was psychology-based safety training. So it’s all about building a culture where people go home safe every day. So when we talk about embedding Strengths, I’m transferring a lot from what I learned from embedding what we call a safe culture where people go home safe, where leaders think about the way they communicate and they lead, and the way that people have an environment where it’s safe to speak up.

[00:05:35] In that organization, I worked with a whole range of companies and about 10,000 people across some very large high-risk organizations, and one of them was a mining organization which employed about 2,000 people. This company had bought from us a couple of million dollars’ worth of training, of programs and coaching and different sorts of initiatives to develop their culture.

[00:05:58] There was a maintenance team, and you would go into that maintenance team and you would swear that we’d been there only yesterday with our programs. The language, the posters, the way that they would discuss things in their meetings and look after each other, and you would actually see the results of their safety and their performance and their attitudes was actually indicative of that because of how well they were going.

[00:06:23] There was another part, which is the main part of this mining operation, where you would think that we had never been there, we had never run a program, never had a coaching session with the leader, never introduced these models and tools and concepts.

Lisa Cummings: [00:06:37] Same company.

Murray Guest: [00:06:38] Same company. Same site. Quite a large mining operation but same company, same site. Here’s the thing. The maintenance team, we hadn’t actually done any work with them for nearly seven years. The mining operation, we’d actually been there only in the weeks before, and it was critical to how much the leaders were actually living and breathing and embedding and, I would say, just adopting the language in their everyday conversations which kept this concept or these concepts alive.

[00:07:10] In the maintenance team, you had frontline leaders that are there managing these teams, day in and day out, and they had embraced it, and they didn’t need us as coaches and facilitators to come back, and you could see then that was keeping alive, day in, day out. And, like I said, we haven’t been there for seven years in that part of the business.

[00:07:27] In this other main operation, being there in the weeks before, yet it wasn’t being embedded and sustained because the leaders didn’t believe in it, and they weren’t bringing into their language, they were sending people to the training courses, saying, “You have to go,” but they weren’t having, where I would say, the critical conversations before and after the programs.

[00:07:49] So if there was a key insight out of all that that I really want to share is to get the value from, say, building a Strengths culture and thinking about how we actually just make it part of the way we work. We really need to engage our leaders and support them in how they just bring it into part of their everyday language and the conversations they’re having with their teams.

Lisa Cummings: [00:08:11] And we’ve all seen the difference between the compliance training, where the person in the session is rolling their eyes, and saying, “Yeah, yeah.” We’re talking safety, but in reality they just want it faster and cheaper, and out in the field it’s not really going to go down like this. How do you do this with Strengths?

[00:08:08:27] If you translate that, and you’re a manager who is just experiencing StrengthsFinder for the first time yourself, and you don’t know the jargon, and you don’t know the language, can you help simplify that and just give people an idea of a few things, “Hey, you’re an everyday people manager, you’re used to being an ops guy, or a finance person, or a marketing person, or something like that”? How do you start embedding this in your daily talk and conversation when you don’t know the language yet?

Murray Guest: [00:08:55] I break up the culture into four areas, the culture within organizations: systems, environment, the leadership and their attitudes. To help us have those conversations and make it easy, I think one of the little things we can start to bring into those four areas so it’s really easy to have those conversations. For example, if I’ve got a diary and I’m going to meetings with my people, what are the Strengths references I can put in there?

[00:09:20] If I’ve got a notice board or a whiteboard in my office or somewhere in that team area, what can we stick up there to remind us of Strengths and the Strengths language? As a leader, how am I investing my time when I’m not talking to my people to learn about Strengths? So this podcast, you’ve got a fantastic podcast, and also things like the Called to Coach that Gallup put out. They are resources that, as leaders, tapping into those when I’m not in front of my people, traveling to and from work, they’re great to actually start to learn and get some deep insights around Strengths.

[00:09:52] I also think asking people questions is one of the most powerful tools in a leader’s toolkit. Asking people about their Strengths, how they’re showing up, what do they want to get out of knowing about their Strengths? And then once people are starting to experience Strengths, whether it’s through workshops or coaching, ask them how actually it’s helped them, what’s come up for them, how have their Strengths shown up for them in the past?

[00:10:16] I’m a big believer, Lisa, that the 10-minute conversation a manager has before a coaching or a workshop event and the 10 minutes after, might be a cup of coffee, it’s those little informal conversations which show that, as a leader, “I care about you, and I want to know what you got out of that training, or that coaching session. How can I help you apply that

[caption id="attachment_3366" align="alignright" width="400"] Murray Guest with Paul Allen - Top Strengths Evangelists[/caption]


Lisa Cummings: [00:10:36] And you’re breaking down those four categories and talking about things like systems. Instantly I thought of things like the HR systems where I’ve seen some people in their HRIS where they do performance reviews and where they have their talent information or talent management system, where they actually put in top five talents or they put in some of the career aspirations related to Strengths, or they link the Strengths conversation into the development plans, and they’re building it into stuff that already happens in the organization.

[00:11:06] You know, when you said the diary, my ears perked up. And I know some Americans who are listening their ears perked up because they were thinking of a journal kind of diary, so you’re talking calendar kind of diary, right?

Murray Guest: [00:11:17] Yes, that’s right. [laughs] I’m still a writer in, let’s call it, my day-to-day diary or planner, yeah. Not my deep, deep diary, “Today my Strengths showed up like this.”

Lisa Cummings: [00:11:28] [laughs] I had to call that out because I know it’s fun language barrier we have.

Murray Guest: [00:11:31] If you’re doing that and write in your journal that’s fantastic.

Lisa Cummings: [00:11:33] Could be. A lot of “Dear, Diary,” good stuff about Strengths for sure. But even in the calendar, making that part of the system where if you can’t remember this stuff as a manager and it seems like it’s just such a heavy load because you’re busy, just having a quarterly meeting that you put on a recurring cycle that is a Strengths one-on-one, and you just had the language showing up on someone’s calendar that’s a Strengths one-on-one, that alone holds you accountable to think of a couple of questions, I’m going to ask them about their Strengths in this meeting.

Murray Guest: [00:12:00] Yeah, and your link to the HRIS, I totally agree. I was with a client earlier this week and we’re talking about their annual performance reviews. I said to him, “How about we put a question in there which says, ‘How have you used your Strengths to achieve your goals?’ or, ‘How have you applied your Strengths to develop this year? How will you apply your Strengths in the coming year to achieve our strategic plan?’” Those little prompts in that performance review and those planning guides are just keeping Strengths alive and will get people thinking about it, and not just in that discussion but the preparation and the follow-on as well.

Lisa Cummings: [00:12:35] And maybe help people not dread the performance review season and just think of an outgoing conversation.

Murray Guest: [00:12:40] I bet that’s a whole lot of conversation.

Lisa Cummings: [00:12:43] I know. That could really derail us into a whole separate interview. We’ll do that one next time. So give me a couple more for managers, because I think, as you mentioned, they are a linchpin in all of this to keep it going. So you mentioned environment, say a little about what you can do to have Strengths around your environment and keep the thought of Strengths alive in people’s minds.

Murray Guest: [00:13:08] One of the best things I’ve seen, and I love this as an initiative, is building a Strengths wall in your team environment. What I’ve seen, Lisa, is the very simple one where it’s just pieces of paper. And I’ve seen some very elaborate ones where people are getting photos taken, they’ve got a board that goes into a frame, and on that board next to their photo they’ve written their top five Strengths and how they’re applying their Strengths to achieve their goals, or how they’re using their Strengths to be more successful in their roles or to serve the team.

[00:13:39] And so these Strengths walls have been led by leaders who’ve said, “Right, let’s just keep this alive in our area.” And so whenever anyone new joins the team, they get put up on the wall. If anyone thinks, “How am I going to work on a project, or who am I going to collaborate with and draw on their strengths?” Here’s this great wall, the pictures of our team members and their top five and how they can really use them to be successful.

[00:14:06] In the environment, when I say that I mean it’s the physical environment, things you can touch. We can do certificates on the wall, and we can do top five on our desks and things like that, but I think this next level with the Strengths wall provides that deeper understanding about the individuals that make up the team.

Lisa Cummings: [00:14:24] Mm-hmm. I like that a lot. And the deeper understanding point, I’ve seen some of my clients go deeper in a way that was really cool. Like I’ll provide in a training these four-by-six frames that have people’s talents so that, beyond the training event, they’re on their desk and they look nice and they can filter their thinking through them. But then they take it further, and one of my clients, I think it’s really cool, they have started to essentially hashtag their talents when they see it in action.

[00:14:54] For example, this woman had Positivity talent. She needs to put her headphones on and go into her kind of crank it out mode and not be disrupted, but she hates making people feel like she’s shutting them down, and so she’s really interruptible because she has Positivity, and it’s fun to have fun at work. And so she made this really clever sign that goes on the back of her chair about how she has her headphones on.

[00:15:17] And then at the bottom of this note about how she’s in her cave working, it was #Positivity. And then people can remember back to the conversation they had as a team, and that keeps deepening it as well. So it’s kind of like a mix of your ongoing conversations in support of leadership and the physical environment, seeing them around you and going, “Oh, yeah, that’s that one.”

Murray Guest: [00:15:39] I love the #Talent so I think that’s great. I’m going to borrow that one. There’s assumptions that we make as humans, and here’s an assumption that I might make that, “Oh, because one of my team members had their headphones in that it means X, Y or Z.” But with this little message, and the #Positivity, it’s taking me back to Strengths, but it’s also removing these assumptions. I love it. And I love these little things that we can do in organizations which actually don’t costs a lot of money, or it don’t costs anything, and they can have such value and such impact in developing the Strengths culture.

[00:16:12] Speaking of leaders, Lisa, one that I really want to share, too, is what I called a Strengths leadership commitment. Leaders taking that time to write down what’s their commitment to keep Strengths alive, to acknowledge and embrace the Strengths in their team members, and actually signing that and then putting on display.

[00:16:30] But not just putting on display but also communicating that to their team and talking about it, and saying, “How am I going to live and breathe this and asking the team to hold them accountable for it?” Because when we sign something we make that commitment. That’s real. That’s like signing a check or signing a contract. So here’s this contract that I’m signing now that, “Hey, I’m making my Strengths leadership commitment to you as a team.”

Lisa Cummings: [00:16:53] I love how it speaks to the accountability that you’re putting out there. I’ve never seen anyone do that, and I haven’t suggested that one yet, so cool. Thanks. We’re borrowing all sorts of good ideas from each other. Because, once you put that onto them, of course, then they’re going to hold you to it, and that’s why you’re telling them, and putting it out there.

[00:17:09] I have had situations where managers are starting in a way different place, and I would say a lesser way of showing support, where they almost didn’t, has come up recently several times, where a company will bring me in and they want a leadership session and they want a session for all. And they’ll say, “Okay, we think all of the people who manage people are going to go to leadership session, and then everyone else will go to this other event.”

[00:17:38] And they’re not doing it to be unsupportive, they just kind of think, “Oh, there’s this version and that version.” And really talking through the message that sends to someone who is an individual contributor on the team, thinking, “My manager doesn’t even care to hear what I have to say about my Strengths in here. They don’t even want to understand what we do when we’re at our best when we’re in the session.” All those assumptions and things that are going on in their head.

[00:18:01] So that’s been a really useful conversation about embedding them with the message that you’re sending about the interest you’re showing in it. This had no mal intent in the times that it’s come up recently but it does keep coming up and it’s just as a practical “we’re busy” kind of thought. And they really miss that key point which somebody would think, “Oh, gosh, well, they don’t even care.”

Murray Guest: [00:18:22] Yeah, and I’d like to think, Lisa, everyone has good intent. So, as a leader, “I have good intent. I’m busy. I want my team to do this. I think it’s great. I believe in it. But, hey, I’m too busy. I want to do other things or I’ve got somebody else, and we’ll go to a different program.” So there’s good intent. However, the way it’s communicated, or the assumptions team members might make might be, like you’re saying, “We’re not part of the greater team, or they don’t really care.” And so breaking down those assumptions is so important.

[00:18:49] Something that I’ve actually found that’s really helped is when we do need to do that because the leader might have lots of teams, is having a leader open the sessions, so come in and explain, “These are my top five Strengths. This is what I got out of knowing my Strengths. This is what I hope you get out of it, and I look forward to hearing about it, please come tell me.” And having that sort of 10-minute opening has also been really powerful.

Lisa Cummings: [00:19:13] And it’s so practical. It’s easy for them to take the time. I’ve had a few sessions like that where that company leader, or department leader, or that manager, they kick off and say, “I went through this process. That’s why we’re doing it because I believe it’s that powerful. I want to know this about you. Here’s what I got out of it, and I can’t wait to see what you’ll get out of it too.”

[00:19:32] Wow! Then people come in with a really open mind and excitement about it, they’ve said it in their company’s language, and then they take down all those barriers about, “Oh, what’s this? What’s this outsider going to tell us about our careers or about our Strengths?”

Murray Guest: [00:19:45] Yes, yes, totally. The other one that, I think, leaders can do is how they’re integrating Strengths into their meetings. Meetings are such an interesting topic. I think, Lisa, so many people I talk to say, “Oh, we have so many meetings, and we have meetings about meetings, and we don’t make decisions but we have more meetings, and all of that sort of stuff going on.”

[00:20:06] Yet organizations are going to continue have meetings, it’s just we need to get more effective at them, and I fundamentally believe we need to meet more regularly, for less time, more effectively. But what it would like if every time a team met they started their meeting with a Strengths share, “How have I seen the Strengths show up in one of my team members? How have I used them on the weekend with my friends or family? How am I using my Strengths currently to solve a problem? Or how are we using them currently to collaborate on a project?”

[00:20:38] And it’s only a very short discussion, but it sets these habits, and once we form these habits that’s just going to be part of the way we work. So what if that was a standing agenda or item at the start 1of every team meeting?

Lisa Cummings: [00:20:52] Beautiful. And it could five minutes or three minutes, it could even be one person’s one Strengths share and that’s it.

Murray Guest: [00:20:57] Yeah, that’s right.

Lisa Cummings: [00:20:59] Oh. I’ve had a client recently do this where they were passing around the responsibility of the opener. They were doing something very similar to a Strengths share but it was more like a, “What is the question related to Strengths we’re going to open the meeting with?” And it’s something that would take like 30 seconds to report out each person so that it only took up a few minutes at the beginning.

[00:21:19] And they assigned a new person who would come up with that question each time. So it wasn’t just on the manager, and it got everybody really involved in it, and it made each person think about Strengths in a deeper way. I thought that was a clever way to do it, and involve everyone and really embed it further.

Murray Guest: [00:21:36] Again it’s another great example and I love that. It’s just simple, it’s short, it’s effective, it’s building habits, and it’s setting the tone, I think, also for the rest of the meeting. Then, as we talk about other topics or things that we may need to discuss, it sets this tone that Strengths is going to be part of the way we do that as well.

[00:21:55] A team I worked with, Lisa, the culture prior to the team and the leader knowing Strengths, was, well, this person, let’s call her Jane, is always seeing the bad, always seeing the wrong. And then the assumption of, “Hey, guess what? Jane is not on board.” So then, after Strengths workshops and some coaching with the leader, it’s actually Jane’s number one Strengths is, guess what, Restorative. She just wanted to fix problems and she had this, “Straight away what could go wrong? And I want to make sure this doesn’t happen.”

[00:22:25] So what that turned around in their meetings was, “Actually, here’s the next initiative we’re doing. Hey, Jane, can you tell us what you think could be some of our possible pitfalls and how we can address them?” It just changed the whole dynamics of the meeting and actually how engaged she was in the conversations.

Lisa Cummings: [00:22:43] See Jane run after that. [laughs]

Murray Guest: [00:22:45] I love it. Yes.

Lisa Cummings: [00:22:47] Hey, I think it would be fun if we could do the last two minutes of this episode trying to kind of lighting round out some cheap or free things that we’ve seen people use to keep Strengths alive in an ongoing way. What do you think?

Murray Guest: [00:23:01] Yeah, great. Let’s go.

Lisa Cummings: [00:23:02] How about you do one, I do one. You do one, I do one. We’ll just go as fast as we can.

Murray Guest: [00:23:06] Fast as we can. Okay, let’s do this. So I actually think one of the key things is Strengths report swapping. Here’s just going, “Okay, here’s mine, here’s yours. And then catch up at the end of the week for a coffee. What did you think? What did you get to know about me? And let’s chat.”

Lisa Cummings: [00:23:21] Hmm, neat idea. How about virtual meet-ups for remote teams who don’t get to see each other in person, once a quarter, totally dedicated to a Strengths chat for one hour, Brady Bunch style show in your camera?

Murray Guest: [00:23:33] Love it. And there are so many remote teams these days. It’s a great one. Strengths stories in company newsletters. So it’s powerful internally, but it’s also powerful externally about how we’re a Strengths-based culture, how we’re embracing Strengths, and it doesn’t just need to be about work. It can be about how I’ve seen this done around other cultural initiatives where people go, “Wow! That’s absolutely something we’re really living and breathing.”

Lisa Cummings: [00:23:56] And then they start using metaphors like you do about mountain biking, how it’s related to Strengths, yes.

Murray Guest: [00:24:00] Yes!

Lisa Cummings: [00:24:01] Let’s say on-boarding someone new. Assign someone, a Strengths champion or a success coach, so somebody else who’s already in the company feels accountable to help that person unleash their Strengths at the company.

Murray Guest: [00:24:16] Nice. Love it. Here’s one that one of my clients did recently where they actually asked everyone in their team to send to a neutral person a song that they love and how it reflects one of their Strengths. Then, at their monthly team meeting, they had a playlist and they played the songs, and people had to guess whose song it was and what Strength it was related to. And they all had a dance in the meeting and then they just went through them quite quickly and had this huge energy.

Lisa Cummings: [00:24:45] Wow! This is going to be good. So now you’re going to challenge me to end on something really fun like that because that would be awesome. Okay. A costume party, so this could be if the Halloween time is near, or a kickoff meeting, or something where people might have an occasion to dress up. So it would have to be an event, and you dress up representing one of your talents.

Murray Guest: [00:25:09] Love it. So what would you be dressed up as, Lisa?

Lisa Cummings: [00:25:12] Hmm, I think what just immediately comes to mind is probably like a big old giant full-body costume sunshine that would represent positivity talent. That’s kind of the give-me obvious one. So I might get a little more cerebral and think of something more clever. How about you?

Murray Guest: [00:25:29] Responsibility comes to mind, it’s like a foundation talent of who I am. How I dress up as Responsibility, I’m not too sure. Maybe goody-two-shoes school student or something doing the right thing, maybe something like that.

Lisa Cummings: [00:25:44] Goody-two-shoes. [laughs] So that would be so fun and you’d be trying to look at the other person and go, “Okay, I’m sort of getting this vibe. I don’t know.” Yeah, that would be a lot of fun if you had to mix and mingle where you could talk about that.

[00:25:58] Well, this is pretty cool. Man, there are so many more ideas, and I know that you have a Strengths toolkit that actually takes people through way more than just these tools and tactics but the whole process for working at a company level, how you would walk someone through embedding Strengths into your culture. Tell them where they can find your Strengths toolkit and where they can connect with you when they want to see more of your content.

Murray Guest: [00:26:24] Thanks, Lisa, and I loved chatting with you today. So, yeah, I’ve created a toolkit because I, like you, am passionate about people getting the most from any training or intervention and definitely about Strengths. That’s been such a powerful thing in my life the last five years and continues to be every day. So if you go to StrengthsCultureToolkit.com there’s a toolkit of resources you can get there which includes guidelines, templates, facilitator guides, activities, there’s a conversation template, posters. And the idea is to have that toolkit of resources to help keep Strengths alive in those areas of culture we discussed earlier.

[00:27:03] If people want to connect with me, my business is InspireMyBusiness.com, and you can send me an email there or check me out on LinkedIn, and definitely I think that if we can all live an inspired life through our Strengths every day it’s a very good place we live in.

Lisa Cummings: [00:27:18] Thanks, Murray. Man, you guys, Murray is the real deal. He’s born to be a guest on the show because his last name is Guest. I mean, how perfect is that? So check out his toolkit. He really knows this stuff inside and out, and is so great on the consultancy side, and has done it. Now, I even get the deeper layer, seeing that you did it for the safety consultancy as well, so wow. Yeah, with that, you guys, go check out the Strengths toolkit.

[00:27:43] Also, if you want some Strengths-focused tools to use with your team at work in addition, check out LeadThroughStrengths.com/Resources. There are some other tools there to sustain Strengths – this is the freebie version – to help you with some easy conversation starters, because you’re busy, and the big barriers are often like that, “I just don’t know what to say. I don’t know these one-on-one conversation starters.”

[00:28:05] So with that, thanks everyone for listening to Lead Through Strengths. Remember, using your Strengths makes you a stronger performer at work. And if you’re putting a lopsided focus on fixing your weaknesses, and fixing your team members’ weaknesses, you’re choosing the path of most resistance. So claim your talents and share them with the world



Direct download: 042-Murray-Guest.mp3
Category:careers -- posted at: 2:30am CDT

This Episode’s Focus on Strengths
This week Lisa chats with Dave Stachowiak. They focus on using your strengths to fuel your leadership journey. If you have ever compared yourself to someone else in the business world (which is probably most of us), or if you've had a career path that has zigged and zagged, then this podcast is for you.

Dave is a consultant who works with top-level managers to build their leadership capabilities and amplify their strengths. So, tune into his examples and tips to improve your personal leadership skills as you listen.

Dave's Top 5 CliftonStrengths StrengthsFinder Talent Themes: Futuristic, Relator, Intellection, Learner, Responsibility

Lisa’s Top 5CliftonStrengths StrengthsFinder Talent Themes:   Strategic, Maximizer, Positivity, Individualization, Woo

Resources of the Episode
To find out more about Dave and listen to his Top 10 iTunes Careers Podcast, visit Coaching For Leaders.

Strengths Tools
You'll also find lots of StrengthsFinder, leadership, and team tools on our Strengths Resources page.

Subscribe To The Lead Through Strengths 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.

Here's a Full Transcript of the Interview
Lisa Cummings: [00:00:09] You’re listening to Lead Through Strengths, where you’ll learn to apply your greatest strengths at work. I’m your host, Lisa Cummings, and I’ve gotta tell ya, whether you’re leading a team or leading yourself, it’s hard to find something more energizing and productive than using your natural talents every day at work.

[00:00:27] Today, you’ll get an episode filled with an exploration of leadership as a journey. You know how on social media you compare your everyday life with everyone else’s highlight reel? Well, I believe the same thing happens with careers. People compare themselves to successful leaders, and they forget that those successful people they’re looking at went through a process to get there, and often a long process.

[00:00:52] Your guest today is a perfect picture that he has a windy career path from being in a junior police academy in high school, thinking he was going into law enforcement, all the way through working as an executive at Dale Carnegie. So, some very different twists and turns along the way, both in expectations and in achievements.

[00:01:14] For those of you who worry that you can’t make huge career shifts or that you have to pick right now what you’re going to be for the rest of your life, it’s proof right there from our guest that you surely can change your mind.

[00:01:26] Your guest has also failed along the way. He got passed over for some promotions. He ran his first business that he owned into the ground. Yet, if you learned about him today and you only compared yourself to his highlight reel, that he has a top 10 careers podcast called Coaching for Leaders that has 150,000 monthly listeners, including me, you’d think, “Man, what a thought leader.” Or, if you knew that he’s been highlighted in the Wall Street Journal, and Forbes, and Inc. Magazine, and US News and World Report you might think, “Whoa, only the special and elite can ever get there so I’m not going to compare myself.”

[00:02:08] I’ll tell you your guest today is one of the most humble guys you’ll ever meet, and he makes leadership success attainable. Today you’ll hear how you too can have a career path that does some zigging and zagging, and that you can have plenty of bumps in the road. Yet if you focus on your personal leadership journey over the long haul, you can really live a successful life.

[00:02:33] So, Dave Stachowiak, welcome to the show.

Dave Stachowiak: [00:02:37] Lisa, I’m so glad to be here. Thank you for the wonderful introduction, and it got me thinking that I had seven majors officially in college, too, so we can just throw that in there as far as a windy road things I’ve done in my life.

Lisa Cummings: [00:02:49] Oh, that is such a good one, too. I just did a speech the other day for a university group and I was asking them what’s stressing them out right now about their careers, and that was it. They were like, “We have to pick not only the major, but we feel like this is the biggest decision of our life, because if picked the wrong one we set forward this decision that will create a ripple forever. And it feels like this is it. And if I pick wrong, I’m screwed.” So I think it’s a beautiful picture that, yeah, you can change your major, and you can change your career, and it all works out just fine.

Dave Stachowiak: [00:03:18] Yeah, it seems so stressful at the time, and I remember just being so, I mean, it’s such a difficult time in my college years. I’m trying to figure out what I was going to do and what I was going to major in. And I look back now and I realize that because, ironically, I went through seven different majors and did all these different fields of study in school, I’m way better at my job than I would’ve been if I had focused in one area, because with my career in training and coaching, I work with all kinds of clients in all kinds of industries, and I know a little bit about a lot of different areas. And that’s turned out to be a huge benefit actually. So it’s kind of ironic.

[00:03:58] Well, and there is the mark too, and I tell this to clients all the time, is you create your story. You tell the story of your career. If you let someone else tell the story of your career, and define it for you, then they’re going to define it however they’re going to define it, and it may or may not be the story you want told. And so, on a serious note, I really do think that we all need to think about what is our career story going to be, and how does our journey align with that, and the things that happen along the way.

Lisa Cummings: [00:04:26] I think that’s the perfect setup for this concept of personal brand and how, when you and I have talked in the past, you’ve talked about how you made a conscious decision that your strengths would support your success, and that you were going to brand yourself around those. So let’s start off, since we do so much with StrengthsFinder and strengths-based development, let’s start off by just getting the listeners your top five Talent Themes, and then how you see them showing up on you at work, and then we’ll use those to segue into the story part.

Dave Stachowiak: [00:04:58] Certainly. So my five themes are Futuristic, Relator, Intellection, Learner and Responsibility. And I’ve taken StrengthsFinder a few times over the years and they’ve always been fairly similar, maybe one difference, but as I look at those today they very much speak to me in the kinds of strengths that I feel like I’m better at than the others.

Lisa Cummings: [00:05:18] Which one do you think resonates with you the most right now, that you see showing up on you all the time at work?

Dave Stachowiak: [00:05:24] Relator is a big one right now because of the work that I’m doing both in my work at Dale Carnegie, and in my work running the Coaching for Leaders Academy, which is a membership organization that’s part of my listening community. It is really important and critical for me to develop really strong relationships with clients, and particularly clients who are part of our Academy, that I’m with for at least a year if not longer.

[00:05:50] Those relationships really come down to how well do I relate to my clients, but in addition to that, and perhaps even more importantly, how well do they relate to each other. So I need to not only be really good at doing that myself, and thankfully that’s a strength, and so it’s something that I feel like I’m pretty good at, but I also need this to set the bar and expectation for modeling that for the entire membership community, and to encourage the members to be doing that for each other. And that’s the part for me that’s really exciting when I see that happen in a pretty substantial way.

Lisa Cummings: [00:06:30] Yeah, I love how you made the double duty out of it, using it for yourself and then using it to model so others can see how the interactions can look. That’s really cool. Now, you seem pretty ninja with your awareness of your strengths and being able to use them the way you just described, but I’m pretty sure you didn’t start like that fresh out of school.

[00:06:49] So take us back a little bit. Tell us about your career journey and how it has evolved, and how your strengths uncovered through that process.

Dave Stachowiak: [00:06:58] I really did struggle a lot in school and I felt like I didn’t know what my path was going to be, and I felt like I had talents in a few different areas. I actually hired a coach when I was a junior in college. I was working for someone at the time who had a colleague who was doing coaching on the side, and she was coaching students at the university. And the boss I had at the time said, “You know you may want to talk to her, and just kind of see if she would help out.”

[00:07:21] I was really stressed, I was overwhelmed with time management, I was over-committed like a lot of people go through when they’re going through school. I started working with her, so I’ve always been conscious of the importance of investing in one’s self and recent awareness of one’s self. I took things like the NBTI and StrengthsFinder at the time, and by the time I was done with school and in the first few years of my career I’d probably taken Myers-Briggs half a dozen times and I’d taken other assessments.

[00:07:49] One of the interesting things that happened to me that was, it’s a cautionary note for utilizing assessments, and you and I are big fan of assessments, Lisa, is that I took Myers-Briggs a bunch of times, and I always came out as an extrovert. And so I really thought of myself as an extrovert and I made career choices that an extrovert would make. I really tried to do the things that extroverted people I think should be doing.

[00:08:16] It wasn’t until I went through certification myself on how to administer NBTI assessments that I discovered, in a pretty jolting way, that I wasn’t really an extrovert at all, because they can just give the assessment and take you through a whole series of exercises over a course of days and really did a lot of self-reflection. And it became apparent that my core strengths weren’t really as an extrovert but they were really much more aligned, and my preferences were much more aligned as an introvert.

[00:08:41] And that was really surprising to me at the time because, one, I thought all this time I was more extroverted and, secondly, I had a belief at the time that in order to be successful in business that you have to be extroverted. I didn’t think an introvert could be successful in the career that I was in and the industry that I was in. So it was really a difficult thing for me to process once it became apparent that, yeah, I was probably more introverted. And, of course, as I told this to people, they’re like, “Well, of course you’re an introvert. We’ve all known that for years.” [laughs]

Lisa Cummings: [00:09:11] [laughs] There’s a lesson from the show right there. Just ask people around you. Sometimes they know a lot more than you do.

Dave Stachowiak: [00:09:17] Totally. Totally. In fact, I had a colleague for years who’d be like, “Oh, yeah, you’re such an extrovert. Ha, ha. Like how could that happen?” because they all knew but I didn’t know. I had to kind of reframe my identity of like, “Okay, I’m in this business in the training industry, and the people of this business, where I have to interact with people a lot where I’m an instructor or I’m a coach or I’m a salesperson. I’m required to, and need to, interact a lot with people in order to do my job well. How am I going to do this as an introvert? If truly I’m an introvert, what can I do?”

[00:09:47] And it also sort of made sense, too, because I always felt like I was kind of a square peg in a round hole in the industry, and in my position, because it seemed like the things that came naturally to everyone else, like cold calling, and going and making lots of sales connections every day, those are things I really struggled with early on in my career. And I couldn’t figure out, “Why am I not good at this? What am I missing?” And it turned one of the big things I was missing is I had an incorrect view of myself from an assessment that didn’t come out accurately. It took some time to unpack that and really to realize also that whatever strength you bring, you can leverage. It’s just I wasn’t leveraging them at the time.

Lisa Cummings: [00:10:32] Yeah, that’s really interesting. And now, looking back, thinking about the StrengthsFinder results, like some of your potential success factors, seeing a preference with your Intellection. People I meet with Intellection are usually totally fine being alone for long periods of time, and want to do the deep thinking, and so it doesn’t lend itself often to the kind of extroversion scale. It’s based on different things. It’s not personality typing – StrengthsFinder. But if I saw Relator and Intellection, I would not assume you were an extrovert. I would think you might like that smaller close circle of friends and some healthy dose of time by yourself.

[00:11:10] So, that all sounds good from an academic level. So you figured that out. Great. But now let’s get back to the real part. You had to make cold calls, you had to do sales, and you had to deliver training and coaching to people. So you know this now. What did you do?

Dave Stachowiak: [00:11:27] Well, I was so bad at my job the first year at Dale Carnegie that I went into our president’s office after the first year was complete, and I offered my resignation; that’s how bad it was. I mean, from a results standpoint, I got along well with everyone, people liked me. That wasn’t an issue, but it’s from a result standpoint I was not doing well.

[00:11:45] He, quite brilliantly, which was not what I was expecting, but he said, “How can we rework this job to honor your talents and your strengths?” And I was expecting him to say, “Okay. Thanks. I appreciate it. See you soon. Good luck with your future endeavors.” So like, “Wait a minute. You were supposed to let me off easy on this.” All of a sudden I had to think about, “Okay, what do I do differently?”

[00:12:14] And I started thinking about like what were the things I was already doing that I’d done successfully. So I had actually started writing an email newsletter a few years back even before I worked for Carnegie. And so I started thinking, “Well, what if I tapped into my talents more in writing? What if I did some more one-on-one coaching?” which we weren’t doing at the time, at least not in our office at Carnegie.

[00:12:41] I ended up putting together a coaching program and doing one-on-one coaching. I ended up starting to do a lot of writing and doing things like, over time evolving that into things like webinars and doing more things online. And it turned out, not only was I pretty good at that, but a lot of other people in the organization weren’t, because we didn’t tend to attract people who were as good as writers or doing things one-on-one. We tended to be more of an extroverted business, and still are today.

[00:13:06] In addition to that, being a really a fantastic listener. All of a sudden were things that people were connecting with, and I was doing it so differently than everyone else that it was very unusual. Within a year or so I’d really found a place where I was a lot more comfortable in my own skin, and I was doing it in a way that made sense to me, where I actually enjoyed putting things together versus when I tried to cold call on my first year was just kind of a disaster.

[00:13:34] I remember this one day, Lisa. I built up all this momentum and I was like, “Okay, I’m going to go to this one office building. I’m going to knock on people’s doors, knock on businesses’ doors. And I went. I drove all the way up there. I drove up to Los Angeles, parked the car, had all my brochures, everything, and I walked in the building and I couldn’t do it, and I walked out back to the office.

[00:13:59] I was like, “I’ve got to figure out a better way to do this, that is not so hard.” So that’s what I started doing. And today that has turned into so many wonderful talents and experience, now being able to leverage in so many different ways, and Coaching for Leaders in a lot of ways came out of that.

Lisa Cummings: [00:14:16] What a good example of job shaping. I’m talking about this with people all the time in training sessions about how you think your job description is fixed, but you just gave a perfect example of how a sales job, then got turned into a one-on-one coaching job, but you reframed it and thought about how you could apply the talents you have to be awesome at it, and you were doing something innovative for the company in bringing them new business at the same time, and basically letting your hidden talents out of the closet.

[00:14:44] Let’s say that a listener is experiencing what you were experiencing there where they know, “I’m not the typical model for this job,” and they’re not brave enough to go quit it yet. If somebody feels like they’re not the typical mold, what next step would you recommend to somebody who’s experiencing what you were?

Dave Stachowiak: [00:15:05] Well, I think a lot about leadership, of course, and so one of the things that really worked for me, I don’t know if I would’ve done that on my own, Lisa. My president at the time really challenged me on that, and he was the one who took the lead initially on that. I think it’s really cool when people do that for themselves, and I’m also conscious of the fact that not every organization, not every leader is supportive of that, so I’m a big believer in testing things, trying things out.

[00:15:27] So if you’re doing something one way, let’s just use sales as an example since that’s the world I grew up in and going to Carnegie. If you’re doing one sales activity and it’s not working, certainly if your organization has that as a requirement and that’s the way they need to do business, keep doing it. But test something else out. So take a half hour a day and try something out differently.

[00:15:50] If you want to write, take a half hour to write. And if your organization isn’t going to like you do that, put in an extra half hour of work off the clock, and try something that’s a little bit different that’s a little bit more innovative. I think anytime we’re trying to challenge the status quo or do something different in our careers, we’ve gotta be willing to put in a little extra effort.

[00:16:07] Worst case scenario, the organization is supportive of it. Spend a little extra time outside of work hours and try something a little bit different that you think could work. You’ll find out one of two things: either it doesn’t work then you don’t do it and try something else, or it does work. And I have yet to see a situation with a client or an organization I’ve worked with, where an employee has brought a new idea to the leadership team or to the customer, and said, “Oh, look, I tried this new thing and I’m getting really good results. Can I keep doing it?”

[00:16:40] Of course, every time, someone says, “Well, yeah. Oh, you’re getting good results? Good.” Now the challenge is a lot of times people don’t think to do that. What they do is they say, “Well, I’d like to do this differently,” but they don’t have any evidence to support it, so I think that it’s incumbent upon us, if we’re trying to do something different, if we’re trying to be creative, you go try it first. Get some results that show that what you’re doing is going to make sense for the company to invest time into doing. That is a strong case for being able to do it more, and then you present it, get approval from the people you need to. But I think we have to take that step first, if we want to do something different in our career.

Lisa Cummings: [00:17:16] I love that. And on the other side of your example you mentioned the selling part and how you came about that with an innovative way. And in the other example you gave was coming up with the one-on-one model that didn’t even exist. And so the way I look at this through a job shaping is if you’re coming up with something the company has never even done, and you’re going to put in extra hours to do it, I’m totally with you, sometimes you have to put in the extra time.

[00:17:43] But you do it and you’re doing it thinking about, “What’s going to put me in my zone of genius?” then you’re going to be pretty energized by that thing you’re creating. So it’s not like it’s going to be the last slog of the day. You’re going to be pretty excited about that 30 minutes, and you’re not going to want to switch over to the other way because you’re so psyched about what you’re about to create, so I like the energizing part of it, too.

Dave Stachowiak: [00:18:04] Yeah, indeed. I remember I spent a lot of time on that at the time, and we actually don’t do it anymore which is sort of another interesting part of the story. I developed talents in doing other areas so well that I actually went back to doing more the traditional parts of our business eventually, but it wasn’t like work. It was, “How can I do this in such a way that’s going to really leverage my talents, help the organization be successful, get everyone else on board, because we got a team of people that didn’t know about coaching at the time.” And so it was really fun.

Lisa Cummings: [00:18:30] Well, you used that today. I know using your Relator talent, and you had these really deep relationships with your Leadership Academy members. Given that, if we switched gears and fast forward to today, I would love the listeners to learn from what you hear because you have these really deep one-on-one relationships with a bunch of senior leaders, and you get to have those interactions every day. So, just in general, what have you learned by marinating constantly in these interactions with senior leaders?

Dave Stachowiak: [00:18:59] How much we all want to be noticed. That’s one of the biggest things I see again and again. How much I want to be noticed, how much so many of us are alike as different as we looked, as different as our experiences are, as different industries that many leaders are in, the situations that we find ourselves in.

[00:19:19] We get in Academy sessions a couple of times a month with our members, and it’s so surprising, I mean, it’s not surprising to me anymore. But initially we’d have someone who was in Paris, who was telling us about a situation, and we’ve got someone else in Texas and someone else in Toronto who’s literally dealing with the same thing or had the same thing come up last week, or is about to run into this same thing. We’re so much alike.

[00:19:40] And also I keep getting hit smack in the face with the reality that leadership is a really lonely pursuit in a lot of ways. If you’re a leader in an organization, even if you’re not the top person, you’re responsible for making a lot of decisions, you have to navigate the internal politics of the organization. So it’s not like you can sit around and talk with a bunch of people internally in the organization, and talk through all the things you might do or might not do.

[00:20:02] You can do that with some people, sometimes, and I think it’s really helpful to have those relationships internally. But it is, it is a lonely pursuit in a lot of ways, especially the higher up you go in an organization. That’s something I hear again and again and again from our Academy members. That’s one of the reasons the Academy is there, is to create the space where leaders be able to develop relationships with each other, where they can support each other, give confidence and give encouragement, because it is really a difficult thing to be an effective leader.

Lisa Cummings: [00:20:29] I totally echo that experience when I do leadership development programs. I’m constantly hearing in training. And sometimes it’s just a virtual session, in chat, they’ve met each other three times, and someone drops a thing that they’re struggling with in a two-sentence description in the chat box. And you just see a stream of, “Oh, you’re dealing with that, too. Oh, I thought I was the only one. Oh, I’m glad I’m not alone.”

[00:20:54] And, wow, that really backs up what you’re saying because you’re not, as a leader, going to model that behavior and go bellyache about the things you’re struggling with in front of other people, so you keep it to yourself, and it can make it lonely.

[00:21:07] I feel two really strong angles here. So, one, I’m hearing it’s lonely, and the leader is going to want to be seen and needs that tribe or those relationships so that it’s not such a lonely endeavor because you don’t have to sow all this on your own. And then the very first part of the answer that people just want to be seen. Instantly my mind went to the almost desperation in people to be seen, be heard, be appreciated, be listened to, even if you don’t have the answer they want to hear, but just knowing that you care enough to hear them out, or listen deeply.

[00:21:42] So if you take that angle, I’m talking all the time to people about notice what works to get more of what works because if you can notice and recognize someone it’s a repeatable behavior, they know how to do that again. But I think you’re going beyond recognition and you’re talking about really helping people feel seen and heard. What do you find as one or two things that leaders end up doing to help people feel totally seen, heard, appreciated?

Dave Stachowiak: [00:22:09] It’s one of those things that they care about doing a really good job as a leader so they’re already thinking about those things. What they run into is, “How do I get it all done in a day, where I’ve not only need to do that but I have to answer to an organization that has very aggressive timelines and schedules, and metrics that I need to hit, and keep customers happy, keep suppliers happy, executive team and all those important stakeholders.

[00:22:35] The leaders that I think of in our Academy who are really, really talented at doing this, meet twice a month for an hour and a half, to give feedback and to coach each other within their teams. They are very diligent about making the space for that to happen. And those weekly one-on-ones happen, or maybe it’s a monthly one-on-one’s, or whatever is appropriate for them and their team. All of the sudden, some really great things start to come out of those conversations and relationships.

[00:23:01] And I think that’s something that I’ve seen again and again is often the difference-maker between leaders that are doing the things you’re talking about, which is making that time and giving recognition and understanding what’s happening with people. And those that maybe intend well to do those things, but in practice aren’t doing those things nearly as much as they’d like to be.

Lisa Cummings: [00:23:23] What a bookend, where you start off the show with your dual use of things, and now we’re ending with a dual use of openness, because it’s not just openness in your calendar for your team. It’s openness in your heart and mind as well, and I love that dual unraveling that happens for them where they realize, “Oh, gosh, it’s not just making openness in my own time so I can grow as a leader, but I have to open this up so the team can get the same from me.” That’s big stuff. That really does reflect the leadership journey so well. Just when you think, “Oh, yes, I hit the next step. I’m doing something great,” then you realize, “Oh, so much more reveals itself that I need to learn.

Dave Stachowiak: [00:24:03] You get to this point where it’s like, “Okay, I figured this out. I’ve arrived.” And then, of course, later that day you realize something like, “Oh, I haven’t even started to figure this out.”

Lisa Cummings: [00:24:16] That is so it. Okay, on that theme, that’s the perfect ending question which is the question I’m borrowing from you, because it was my all-time favorite one I’ve been asked in an interview, which is, “What do you know to be true about leadership today that you didn’t know personally five years ago?”

Dave Stachowiak: [00:24:34] The importance of starting. So let me say more about that. My natural tendency as a person is to have things really figured out. I tend to be very attention to detail oriented, I’m very much a planner, the Futuristic talent that I have works against me sometimes because I like to think about, “How should it work and how should it be?” and have it all planned out perfectly.

[00:24:58] I have found that the thing that often holds me back, or at least in the past have held me back from staring something new or trying something new. I have really learned the importance of starting. And I think about a quote, I actually pulled it up here, from Colin Powell. Colin Powell said, “Use the formula P= 40 to 70 in which P stands for the probability of success and the numbers indicate the percentage of information you’ve acquired. Once the information is in the 40 to 70 range go with your gut.”

[00:25:32] And that quote, for me, very much captures what I think is really important not only for leadership, but being successful in your career, is if you’d wait until you got things 80 or 90 or 100% figured out, which is what I used to do, I found that I never started anything. Or if I’d start things I get very quickly caught up in the, “Oh, this isn’t perfect. That isn’t perfect,” and I miss the big picture of things that I really should’ve been focused on.

[00:25:55] Today, I really work on letting go of some of that control. I find something that I think will be valuable or I test an idea and I go with it. And with our Academy, a lot of times we’ll test things, we’ll try something, we’ll go with it. If it works, great we’ll keep doing it, we’ll make it better. If it doesn’t work we set it aside and it’s a lesson learned.

[00:26:13] For me, it’s been very much a process of just getting used to starting a lot, continually starting, continually refining, continually making things better, but not getting hung up on getting it all figured out at the beginning, because you’ll never have it all figured out.

Lisa Cummings: [00:26:26] Oh so true. And what a good metaphor for how life works. You just start and then you adjust along the way, and I think people are going to want to start listening to your show. If you don’t already, you’ll want to, I’m telling you. It’s called Coaching for Leaders. So I know you’re a podcast listener because you’re hearing this, so go to your player and check out Coaching for Leaders. And where else should they go, Dave, to check out more of your content?

Dave Stachowiak: [00:26:50] Oh, that’s a great place to start. Probably the other place to start is to just go to CoachingforLeaders.com. There’s a free membership setup there that gives access to our whole library of episodes for the last six years now that the shows been going on. And, in addition, there’s a free membership there where you can setup access to a free course that I offer, that’s called Ten Ways to Empower the People You Lead. It’s a 10-minute a day audio course, and it’ll give you a lot of the tips and lessons that I’ve learned myself, and from the expert guests over the last six years on the show.

Lisa Cummings: [00:27:23] And thanks for making it bite-sized, yes.

Dave Stachowiak: [00:27:27] I love bite size.

Lisa Cummings: [00:27:28] Me too.

Dave Stachowiak: [00:27:29] Start it, right? Rather than four hours, 10 minutes. Makes it easy.

Lisa Cummings: [00:27:33] Exactly. And a combination of both of us spending a lot of years in the learning and development field, if you make it too big and hairy, people are going to go do it.

Dave Stachowiak: [00:27:40] Indeed.

Lisa Cummings: [00:27:41] So for all of you out there, if you want some more strengths-focused tools to use with your team at work, also check out LeadThroughStrengths.com/resources. So, between Coaching For Leaders and those resources, you’ll get so many ideas for helping your team feel seen, and helping you extend along your leadership journey.

[00:28:04] With that, thanks everyone for listening to Lead Through Strengths. Remember, using your strengths, your personal natural talents, makes you a stronger performer at work. If you’ve been putting a lopsided focus on fixing your weaknesses, you’re choosing the path of most resistance. So claim your talents and share them with the world.

Direct download: 041-Dave-Stachowiak.mp3
Category:careers -- posted at: 2:30am CDT

This Episode’s Focus on Strengths

This week Lisa chats with Strother Gaines, where they talk about using your strengths to maximize the authentic "you" at work.  Strother works with a lot of clients who feel trapped in other people's expectations. This interview will help you look at your innate talents and focus on who you are at your natural best. By doing that, you'll make stronger connections in your career because you're not working so hard at showing up like you think you're supposed to at the office.

Strother and Lisa met a few years ago at a public speaking conference while talking about the “yes cat” Vine video that Lisa had not heard of. Since then, Strother keeps Lisa up on the latest viral videos like Yassss Cat, awesome texting abbreviations like TL;DR (too long didn’t read), and awesome made up words like Screlting.

Strother's Top 5 Clifton StrengthsFinder Talent Themes: Individualization, Strategic, Significance, Communication, Activator

Lisa’s Top 5 Clifton StrengthsFinder Talent Themes:   Strategic, Maximizer, Positivity, Individualization, Woo

Resources of the Episode

Check out Strother’s get-to-know-him video and the full TEDx talk on Storytelling. Connect with him on his business site, But I’m A Unicorn Dammit, and his LinkedIn page.

Strengths Tools

You'll also find lots of StrengthsFinder, leadership, and team tools on our Strengths Resources page.

Subscribe To The Lead Through Strengths 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.

Here's a Full Transcript of the Interview

Lisa Cummings: [00:00:09] You’re listening to Lead Through Strengths, where you’ll learn to apply your greatest strengths at work. I’m your host, Lisa Cummings, and I’ve gotta tell you, whether you’re leading your team or leading yourself, it's hard to find something more energizing and productive than using your natural talents every day at work.

[00:00:26] And today, you’ll get to learn from my coach. He’s a TEDx speaker, he facilitates StrengthsFinder training, he specializes in authenticity, connection and storytelling. If you check out his coaching business at UnicornDammit.com – and, yes, you heard me right – he has this crazy name because he helps people make some giant integrations between different parts of their lives, like lawyers who just want to dance, programmers who wish they were potters, CFOs who are undercover yogis. So fun already, right?

This is a silly and playful photo of strother gaines. He is in a dessert with a vast open field. He's standing in dried grasses, wearing a nice suit, throwing a stuffed unicorn.
Strother out on his quest to find the unicorn qualities in people

[00:01:02] I also love that he brings a million and one perspectives to the workplace scene. He’s done everything from professional speaking to sales management to segue tour guiding. His favorite hobby is directing theater, and he even integrates these amazing theatrical experiences into corporate events. I could gush on and on, yet you’re totally waiting for us to get on with the interview section of the show.

[00:01:28] So, Strother Gaines, welcome.

Strother Gaines: [00:01:30] Thank you so much for having me, Lisa.

Lisa Cummings: [00:01:32] Let’s start with that by telling everyone your top five and which one you felt most authentically like you, when you first read your results.

Strother Gaines: [00:01:41] Sure, yeah. My top five StrengthsFinder talent themes are Individualization, Strategic, Significance, Communication and Activator. And as far as the – if you’d ask me – pick one before I took the test, I would’ve said Communication would’ve been at the top somewhere. And there it is; it’s number four. Communication has always been such a huge part of my world personally, and professionally I majored in theater so you get trained in how to be a communicator.

[00:02:06] I sang for a long time, both opera, musical theater, pop, things like that, so you get the diction and the different styles there. Communication’s always just been a huge part of my life and I would not be surprised to see it in the top five.

Lisa Cummings: [00:02:19] So cool. I didn’t know about the opera part.

Strother Gaines: [00:02:22] You know what, I didn’t love it. My undergrad asked me to sing opera because I was awarded a music scholarship because I had kind of a rare-ish vocal part. I was a lyric Italian tenor and opera was not my favorite thing, but if you’re going to give me a scholarship to do it, I suppose I will try. So I would do it and I’d sing the solo, and then I’d jump back into musical theater-land right on afterwards.

Lisa Cummings: [00:02:47] When you said musical theater, you made me get back to thinking of dancing lawyers, and that sounds really fun and appealing. One question for you is, if we’re so attracted to these kind of ideas – dancing lawyers and CFOs who want to be yogis and people probably identify with parts of them that feel like that – why do you think it’s so hard then to just be our authentic selves at work?

Strother Gaines: [00:03:10] In my experience there are lawyers who love what they do, and mazel tov to them, and I wish them all the happiness in the world. Oftentimes, though, when I interact with lawyers they often end up being English majors, who did it because it seemed like a good stable thing to do, but it wasn’t really the thing that they were super passionate about. However, you’re investing all of this time into cultivating a career in law that, once you make it into it, you go, “Well, I’m in it. Here we are and this is what we do now.”

[00:03:36] And so you’re in this place where you’ve invested so much time and it’s sort of the sunk-cost fallacy, “I’d made it this far. I can’t really turn around now and open my yogurt stand like I would really like to.” So lawyers or high-ranking CFO, CTO, that type of group, they’ve spend so much time getting where they are that they feel they can’t turn and pivot at all.

Lisa Cummings: [00:03:57] It makes me think about how even young in my career I used to show up at work with my librarian glasses on and put my hair back in a bun and make sure that I look like I should be taken seriously. And there was some disconnect about who I really was and who I thought I needed to show up as.

[00:04:15] And that reminds me of your concept of connection at work as well, because I think those kind of behaviors make some sort of disconnection or wall between you and people, where they go, “Oh, that’s my work environment, and that’s my home environment.” And I remember you saying something about like, “I don’t want to have coffee with you with your work voice on. I just don’t want you to have a work voice.”

Strother Gaines: [00:04:32] Totally.

Lisa Cummings: [0:04:34] Say something about how you could apply natural talents and the natural you to the concept of being connected at work.

Strother Gaines: [00:04:41] Yeah, so I think this is one of the reasons that I was so drawn to StrengthsFinder when you and I started; I’ve been guilty of it as well. I used to manage a spa, and when someone would call I had my normal, like, “Thank you for calling. This is Strother. How can I help you?” kind of voice that drops in that’s not really me, but is what you assume you’d like to hear when you hop on the phone with a spa. It needs to be a very specific style.

[00:05:05] As an actor, I’m able to throw that type of thing up into the world and it still seem authentic, but it’s not actually who I am. So we just get really good at playing these roles for what you expect a lawyer to be, a dog walker to be, “What is the type of voice or persona that I should adopt for that role?” And when you adopt those personas you ignore so

This meme makes Strother belly laugh!

me of the unique things that make you you.

[00:05:33] When I look at my top five, there were elements in the spa world that I could utilize but there are others that I sort of hid or just didn’t accentuate. And so I find that StrengthsFinder is such an interesting lens to look at things through because rather than trying to conform to a certain role, or the expectations of a certain role, you take who you are at your core, and make the role conform to you.

[00:05:58] And if you have the flexibility of that, and you don’t have a boss who’s really concerned with making sure you fit that square peg into that round hole, then you actually end up being better and more engaging, and that connection with people is so much more genuine. I find that connection has been sort of the basis for me of all good professional things in my life, and I find that those are more impactful when that person is connecting with me as an actual person as opposed to a put-on version.

[00:06:27] You kind of mentioned when you first started, and this is oftentimes for people when they first start a new career, they put their hair up, they put on the suit in the right way, they try and make sure that they puff up their chest just big enough that they seem impressive. And at the end of the day, that actually makes us tougher to connect with and so people just sort of fall off the back and aren’t as engaged with you. It’s a challenge though because it is sort of a cultural thing for us to try and put on the role as opposed to be ourselves within it.

Lisa Cummings: [00:06:57] I wonder, how do you know when you’re not allowing people to connect with you and you’re giving off some vibe to them that they probably shouldn’t want to get to know you more? So how do you know when this is happening? What if you’re doing this and you’re not noticing?

Strother Gaines: [00:07:14] Yeah, that’s a really good question. Sometimes we get so deep into the character. I’m going to diverge a little bit, and if I go too far off, just reel me back because it made me think of some backstory in theater that I’ve used a couple times.

[00:07:29] So in theater I am not the best actor. I’m okay. I’m a better director, I’m a better producer, but on stage I’m okay. I have a couple of ticks that I’m not great at, and I’m not super great at inhabiting a character so that it feels real. It’s very clear that, “That’s Strother being a character,” as opposed to, “Well, that’s just the character.”

[00:07:51] When I was training as a performer, I was even worse, as you can imagine, because I had no training, and one of my professors told me that I had penguin arms. And, basically, what that means is you cannot lift your elbow away from the side of your body. You’re gesticulating with your hands, they’re all over the place, you feel like you’re being big and broad – too bad there’s no visual, maybe I’ll send a little clip of me doing that – but your elbows are basically…

Lisa Cummings: [00:08:18] Is it like your elbows are glued?

Strother Gaines: [00:08:20] Yeah, exactly. They’re locked down to the side, and to you it feels like you’re being big but to an audience it looks like you’re just totally cramped into this little space. I could not get rid of that habit no matter how big I thought I was being, no matter how much I tried to push further, I was always in penguin arms, until I took a mask class.

this is an image of a man wearing a commedia mask - it is brown, intricately carved wood that covers the face down to the nose and cheeks. It has holes for the eyes and little breathing holes for the nose.
Example of commedia mask you'd wear in the mask class that Strother took in college

[00:08:41] In mask class you get to put on – my favorite were Commedia masks which are Italian masks that are half of your face. So your mouth is still exposed but the top of your face is covered and stagnant in that one particular pose.

[00:08:53] As soon as the mask goes on, you have this ability, or I found I had this ability, to finally lift my arms out because suddenly it wasn’t me. I was playing a character and it was super obvious for everyone who was watching that I was being Arlecchino, it’s one of the stock characters names. That was who that was on stage, and Arlecchino moves with these really big arms, and I could finally do it.

[00:09:15] And then as I took that mask off, later, I had gained the ability to take my elbows away from my side. So through this mark work when I get to kind of play in this world where I am definitely putting something on, I developed the ability to finally step out of that box and be a little more authentic and a little bigger.

[00:09:37] And so I find that people – a lot of people always especially when we talk about authenticity or being your best self, or things that, that are a little buzz worthy right now, they’re like, “Take off all your masks and make sure they go away,” I see this as, “If you’re going to use a mask use it intentionally to forward yourself and get comfortable.”

[00:09:55] I think that one of the ways to start – here we are cycling back finally, we’ve made it back to your question originally – if you can notice that there’s a mask, even like a tiny disconnect that you have at work, and most of the time even if it’s embedded in yourself, you’ll start to catch it usually in a vocal pattern. You’ll find it in something that is just not what you do.

[00:10:15] And sometimes it’s actually really helpful to get somebody who does know you. If you do answer a phone, can you have somebody call you and see? Does it sound like you? Are you able to catch it? Can you get somebody in your life who does know you are more authentically, to be around, or to look at some of your writing or things like that?

[00:10:33] Most of the time, though, it will be just sort of a sudden revelation on your own part where you’re like, “Oh, God, I’ve got this mask on right now, and it’s my professional mask. It’s my let-me-be-really-important mask. It’s my here’s-this-thing-that-I-did mask. You judge that and not me.” You make a really good point because it can be really challenging to see when it’s happening.

[00:10:54] But I always look for little elements of things that are just off of who you normally would be, and it’s really as kind of on you to catch it. And it can be challenging sometimes that’s why you have a coach or that’s why you have a teacher, or an instructor, or a mentor. They’re often the ones who will be able to see things on us that we miss.

Lisa Cummings: [00:11:14] Such a good one. And I love using the people who really do know you well. I’ve certainly had that kind of feedback from, I know my sister, in seeing some early speaking videos, it’s like, oh, my God, I just crack up when I see that because it’s you being the formal you, or my husband in the pool last year saying something like, “I’m right here. You don’t have to do your training projection voice.”

Strother Gaines: [00:11:35] Oh, God, I get that too, and they’re like, “We’re literally in the room with you.” And I’m like, “I’m so sorry.”

Lisa Cummings: [00:11:40] [laughs] I just blame it on drumming too much and having hearing problems.

Strother Gaines: [00:11:45] I think that’s fair. That’s fair, yeah.

Lisa Cummings: [00:11:47] Yeah, it’s a good one. Now, all of this is making me think of personal career branding kind of topic as well, and I know you do a lot of work on the concept of storytelling. And so if we put that in the context of personal career branding, I wonder how someone in the audience could use their Strengths to consciously tell a story about who they are at their best?

Strother Gaines: [00:12:08] I find that personal branding to be really fascinating. And there’s a personal and a professional benefit, I think, to knowing what your personal brand is, and being able to own it. When I look at mine, to pop out for me that helped me in my branding, Individualization and Significance. Having those pieces as context for the story, being able to say, “Okay, if these are my individual talents, these are the things that are easiest for me to call upon, how do I take that and accentuate them? How do I amplify these Strengths?”

[00:12:43] For clients of mine, that is really one of my bigger things is to, once we’ve got the concept of who you are, what your Strengths are, I do prefer to focus on the Strengths I know that you’re on board with that methodology. It’s good to be aware of your weaknesses or the opportunities you have to overcome certain things.

[00:12:59] But I feel like, especially when it comes to storytelling, you want to cater your story to those Strengths. So whether you are an entrepreneur, or an employee, or you’re working on a side hustle, it’s important to know, “These are the things that I want to lead with.” And if you can craft your story around the Strengths then it’s a more compelling story, and I’m more willing to come along with you on that story, than if you’re in the middle, or sort of muddling around, or, even worse, with some of the weaknesses or things you have to overcome.

Lisa Cummings: [00:13:29] As you were talking about what you’re going to start with, I just couldn’t help but be sitting there with you at a networking event and how often people have to tell some story of who they are, “Who are you? What are you about?” Usually it’s, “What do you do?” I’m curious about these mini-storytelling moments that happen at work events or networking events.

[00:13:53] And I know you do your Networking Under 40 and you lead these big events. So, gosh, I think I remember you saying something about a terrible story about your first networking event. So tell us about how storytelling plays in there. Give us the storytelling personal branding mixed up with networking.

Strother Gaines: [00:14:11] It’s interesting because in networking we have this concept now, and, oh, if I could just kill it that would be wonderful, but everyone is like, “Well, what’s your elevator pitch? Or how do we squeeze you into 60 seconds?” And I just think that that’s such a terrible exercise. In a networking event, when you come up and you give me that pre-rehearsed little piece I am gone in the first three seconds because I know you’re not actually connecting with me: your story is boring, your story is contrived, and it has nothing to do with me, and it’s you pitching yourself to me.

[00:14:40] Maybe if we are a perfect match business-wise I’m engaged, but realistically as soon as I hear someone switch into the elevator pitch mode I’m gone. Networking for me it’s a bit like Improv in that you have to just be super present with the person. I’m always more concerned with them than myself, and trying to drag stories out of them, that might be a little bit of my just natural Strengths coming out too.

[00:15:06] I like to get people to tell me things about themselves and then I can take that and relate to something that I’ve had going on in my world, and then it’s an easier thing for them to connect with. If we can find places where the Venn diagram of our stories connect at a networking event, that’s when I actually care, and that’s when I’m going to continue to follow up with you.

[00:15:25] The thing that I learned is everyone is terrible at it. If you go to a networking event and you look around, I guarantee nine out of ten people are terrified, or doing a really terrible job at hiding that they’re terrified. And so if you go into it and you go, “Oh, my God, everyone is terrible at this because nobody knows what they’re doing,” and you kind of acknowledge the elephant in the room, then it’s way easier.

[00:15:47] If you go with no expectation and you’re just there to like connect and see and talk and experience, it’s so much easier than if you put all of this pressure on yourself to be the most impressive person in the room, or make sure you get 20 clients before you leave, or 10 business cards that you can follow up with.

Lisa Cummings: [00:16:03] It sounds like this is one of the magic tips, is to find interesting things about other people to ask them about, be curious about, talk to them about. Can you give us some examples of things that others who are listening might look for? Like, I’ll just give you the example of if I see you – and for those of you listening, Strother wears this wooden bowties and they’re so unique. I’ve never even heard of them before, seeing it on Strother.

Lisa wearing wooden bow tie
Lisa's ode to Strother's wooden bow tie. It was fun to find in a little San Diego shop, but it won't be her go-to "approachability doodad."

[00:16:34] So that is something where I think you just gave, I call it an approachability doodad. Now, so you wear this thing that makes it easy for other people to find you approachable and ask you about it, and those are the things I look out for in other people as well, because it just opens up and breaks the ice. So how about for you? What are a couple of things that you look for that you can be curious about and ask people about?

Strother Gaines: [00:16:57] Yeah, totally. It’s funny you mentioned the bowtie because anytime I speak about networking I have three things that I feel – what did you call it? What was the doodad? I love that.

Lisa Cummings: [00:17:08] The approachability doodad.

Strother Gaines: [00:17:09] The approachability doodad. Love it. I’m going to take that. So my approachability doodads that I have, I always say it’s my beard, bowtie, and bracelet. And so I have my three Bs that I wear to any networking event, it’s a Miansai. It’s this beautiful little anchor. You have one, you’ve got a hook. I’ve got an anchor, you’ve got a hook.

Lisa Cummings: [00:17:25] Right.

Strother Gaines: [00:17:26] And people seems to really like it, and they’re like, “Oh, I really like your bracelet,” and that’s such a super easy in. The bowtie is really great because I can dramatically yank. It’s by a guy, the artist is SwitchWood here in D.C. You can rip the bowtie weighing out because you switch them in and out, they’re on magnets, and people are like, “Oh, my God, that’s so interesting.” And then my beard is just a big one and people are like, “Oh, it’s a cool beard. How long did that take?” So anything to make yourself approachable.

[00:17:51] I think that there’s a fine line for people when do this, because sometimes it gets into the creepy territory of like, “Oh, your hair looks really pretty.” Like, “Hmm, now that’s not a good way to start this.” Start with something usually like the glasses, or an accessory, or shirt color, or the dress color, or something like that. Those are fine.

[00:18:11] But as far as everything else goes, I do the access-ability doodads are wonderful. If you want to wear something like that out, I think that’s a really easy way for you to get responsible for giving people an in. Other ways, take the low-hanging fruit. If there is the one person sitting off by themselves, like almost certainly that person is dying for someone to come talk to them because they’re at a networking event. They came to talk to people but they’re feeling awkward, they’re not sure how to approach, so if you approach them, they’re like, “Oh, thank God.” So find the singular person, and that one is an easy one.

[00:18:45] And then another tip that actually works, that people shake their heads when I say this, but it genuinely does, if you want to break into a group, stepping in and saying, “Mind if I join you?” It actually totally works because people are like, “Yeah, sure,” and they’ll step aside. It’s way better than doing that awkward hover where you’re standing like two feet behind the person to the side and trying to wiggle in.

Lisa Cummings: [00:19:04] And kind of creepy.

Strother Gaines: [00:19:05] Yeah.

Lisa Cummings: [00:19:06] Two things you mentioned that sounded creepy – the standing off to the side, and I was imagining like the elevator eyes looking up to them, “Is there anything interesting that they’re wearing?”

Strother Gaines: [00:19:16] Exactly. Where they’re like, “Let me see. Is this a thing? Oh, yeah, absolutely.” Networking, let’s own it, can feel creepy. It is a forced environment. We’re all thrown to this weird situation. The quicker you just knowledge that the better you are in it.

Lisa Cummings: [00:19:30] Such good stuff. Now, speaking of the power to have big habits as an adult, I want to go to the total other end of the continuum. Yeah, it’s like networking at the more surface-level, first intros. Now let’s get into the real deep kind of human interactions that you experience when you’re coaching people. So you guys heard me mentioned in the intro that Strother is my coach. And I’m curious overall what is your favorite question when you’re going deep with people, that you ask of your coachees? Like what conversation topics really seem to move people the most?

Strother Gaines: [00:20:06] I feel like if you took a cross section of all of my clients and anyone that I’ve ever done a facilitation with, the one thing that they sort of pair it back to me in almost like a mocking way but because I’d say it all the time and it works, is, “What’s that in service of?” And so if someone says, “Well, this is what I’m doing and this is what I think I’m going to do and here’s what my next plans.” And my follow-up question almost always is, “What’s that in service of?”

[00:20:31] And that could easily be, “Well, why are you doing that?” But as a coach, one of the things that I try and avoid is something that comes along with the need to explain or justify. And when I say, “Well, why?” that makes somebody go, “Well, I have to defend that choice. I’m going to defend it. Like here’s what I will because I think that it’s a really good idea and I’ve done all this research and we’re kind of off the topic anyway.” But when I say, “What’s that in service of?” they have to tell me what they hope to gain from choosing that choice.

[00:20:59] And so to make it very personal for you, you have a calendaring thing where you like to over-schedule quite a bit, and the question I ask is, “Well, what’s it in service of?” And you can answer right now, and I can say like most people would say something like, “Oh, to fit it all in because I know I have to get out there and always be a presence and always make sure that people know who I am and keep those relationships alive,” and whatever their reasoning is.

[00:21:24] And then we ask, “Well, if that’s what that’s in service of, is that in line with your larger goals that we’re working on?” And usually with clients we’ll sort of address anywhere from one on a short end, to up to five or so primary goals that we’re working on, and we can take that action and see if it’s actually in service of the larger pieces.

Lisa Cummings: [00:21:43] I love that you brought up calendaring because I hear it all the time from listeners as well, and because I’m totally happy to be transparent on the show because I’m always telling people to get as much time as possible in their Strengths zone. But even an overload of that, my calendar is overloaded with stuff in my Strength zone at times.

Strother Gaines: [00:22:03] [laughs] At times.

Lisa Cummings: [00:22:05] At times. [laughs] Many times. Not as much as last year though because I’ll tell you, you know, right, we know there are 24 maximum hours in a day, and Strother is not capable of giving you 36 or 38, but he did save me 266 hours of work in one calendar-related conversation last year. Because I remember you were challenging me in order to get some calendar time back, and when you asked me what it was in service of, I remember that I had said yes to too many things and one in particular was a gigantic contractual obligation.

[00:22:42] I felt like it was in service of my integrity to follow up with what I had agreed to do, but once I got in, I was like, “Ugh, what did I do to myself?” And you challenged me to use my Strengths to get some massive calendar time back by not assuming I had to go about that work in a specific way, and you gave me some things to try doing that required less preparation, because I’m kind of an over-preparer, for those listening, and it saved me sooo many hours.

[00:23:13] I think this is a great way to end on your concept of your Big C, Little C, and then I think they could apply it to themselves because you fill your calendar with things but you may not be fully aware of how you’re vetting those things. So let’s end with that.

Strother Gaines: [00:23:30] Yeah, sure. So Big C, Little C is basically your big commitments and your little commitments. And your big commitments are those things that you would feel those high-minded ideals that you would hope that people would look at you and be like, “Oh, I bet Lisa is committed to music and her husband and the growth of the universe,” and all of these things that you would hope someone would look at and say, “Yes, that’s their big things.”

[00:23:53] And your Little C is what you would actually see if we followed you around and you didn’t know for about 48 hours what would I, as an impartial observer, think your commitments were? And so is that Netflix? Is that the dog? Is that iPhone games? That used to be mine. I have since overcome some of those addictions, but nobody tell me any good games, because I will immediately jump right back in to them.

[00:24:15] But when you’re being trailed anonymously for 48 hours, and this is an exercise you can do on your own, like look back at the past 48 hours, look at your calendar, look at the things you did, look at how you spent the time in between, big projects as well, and see, “Is this something that I seem committed to that’s actually taking up most of my time? Or am I actually living into my big commitments that I have?”

[00:24:36] And so one of my commitments is the growth of my business. Did the things that I did today actually reflect that? And that’s your call to make. You get to decide if yes or no. But I find that that Big C, Little C is a nice way to sort of contextualize all of the things you’re doing and to tie it back to calendar time or fitting it all in why do we spend all of this time doing things that don’t actually move forward our larger goals. Sometimes it’s just we aren’t aware that we’re doing them.

Lisa Cummings: [00:25:01] Some of the conversations, I think, that when we’re not looking in the mirror and it just feels like, “Well, this is an outside force, versus an inside force,” it makes it feel like the Big C is impossible. So the to-be-continued is follow up with the coach and go deep on this kind of stuff.

Strother Gaines: [00:25:17] Yeah. Well, hello there.

Lisa Cummings: [00:25:19] [laughs] Well, Strother, this has been so fun. So if they do want to reply to your, “Hello, there,” then where should they go find you?

Strother Gaines: [00:25:28] Perfect. You can find me at UnicornDammit.com, you can email me at Strother, which you probably can’t say. It’ll be on your show notes, I’m sure. But it’s S-T-R-other, Strother@UnicornDammit.com. I’m happy to chat over there. Yeah, those are my primary spots. Also, if you happen to be in the D.C. area, I’m not an aegis here. We’re just a young professionals group under 40. We don’t check your ID, so come wherever I could be but we’d love to see you at one of our monthly events. It’s every third Thursday and you can check that out at NetworkUnder40.com.

Lisa Cummings: [00:26:04] All right. If you can’t connect in D.C. then come on over to LeadThroughStrengths.com and we have some resources at LeadThroughStrengths.com/resources so you can connect with your team at work, and bring out your authentic best, and their authentic best. There are a bunch of tools there related to StrengthsFinder, strengths-focused leadership and on noticing what works about you and others so you can get more of what works in the workplace.

[00:26:30] Thanks, everyone, for listening to Lead Through Strengths. Remember, using your strengths at work makes you a stronger performer at work. And if you’re putting a lopsided focus on fixing your weaknesses, you’re choosing the path of most resistance. So claim your authentic talents and share them with the world.

Direct download: 040-Strother-Gaines.mp3
Category:careers -- posted at: 2:30am CDT

This Episode’s Focus on Strengths

This week Lisa speaks with Bruce Ge and Neil Davis, who join us to talk about what it's like to create an amazing culture at your company. They both give specific examples of ideas you can implement.

Bruce Ge, the CEO at Jobs2Careers, gives insight into the most important functions of executives. Neil Davis, the Director of HR, offers ways to integrate company culture into the hiring process. Unlike our usual audio-only interviews, this one was onsite at the Jobs2Careers headquarters in Austin, Texas. If you prefer to watch the full video versions of the interview, they are embedded below.

Neil’s Top 5 Clifton StrengthsFinder Talent Themes: Responsibility, Competition, Adaptability, Learner, Strategic

Lisa’s Top 5 Clifton StrengthsFinder Talent Themes:   Strategic, Maximizer, Positivity, Individualization, Woo

Resources of the Episode

If you go to the J2C homepage for job seekers you'll see roles in tons of industries, locations, and companies. Check out their careers page to explore their open positions inside of Jobs2Careers in Austin, TX. Keep in mind, even though they're a software company, their workforce is onsite in Central Texas. Working together in the same location is actually part of their secret-culture-sauce. Finally, if you're a hiring manager, you might be interested in the J2C For Employers page to check out their unique Pay Per Application model.

Here's the live interview with Bruce and Neil on camera.

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Strengths Tools

You'll also find lots of StrengthsFinder, leadership, and team tools on our Strengths Resources page.


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.

Here's a Full Transcript of the Interview

Lisa Cummings: [00:00:09] You’re listening to Lead Through Strengths, where you’ll learn to apply your greatest strengths, at work. I’m your host, Lisa Cummings, and I gotta tell you, whether you’re leading a team or leading yourself, it’s hard to find something more energizing and productive than using your natural talents every day at work.

[00:00:28] And today you’ll get one of several episodes I’ve recorded that gives you specific examples straight from leaders who have built awesome company cultures, and there are so many direct ties between strengths and employee engagement on your team. So this peek behind the curtain at workplace culture will be a neat way to inspire ideas you can use at your company.

[00:00:51] Most of today’s episode was recorded on site at a company in Austin, Texas, called Jobs2Careers, which you’ll hear us refer to as J2C. of course, we’ll link to them in the show notes so that you can check them out all the way.

[00:01:05] Now, this show features Neil Davis, their head of HR, and Bruce Ge, their CEO, who also joins us in the second half. In this episode, you’ll hear specific strategies that you can put your own spin on. One of my favorites is an example of how they live out their company values. So one of their top values is providing phenomenal experiences.

Bruce Ge (Left) and Neil Davis (Right) at Jobs2Careers Headquarters in Austin, TX [image at front desk]Bruce Ge (Left) and Neil Davis (Right) at Jobs2Careers Headquarters in Austin, TX
[00:01:32] So one way they live this out is by literally rolling out the red carpet to welcome new hires and make them feel like superstars. Can you imagine how that would make you feel as a new teammate? Wow, I love that one, and there are several nuggets like that as you listen through.[00:01:50] If you would like to see the full impact of this interview with video, you can watch the interview portion of the show on the show notes page at LeadThroughStrengths.com/listen. And one note for this episode is that you’ll hear the tone of the audio change a bit as we move over to the on-site recording because we’re not in a regular studio environment.[00:02:13] So, with that, let’s jump over to the interview where I start with Neil, asking him, from the HR perspective, to tell us about their hiring process and how they use that to build their company culture.

Neil Davis: [00:02:28] Our selection process, as you may have guessed already, is very different. We look for more than just technical skill or functional capacity; we look for how someone will be able to interact and work on a team on a daily basis. So we look for those interpersonal traits and skills like teamwork, communication, collaboration, and how people generally interact with people on the team. That has equal weight to the technical skill.

Lisa Cummings: [00:02:56] Hmm, I love it. So I’m always talking about, anybody who’s a regular listener knows that I talk about the “what” and “how” all the time. So the “what” being the knowledge and the skills and the experiences, and the “how” being all the stuff that you just talked about. Now, how do you do it? Because you have to figure out really quickly how this is going to show up. How do you even get to that?

Neil Davis: [00:03:17] It literally starts from the very first interaction with the candidate. We look at how they communicate with us, how they respond, even, sometimes, how quickly they respond, because it gives you an indicator of how they might be able to interact with folks, or communicate with folks, if they came on board here.

[00:03:35] And then, when they come in face-to-face for an on-campus interview, we get feedback from every point of contact that that candidate had while they were there, and we take that feedback, we combine it with what we learned of their technical skill. If they’re a cultural fit and they have the technical aptitude, then they’re a great candidate for us to consider moving forward.

[00:03:54] I, myself, take each candidate through a pretty extensive and, I’ve been told, pretty fun and unique value alignment assessment where we really assess situational attitude, reactionary communication, behavioral traits, and skills that are really important to preserving our culture here.

Lisa Cummings: [00:04:12] I just want to talk about behavioral interviews for one second. I would give people the shortcut of, “Tell me about a time when this…” when you get them to give you examples. How would you shortcut what behavioral interviewing is?

Neil Davis: [00:04:23] Very similar to that. We want to know how someone has demonstrated these skills or how their interpersonal traits manifest themselves in the workplace. So we ask about recent situations that they’ve gone through, and some of the questions are very unique, some of them are dead on straight to the point, and they all are very strategic in their format, and that’s to help us gain a better idea of the candidate. One of the ancillary benefits is the candidate gets to know a lot more about our culture and our value system by going through this process with us.

Lisa Cummings: [00:04:54] So let’s talk values. Okay, when I first met you guys and we did a little bit of Strengths work, you told me that one of the ways you bring these things alive is every person – get this if you’re listening – every person gets asked the same question every day for one month. So ours would’ve been, “How did you use your Strengths yesterday, or today on the job?” Something to that effect?

Neil Davis: [00:05:18] Something to that effect, right. Every time we have management training or professional development classes or training courses, all staff are invited not just people managers. And at the end of the training we institute a post-training question related to the concepts or the techniques that were taught in that course, and we add those to our daily status report, or our weekly status report templates, that managers actually give to each of their staff, the manager gets to direct feedback and it stays in that status report template for about a month, depending on when the next training class is.

[00:05:53] The reason we do that is because: a) we know it takes longer than just a day or two for a concept to transform itself into a habit; b) we know that as that employee is focused on this post-training question every day or every week, you could see how their answers go from short to targeted and specific, and that’s when we know it works because it’s now a newly-developed habit, and then, of course, it supports one of our core company values.

Lisa Cummings: [00:06:20] And we’re onto values, right.

Neil Davis: [00:06:21] And that is the crux of why we do this. It’s “always grow” is the core value that it directly supports. We believe, whether it’s at an individual contributor level or as an organization, one of our core values has been, and will continue to be, to always grow. Push our boundaries, encourage ourselves to learn, make mistakes, learn from those mistakes and become better.

Lisa Cummings: [00:06:45] And it’s such a practical tip for anybody listening, that you can just take a deep question like that, ask it every day, and you start to see the depth. What are the other values at Jobs2Careers?

Neil Davis: [00:06:57] Sure. We have five company values, and they truly all start with “do the right thing.” That, of course, reflects on the integrity piece. And then, of course, creating phenomenal experiences not just for our clients and our partners but also for our internal customers and teammates. That starts truly with new hires on board day one. We roll out this long orange carpet, they’re literally walking across this carpet, we have their favorite drink in hand waiting for them.

Lisa Cummings: [00:07:27] And how do you know their favorite drink?

Neil Davis: [00:07:29] We ask that in the interview process, and it’s shocking to see their response when they realize we’ve paid attention and they forgot that they’ve told us what their favorite drink was, and then we had it for them on their first day. So that’s a way that we create phenomenal experiences even for our new hires. And, of course, I mentioned “always grow” and how that is one of our core company values.

[00:07:50] We also go the extra mile. Go the extra mile is important for us because it is truly a part of teamwork, which is our fifth core company value. So those are our five core company values, and we live them every day.

Lisa Cummings: [00:08:04] Yeah, I really see people living them out. And for anybody who’s listening and thought, “Orange carpet?” If you haven’t seen the video on Jobs2Careers, or you haven’t looked at their website, it’s one of their two company colors. It’s the primary color, right?

Neil Davis: [00:08:19] Correct. Orange and teal blue. Right.

Lisa Cummings: [00:08:22] Right. And then, something I thought was cool that, as I got to know the team, I kept hearing more and more examples of small things that might represent a phenomenal experience that someone else would need. So someone in the customer-facing customer service kind of team said something about how when they saw that their energy was waning, and they needed a little boost on the phone, they would do planks together as a team and it’s one of those ways to support teamwork.

[00:08:49] So it seems like, wow, that’s a really deep way of looking at it. It looks just like fun or someone taking an energy break but it was a really cool way to take the values and say, “These things get demonstrated in the smallest ways.”

Neil Davis: [00:09:02] Absolutely. Another way we do that, and it might seem small but it really is impactful, we have created values cards. And on these values cards it list each of our five core values individually, but it also list a section where you can fill in what this employee did, and who it’s from, and you check what value you saw them represent, or you saw them personified, and you give them that values card as a way to individually recognize their effort, and also a way to inspire them to continue living our values.

Lisa Cummings: [00:09:31] They mean something to them. They receive something that said, “Hey, you meant something to me as a teammate. You did something for me.”

Neil Davis: [00:09:38] Right. Right. It’s a point of pride here for sure.

Lisa Cummings: [00:09:41] Well, Neil, thank you for giving us a peek of what it’s like here.

Neil Davis: [00:09:45] Thank you for talking to me. Appreciate it.

Glimpse of Fun Culture at Jobs2Careers [image of people in costumes, having fun, and moving on hover board]Glimpse of Fun Culture at Jobs2Careers
Lisa Cummings: [00:09:47] It was a good time.[00:09:50] So, are you filled up with ideas yet? I know I am. My favorite top five from Neil were: one, rolling out the red or orange carpet for new hires; two, surprising a new hire by greeting them with their favorite drink; three, having pre-printed values cards to make it easy to give recognition to each other; four, doing planks together as a team as a quick energizer; and, five, deepening the application of a training class by asking a question from that month’s training in their daily status report documents.[00:10:22] This one, after getting inspired by J2C’s follow-up questions to our Strengths training with their company, my team decided to experiment with this as well, and we started with the question, “How did you use your Strengths at work today?” It was really interesting to me to see the difference in responses. I got everything from detailed and thoughtful answers, all the way through a rushed, “I used my Learner talent today.”

[00:10:48] So play around with it to complement your work styles. And the biggest learning for me was to properly introduce the question and what’s behind it rather than just writing it and not explaining because when I did that the answers were way more generic.

[00:11:04] So, okay, in the next section of the on-site interview you get to learn from Bruce Ge, the CEO of Jobs2Careers. I thought you’d enjoy hearing about leadership from a founder perspective as well.

[00:11:17] Now, he has led this company through extreme growth and he gives you a viewpoint on the most important functions of executives. And some of his opinions might even surprise you, like the fact that he offers management training to every employee, regardless of their current role, because he wants to prepare each person for leadership positions, even if that means they need to leave the company to live into their potential.

Lisa Cummings facilitating management training on using your strengths and natural talents at Jobs2Careers [image of class interaction]Lisa Cummings facilitating management training on using your strengths and natural talents at Jobs2Careers
[00:11:44] So here’s my interview with Bruce where we pick up a conversation about their company value called “always grow,” and how one way they execute it is this monthly training.

Bruce Ge: [00:11:58] Oftentimes we’ll ask employees, “What is your ambition?” They would say, “I want to become a manager. I want to become an executive.” And a lot of them are never presented an opportunity. They don’t even know what are the expectations from them, and how they’re judged. So, in order to be fair, I want to provide an opportunity at least for them to know what a high-level manager should be like.[00:12:24] So the main point is to grow the employees, which is adding value to what Jobs2Careers can provide to their career growth. I also get a side benefit of getting jobs done more efficiently. Ultimately, the education I give to the employees will go with the employees. Well, to be honest, I don’t need all of my people to become managers. But that’s fine, I will be proud if one day my employees become managers or executives of other companies.

[00:12:53] So I set a high bar for most of my people and I push them to grow. Eventually, a lot of them will make to the management or executive level in other companies, I’ll be proud of it. So the point is, I’m trying to make a good deal with my employees.

Lisa Cummings: [00:13:08] It’s a very mature way of looking at leadership. A lot of times people feel like they want to be talent hoarders.

Bruce Ge: [00:13:14] I think you have a very good point. Trying to stop talent from growing is going to hurt both sides. Eventually, if I grow my people to a very high level, they will leave me because there are some opportunities outside of Jobs2Careers and I should be happy for them. It’s a win-win deal.

Lisa Cummings: [00:13:32] It is win-win. One thing that I think of when I think of a company like yours is I have a lot of clients who are tech companies or they’re in the Bay Area or they’re fast-growth, and the founder has had a major impact on the culture. What are you doing? Because I can tell you’re doing something to ensure that there’s a culture that’s on purpose and it’s not just your personal personality. How are you doing this?

Bruce Ge: [00:13:59] I think the most important value a CEO needs to keep in mind is integrity, especially accountability. Let me take an example of what we do differently from other companies. Jobs2Careers do not impose regular overtime. We require efficient eight hours work, but we do not expect people to work unless there’s an emergency or something really important.

[00:14:21] So people can find a good balance of life and work. And this is very well-received because you do see companies who try to push people to work 10, 12 hours a day. I think it tarnishes the image of the employer. It makes your people trust your employer less. So that’s the things I’m trying to avoid. I want to behave with a high integrity, and I also hold other people accountable for high integrity. So those are the small things we do that make a difference. But it’s important that we hold ourselves, employers hold ourselves to a very high level of integrity, and that sets a very good example for the employees.

Lisa Cummings: [00:15:01] I think modeling what you expect of people is critical. If you said one thing and then you didn’t hold yourself to it, it would not become part of the culture.

Bruce Ge: [00:15:10] It damages credibility and everything will go south from there.

Lisa Cummings: [00:15:16] I went back out and peeked at your LinkedIn profile again the other day, and I noticed that you mentioned how important recruiting is in your role as CEO, and I think that’s a rare thing to say, “As CEO, recruiting is one of my top job responsibilities,” and it certainly tells me a lot about why the culture here is what it is. Can you talk about what led you to make that one of your most important job responsibilities?

Bruce Ge: [00:15:46] Acquiring and retaining talent is probably the most important function of my job. We have been very selective in who we will bring on board. Not only executives, also we have a very high bar for entry-level people. Why develop so much attention for me? Because one is very hard. It takes so much time to know people and it requires patience.

[00:16:13] We have like less than 1% hiring rate from resumes to employees. It also requires a lot of people knowledge. We need good sense to identify the talent. So, ultimately, what matters to an organization is your people. That’s probably the most important element that requires me to invest my time on.

Lisa Cummings at J2C management training with the 1% that got hired [image: group photo]Lisa Cummings at J2C management training with the 1% that got hired
Lisa Cummings: [00:16:35] It’s a key thing when I talk to listeners, when I talk to my clients, and their leaders are struggling. A lot of times it’s because they’re focusing on the work, but not the people doing the work, so you’re really onto something that is a differentiator I see in the marketplace also.

Bruce Ge: [00:16:54] Thank you. Yes, I am very clear on what a CEO should focus on. I’m not focused on any detail-level work. I only focus on people. So once I have the talent, I put them in charge of product, sales, marketing, they handle everything. I need to make sure they’re happy, and I need to make sure they are doing the right management job. My job becomes easy and my organization becomes efficient at the same time.Lisa Cummings: [00:17:19] Gives you some time to play ping pong?

Bruce Ge: [00:17:21] I have enough time to spend with my family. I golf every week, play ping pong sometimes. It’s a good life.

Lisa Cummings: [00:17:30] Love it. Bruce Ge, thank you.

Bruce Ge: [00:17:32] Thank you, Lisa.

Lisa Cummings: [00:17:33:] We appreciate it. I know the listeners will love so much hearing all these angles, being able to see a marketing leader, a CEO, an HR person at such a fast-growing company with such a fun culture.

[00:17:47] Boy, what a treat to hear from a leader who is growing a thriving company. All his team members are thriving too.

[00:17:54] My top five ideas from Bruce were: one, offer leadership training to everyone because it’s a win for everyone; number two, model the behaviors you want to see because you can only be credible as a manager if you’re leading through the accountability and the integrity that you expect from everyone else; number three, the number one role of a leader is finding the right people for the team and developing them; number four, if you make a culture of accountability, you don’t have to create a culture of working 12 hour days, even at a software company; and number five – that’s my favorite one – and that is to never hoard talent, to help everyone grow even if that means some people have to leave the company to live into their highest potential.

[00:18:43] And that, my friends, is a wrap.

[00:18:46] Neil and Bruce, thank you for the backstage pass. What a cool set of ideas to get the outcomes of the work by focusing on the people doing the work. I feel like that’s such an important statement. They gave us such a cool set of ideas to get the outcomes of the work by focusing on the people doing the work. So big. And now you have at least 10 more inspirations you can use to ramp up your culture, so just pick one. Do one thing this week.

[00:19:16] If you’re using our RAMP model to build your culture, remember R is to nurture relationships, A is to create an environment where people can experience regular accomplishment, M is for meaning and purpose, and P is for positive interactions. And this is in perfect alignment with building a strengths-based culture.

[00:19:40] If you’re noticing what works at work, you’re going to get more of what works at work. So if you want to recognize people on your team, we made a resource for you. Go to LeadThroughStrengths.com/resources, and one of the documents there gives you 127 ways to offer recognition this week. And it really is possible to nurture all four of those areas of the RAMP model with one sincere recognition, so imagine what you can do if you put that on repeat.

[00:20:13] Like we always say, by nurturing Strengths, you’re nurturing performance at work. If you’re putting a lopsided focus on fixing weaknesses, you’re choosing the path of most resistance. So claim your new work culture, and share the positive results with the world.


Direct download: 039-Bruce-Neil-J2C.mp3
Category:careers -- posted at: 2:30am CDT

This Episode’s Focus on Strengths

This week Lisa speaks with Samantha Smith, who joins us to talk about what it's like to create an amazing culture at your company. She gives very specific examples of ideas you can implement, no matter what your current title is. Unlike our usual audio-only interviews, this one was onsite at the Jobs2Careers headquarters in Austin, Texas.

You also get a bonus interview with Suong Luu. She gives the cultural overview from the employee perspective. Her first job out of college was with Jobs2Careers. She has already progressed through several roles from intern to marketing coordinator. And she has been able to experiment in functions from IT to marketing.

Resources of the Episode

If you go to the J2C homepage for job seekers you'll see roles in tons of industries, locations, and companies. Check out their careers page to explore their open positions inside of Jobs2Careers in Austin, TX. Keep in mind, even though they're a software company, their workforce is onsite in Central Texas. Working together in the same location is actually part of their secret-culture-sauce. Finally, if you're a hiring manager, you might be interested in the J2C For Employers page to check out their unique Pay Per Application model.

Here's the live interview with Sam and Suong on camera.


Strengths Tools

You'll also find lots of StrengthsFinder, leadership, and team tools on our Strengths Resources page.

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.

Here's a Full Transcript of the Interview

Lisa Cummings: [00:00:08] You’re listening to Lead Through Strengths, where you’ll apply your greatest strengths at work. I’m your host, Lisa Cummings, and I gotta tell you, whether you’re leading your team or leading yourself, it’s hard to find something more energizing and productive than using your natural talents every day at work.

[00:00:27] And, just the other day I got a new idea for the show. I got in the mail this magazine that had the best places to work. And even though it’s an Austin, Texas publication, I’m thinking, “Oh, cool. Strengths and great company cultures and employee engagement, they’re all so intertwined so it’d be really cool to get some great ideas to share with listeners.”

[00:00:50] And, you know, I was so disappointed. I opened this thing up and, as it describes each of these award-winning companies, it gives some bullet points on what they do to make their culture great. And do you know what the answers are? Oh, gosh, let me give you a sampling. Number one: generous retirement plan. Number two: charity involvement. Number three: rewards program. And number four of your sample: a health and wellness program.

[00:01:19] Oh, my gosh, I was so bummed out when I read those, because I thought it would be full of inspiration and ideas, and although those bullet points are fine enough words, it’s just like when you see on a resume when someone says they’re a motivated team player. It’s like, “Well, yeah, that’s the same thing everyone else is saying. Give me something different. Give me something specific and inspirational.” It was lacking all of the telling details. And that led me to the idea of what the next couple of interviews are going to be about.

[00:01:48] Today you’ll get one of several episodes I’ve recorded that gives you specific examples straight from leaders who have built an awesome company culture. There are so many direct ties between strengths and employee engagement on your team, so you’ll get this peak behind the curtain at workplace cultures that can give you an inspiration to come up with your own ideas that are riffing off of the one you’ll hear here.

[00:02:14] The bulk of today’s interview was recorded on site at a company in Austin, Texas called Jobs2Careers. So you’ll hear us also refer to this company as J2C. Of course we’ll link J2C in the show notes so you can check them out all the way.

[00:02:32] Now this show highlights Samantha Smith who runs their marketing team. And then in the next episode you’ll hear from their CEO and from their Head of HR. That way you’ll get specific examples that are unique from each angle inside of the business. And at the end of this episode, you’ll hear a recap about how Sam’s examples fit right into our RAMP model for nurturing team culture.

[00:03:00] So as a quick teaser, the four RAMP factors to always be nurturing on your team are R relationship building, A accomplishment, M meaning and purpose, and P positive interactions. So RAMP makes it an easy acronym to think about your culture.

[00:03:19] You’ll hear the tone of the audio change a bit as we move over because it was an onsite recording, so if you do want to see the full impact, with video, you can also watch this interview portion on the show notes page. Just go to LeadThroughStrengths/SamanthaSmith and it has everything except for that recap at the end.

[00:03:38] So, with that, let’s jump over to the onsite interview.

[00:03:43] We have Samantha Smith, you’ll hear me refer to her as Sam, and she runs their marketing team. And I thought it’d be fun to give you all of these different angles of people and different roles around the company because people start to say, “Oh, yeah. Culture, that’s an HR initiative,” or, “Culture has nothing to do with HR. That’s only what happens out in the business.”

[00:04:07] So, no matter what side of that fence you’re on, you get to see lots of different angles at J2C. And I’ve been Jobs2Careers but J2C. Is that internally your name?

Samantha Smith: [00:04:18] Internally that’s the slang.

Lisa Cummings: [00:04:19] Yeah, that’s your slang. And you have to have team slang to have a team culture.

Samantha Smith: [00:04:23] Yeah.

Lisa Cummings: [00:04:24] So what’s your favorite thing about culture here?

Samantha Smith: [00:04:26] I would say that we try and do things differently. We’re very opposed to, “Oh, we’ve always done it that way.” And one of the things I like is that Bruce (Ge), our CEO, and management team really want to hear what the employees have to say. I believe that Bruce’s philosophy would be that you hired good people and that the success of your company is mostly dependent on your team.

[00:04:48] And one of the things that I like is Bruce does a CEO Circle program. And what that is, is every quarter he will give us a business challenge that he’s facing. It could be what to name a new product, or it could be how to brand us in a creative way, and it has to be easy to implement and inexpensive and solve a problem.

[00:05:08] And every quarter somebody wins it. Three people, actually. And when you win it, you get to go to a family event with Bruce and his wife and two kids, you get a $1,000 bonus, and you get a chance to implement your program. And one of my favorite examples is our social ambassador program, and that was the answer to a question of, “How do we maintain our culture as we grow?” because we’ve just about doubled employee headcount year-over-year for the past four years. So how do you keep the culture of a small company when you get big?

[00:05:41] And so the social ambassador program is run by one of our client success analysts, and basically when there’s a new person that starts, it’s you get a schedule to have lunch with a new person. So they get to have lunch with somebody from a different department every day so it’s not you’re just going to a lunch. Here’s there’s 80 people like that you don’t know exactly.

Lisa Cummings: [00:06:01] It’s like high school again with a tray where you’re walking around going, “Where do I sit?”

Samantha Smith: [00:06:06] Yeah, exactly. And so we don’t want anyone to feel that way, and we want them to know us, and we want engineers and marketing and sales and HR to all eat lunch together and not get too cliquey.

Lisa Cummings: [00:06:16] Oh, I like. And when you first said it, I’m thinking, “Marketing,” I’m thinking, “Social,” as in social media, so I expected your answer to be about something to the external world. I love hearing that this is an internal, how you get to know each other and work with each other.

Samantha Smith: [00:06:31] Definitely. One thing I thing is cool is that when I started with Jobs2Careers we had 40-some people, and now I think we’re 90 plus. And I think I still pretty much know everybody’s name, which I’ve worked with companies much smaller I can’t say that about.

Lisa Cummings: [00:06:48] It says something about people really caring about each other and you can’t make somebody care about each other. What are the things that happen here that allow that environment to happen? Because I could certainly see that in a room of essentially every employee, there are really deep relationships that you can tell it’s different from those who, “Oh, that’s that guy in accounting who I don’t know.” Now how does that happen here?

Samantha Smith: [00:07:14] It does feel different than other places, and I’ve thought about why. And I think a big factor is that we all eat together every day, and every afternoon at 3:30 we have tea time which is a 20-minute break to not let your blood sugar dip too much, and you have to mingle outside if it’s nice with people in other departments.

[00:07:33] And so we really all do know a lot about each other and that helps when you need to ask for someone’s assistance with something, or somebody comes to you. And it also helps that we know what everybody does because sometimes we’ll talk about work at lunch and people know what everyone’s role is. It’s never like, “Oh, I don’t know who you are. What do you do?” That doesn’t really happen.

Lisa Cummings: [00:07:54] “That’s just that lady with brown hair over there. I’ve seen her around but I have no idea.”

Samantha Smith: [00:07:57] Right.

Lisa Cummings: [00:07:58] Right. So when you were talking about the CEO Circle – did I get the terminology right?

Samantha Smith: [00:08:02] Yes.

Lisa Cummings: [00:08:03] Okay. You mentioned the brand as one of the examples of maybe how you bring the brand to life. I looked that there were constraints in it too. It’s cheap to implement those sorts of things, that’s cool. That made me think about branding and how many companies I work with are trying – I’m sure listeners are feeling this way – “Oh, we want to have an employment brand. We want to be known for something to candidates. We want to be an employer of choice. We want to be a place that people want to come work.”

[00:08:31] Then there’s the other side of branding that the typical marketing person would be focused on – your company brand and the brand personality traits. They seem very aligned here. So how does that all come together from your perspective?

Samantha Smith: [00:08:42] Well, our mission statement is, “Innovating the way employers effectively find talent, and the talent effectively find employers.” So, we’re helping both sides of the coin there. And there’s the key word of innovating, which is that we want to do employee branding differently and we also want to do searching for a job and hiring differently.

[00:09:03] This company is only five years old, so it’s not a legacy brand that you have to give a facelift to. We could start something new and it wouldn’t affect any existing business. And even, for a simple example, expense reports, they’re really easy to do. We’ve got software to do them. It’s not a lot of cutting and pasting and it works quickly, and that’s just an example of something that doesn’t get bogged down in red tape.

Lisa Cummings: [00:09:30] And if you’re going to make simplicity a key part of your mission statement you want to live it out and model in everything you do, and you really do it.

Samantha Smith: [00:09:38] There is efficiency all the time. Even as simple as dishes are piling up next to the sink. Let’s put a basket there if the dishwasher is full. And it sounds silly but in a big office little things like that help.

Lisa Cummings: [00:09:53] And I would imagine they would start to be the small things that create a culture because just like when you walk into a public restroom and you see trash all over the place, similarly if you start to see dishes all over the place then people don’t care about the space as much. And so coming up with solutions for things and being efficient and being simple, it does feel like it’s really built into what you do here.

Samantha Smith: [00:10:16] It does.

Lisa Cummings: [00:10:17] Another thing we’ve talked about outside of the interview is perks. Let’s actually talk about some of the perks you actually have, because this is a typical go-to for culture. People go, “Okay, it’s a tech company. Let’s make some cool company perks. Those do attract people, and it has to go beyond that.” So talk a little bit about what perks you do have. You’ve mentioned lunch every day.

Samantha Smith: [00:10:40] Yeah, that’s pretty good.

Lisa Cummings: [00:10:41] And tea time is pretty cool. What else, and then how do you go beyond that?

Samantha Smith: [00:10:46] Well, we have everything we need here. We have lunch, we have tea time, we have coffee. Its purpose is to make us work more efficiently. So we have everything we need, and we don’t want for anything here. But I would say that beyond the perks, there’s the cultural perks too, like to always learn and to try new ideas and to communicate.

[00:11:08] And one of my favorite things that Bruce says is to allow for interruptions. And so what that means to me is like a C-level officer, you can just go in her office and ask them something. And if somebody comes to you, it’s sort of the same expectation. So really being transparent, I think that says a lot about our culture beyond, you know, we have a ping pong table and we have a beautiful office space in the hill country, and we see rainbows out there.

Lisa Cummings: [00:11:37] That’s a great view.

Samantha Smith: [00:11:38] Yeah, and we grill steaks out there sometimes. And there’s these moments like, “Well, this is…”

Lisa Cummings: [00:11:43] Like every Friday?

Samantha Smith: [00:11:44] Yeah, mainly. And so there’s these moments, like, “Well, we’re really well taken care of.” But I think the part that I feel luckiest about, is that I work with such a smart group of people. I mean, the process is rigorous to be hired here, but it’s worth it because there are no weak links, and it’s really amazing to work that way.

Lisa Cummings: [00:12:05] That makes a big difference in culture. Let’s end there with a little more specific look at people and how they come into the role that they’re doing, and even how work is assigned? So something I noticed, for example, working with Callie that she’s just so energetic. It seems like everybody I interact with, they love what they do.

[00:12:28] And it’s not just I want to make the cliché comment about passion because I feel like there’s a lot of explanation that needs to happen beyond that, but the energy that people bring. What happens from you being a people manager when you’re trying to imagine, “How do I take this person, know their skills and interests, and align them to what puts them at their best so that kind of energy connection show up at work?” Because it’s showing up all over the building.

Samantha Smith: [00:12:54] Well, one thing that’s neat about how fast we’re growing is it gives you room to change your job. For instance, we had an account executive who became a sales manager, who then became a sales operations manager; we’ve had people transfer departments. And so because we’re growing so quickly, these new avenues open up, and if you really jump on them and own them, then you can have that and then somebody else will do the other part.

[00:13:20] So everyone is passionate because you’ve kind of get to choose your job to a certain extent. There’s always support from management, but there’s not necessarily, “Okay, this is what you need to do every day.” So when I started my job nobody told me, “Okay, so for marketing materials, we’re going to focus on doing case studies, and doing content marketing, and get our blog redesigned.” No one told me that. It’s just you see a need and you go for it and then you see that there’s value to it. If you go into your manager’s office and have an idea that’s going to bring value, they’ll let you do it.

Lisa Cummings: [00:13:52] Yeah, I love it. We have a lot of listeners who are at tech companies and that’s an environment they’ll be able to really touch and feel. And then, I also have a lot of listeners who work for big companies and add maybe a couple or a few zeroes to the headcount. If, for that person, just to go out on an idea of what could they do so it’s going to feel more bureaucratic, a little less able to just say, “Oh, my gosh, I can craft my job”? What advice would you give for somebody who’s a manager at a company where they’re a little more mature in the business so things don’t change as fast and they’re trying to blaze a trail as a manager and create their own team culture?

Samantha Smith: [00:14:34] I would say don’t underestimate the power of going out once a quarter for a department event. We just did that recently with marketing. We did a “Build your own terrarium,” which is a thing in Austin, and there were about 12 of us, and we built our own little plants in this jar. And we thought, “What an interesting idea, what’s that going to be like.” And it was so fun.

[00:14:55] But that something that simple which just shows you care about getting people outside the office, and I think that really says it all, it’s just that you value somebody more than what they’re producing. One of, I think, the best benefits at Jobs2Careers is management training. It started with our CEO Bruce doing a management training session every two weeks and, of course, that’s how we met you. We have guest speakers once a month.

[00:15:20] And there’s something about being in a room with all of your colleagues, during company time, where that’s an hour and a half or two hours where you’re not producing work for the company. There’s something about feeling that value that’s very flattering and very motivating.

Lisa Cummings: [00:15:35] It really intrigued me. It’s the only company that I worked for where they call it management training. You use that terminology because you hear that, and any other company that means people managers only, and it gets referenced a lot by employees, by managers, and it really is like the personal leadership development that everybody here wants for everybody else. I love the tone that it sets, and it says, “This is an exclusive way of thinking. This is how we can all grow the company together.”

Samantha Smith: [00:16:08] I think Bruce sees everybody as future managers.

Lisa Cummings: [00:16:11] That’s a beautiful way of seeing people’s capabilities and then letting those programs start to bring that on people.

Samantha Smith: [00:16:19] Definitely.

Lisa Cummings: [00:16:20] Sam Smith, thank you for the backstage pass. Yes. So to all of you listeners, gosh, wasn’t it great for inspiring ideas that you can use at your company? I promised you a recap to align the interview to the RAMP model, so you can apply Sam’s examples to your company. So let’s jump into that.

[00:16:43] First, the R in RAMP is for relationships. So her first example under the relationship category is her social ambassador program. So when you’re onboarding new employees, formally link them up with someone else from the company, so that there’s a comfortable lunch buddy, some built-in networking right from the very first day. So get inspired from her idea, and think about what your version of the company welcome wagon can be.

[00:17:09] Now in another example, Sam mentioned hiring great people through a rigorous process so there are no weak links in the cultural fit. So find people who will love working at your company. So to apply this in your workplace specifically, be sure you spend as much time on cultural fit, and values fit, as you do on matching their past experiences and their past skills with the role. So usually people obsess over a candidate’s background during the hiring process, yet you can actually make a huge impact on your team culture if you’ll also obsess about the interpersonal fit.

[00:17:50] All right. Next in the RAMP model we have A for accomplishment. So Sam told us about their CEO Circle Awards. That was a great example you could apply at your company by creating a competition for people to come up with an idea that solves a specific business challenge. I love the business relevance of this idea. So J2C gives a monetary award, and a social event out with the CEO, and the ability to actually implement their idea. So, of course, you can come up with your own awards, make them big or small, make them work for you, but that notion of the CEO Circle award is a great one.

[00:18:27] Another example she gave under accomplishment is their monthly management training. So, for them, it’s open to every single employee. I had a great time being part of a delivery team offering this training to their employees and it was highly attended. They want to show that everybody can be a leader, and there’s a dedication there to nurturing that potential and helping people accomplish their big career goals.

[00:18:50] So if you think about your company, you might already have an existing leadership development program that you can just open up to a wider audience as a way to show team members that they have the opportunity to make a big impact, regardless of what their current job title is. If you don’t have the budget or an existing program, you could even setup some sort of panel interviews where you take internal executives and team members who have success stories and case studies so that you can offer some level of inspiration around that future that they might have at your company.

[00:19:28] So we’ve covered R for relationships, A for accomplishment, and now we’re at M for meaning and purpose. Sam’s first example was about simplicity and innovation being part of their company mission. So they live it out in the smallest daily actions and I thought that was great, how connected the big picture and the small picture were. She even mentioned things down to the detail of the basket that would contain messy dishes, or the streamlining of expense report processes so they could live it out.

[00:20:01] So to implement this at your company, think about your mission statement or your vision statement. Then, challenge each person on the team to find one small process; I’m talking tiny. One small process or workflow that seems out of alignment with your mission or vision. Keep it super small so the changes isn’t daunting, it doesn’t require approvals and it doesn’t get all bogged down. And then get it aligned so that you’re modeling your mission through just the tiniest daily actions.

[00:20:31] In her other example on meaning and purpose, I’m thinking she made everyone listening drool. Maybe you feel a little jealous about the fact that at J2C the job that you’re hired to do isn’t necessarily your job for long because if you have an idea, and it’s really using your strengths, you can contribute that to the company, then you can shape your job to make the most of your talents.

[00:20:51] Well, I know not every corporate culture is that flexible, yet apply her idea at work by thinking of a task, or a responsibility, that you’ve really been drawn to, you’ve really been interested in or you thought, “Oh, I would like to try that out. I’d love to spend time doing that.” And then apply that interest by spotting a need in your actual business and filling that need.

[00:21:13] So if you can solve a business problem while you’re also in your zone of genius, I’m talking your personal zone of genius, then you’ll become known for the thing you love working on. So even if it’s an act of voluntarism and it’s an extra duty you’re taking on, what a great thing to build a personal brand around the things you love doing because then they’ll become the core of your job. Even in the most rigid of workplaces I’ve found that people can shape their jobs this way over the long term.

[00:21:44] Finally, in the RAMP model, we have P for positive interactions. You know, Sam said it so beautifully, that notion that if you value people more than the work product, value people more than the product, it will make the work product shine while people are also feeling valued for their contribution, so you actually get both by focusing through the people.

[00:22:09] In her first example she talked about the value of communication. Now they live out their version of communication by just being so transparent and open that you can even interrupt a senior officer at the company just like you do to your buddy in the cube next to you. So, to apply these concepts to your company, think about behaviors or traditions that highlight the hierarchy in your organization, the things that build walls between people. Yes, I know this sounds like opposite world, and it is, because you’re going to do something that tears down those walls.

[00:22:39] So, for example, if you’re a VP with a reserved parking spot, give it to the winner of your new CEO Circle Award for a month. Or if you usually only have one-on-ones with your direct reports, go on a listening tour by holding one-on-ones with every person in your department. It doesn’t cost money, it’s just time and interest and what makes them great. Just go out of your way to connect at a human level. You don’t even have to be a manager to do this.

[00:23:05] So, for example, if you’re a marketing coordinator and you have a new intern on the team, offer your mentorship. Do something that makes the line of communication seem very open and natural regardless of level.

[00:23:17] Now, other examples of positive interactions were just plain sprinkled all over the interview. You heard her talk about the “build your own terrarium day” in Austin. I’m sure those are around, lots of interesting ways to do team building. You heard how they eat lunch together every day. You heard about how they break at 3:00 p.m. for tea time. And this consistent interaction with different people around the company helps them know a lot about what makes the other person tick. That gets them business results because it makes it easier to collaborate when they actually need things from each other.

[00:23:54] So, now, think about your team. Can you add a Taco Monday like Jobs2Careers? Will your team take plank breaks? Yeah, like workout planks. This is something else I learned about J2C later, that their customer support team does planks together so to get an energizer. So pick something that’s small and easy to start with, just something that does break the typical pattern of interaction even if it’s three minutes a day, just something that feels like it really jives with the groove of your team.

[00:24:24] Okay, so with that, you’re off to the races. Now you have at least 10 inspirations for how you can use the idea of RAMP, relationship, accomplishment, meaning or positive interaction on your team. Just pick one. Do one thing this week to nurture your culture. And this is in perfect alignment with building a strengths-based culture or a strengths-focused team. If you’re noticing what works, you’re going to get more of what works.

[00:24:56] So, like what we always say, 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 claim your new work culture and share that positive result with the world.

Direct download: 038-Samantha-Smith.mp3
Category:careers -- posted at: 2:30am CDT

This Episode’s Focus on Strengths

This week Lisa speaks with Pete Mockaitis, who joins us in a live example of what it’s like to explore your StrengthsFinder results for the first time.

Pete's Top 10 StrengthsFinder Talent Themes:  Ideation, Strategic, Learner, Activator, Input, Connectedness, Woo, Communication, Positivity, Individualization

Lisa’s Top 10 StrengthsFinder Talent Themes:   Strategic, Maximizer, Positivity, Individualization, Woo, Futuristic, Focus, Learner, Communication, Significance

Resources of the Episode

You can reach Pete through the Awesome at Your Job website. You can also connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn. And you should because he's awesome!

Here's the link to Pete's podcast, and to his interview of Lisa Cummings.

Books, terms, and other websites mentioned in this podcast:

Book: Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade by Dr. Robert Cialdini

Study: 80/20 Rule, which is also called the Pareto Principle

Term: Leadership Domains as explained by my friends at Leadership Vision Consulting. They're another firm who offers Strengths based leadership training.

And our favorite resource of the episode: evidence of Pete's wicked-awesome talent of one-handed clapping:


You'll also find lots of StrengthsFinder, leadership, and team tools on our "https://www.google.com/url?hl=en&q=http://leadthroughstrengths.com/resources&source=gmail&ust=1487264698482000&usg=AFQjCNHUtPcayNXycHfGq_r2Crj5sPIU7w">Strengths Resources page.


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.

Here's The Full Transcript of the Interview

Lisa Cummings: [00:00:08] You’re listening to Lead Through Strengths, where you’ll learn to apply your greatest strengths at work. I’m your host, Lisa Cummings, and I’ve got to tell you, whether you’re leading a team or leading yourself, it’s hard to find something more energizing and productive than using your natural talents every day at work.

And today you’re going to get a really unique episode on StrengthsFinder. It’s different from our usual guest interview. Today, your guest joins us in a live example of what it’s like to explore your StrengthsFinder results for the first time. So I think a lot of guests are going to identify with his love of learning and his corporate experiences.

He’s actually a former consultant for Bain so he has that pedigree company thing on his list that many of you. And today he’s the trainer and chief at Awesome At Your Job, so you’ll hear more about that and his show as we dig in.

So, you know, if you’re a regular listener of this show that we’re going to talk about how his differences are his differentiators. So you’ll enjoy hearing a fun fact about him. So, here it goes. This guy has a unique talent of being able to clap with one hand. So, Pete Mockaitis, welcome to the show. Please give yourself a one-handed welcome and demonstrate for us.

Pete Mockaitis: [00:01:34] Oh, Lisa, thank you. That’s such a unique welcome and it’s fun to do, and here we go. [one-handed claps]

Lisa Cummings: [00:01:40] I can’t believe that is really happening with one hand. It is blowing my mind. You’re going to have to make us a video so we can see what that actually looks like. I can’t believe that’s possible.

Pete Mockaitis: [00:01:51] I can do that, yes, and that’s probably my number one strength is one-handed clapping. It opens a lot of doors.

Lisa Cummings: [00:01:58] [laughs] Your hand can open a door in a traditional way...but his hand...watch out.

Pete Mockaitis: [00:02:01] Oh, well-played.

Lisa Cummings: [00:02:05] Watch out. Oh, my gosh. We’re going to totally have this video on the show notes, so if you’re listening click on over to that because that’s a serious talent. I love it. [laughs] Okay, let’s get into the serious side of super powers. That’s one, I tell you, parlor tricks though they could fuel the Woo that you have up in there. I think there’s something tied here. Maybe that’s how you discovered it. Maybe we’ll uncover that today.

Pete Mockaitis: [00:02:30] Oh, are folks being won over as we speak, or are they turned off? We’ll see with your emails that come flowing in.

Lisa Cummings: [00:02:35] That’s right. Okay. So, you know in this episode, we’re going to do this like a sample of exploring your StrengthsFinder talents for the first time. Well, we’re going to have to start by telling them what your Talent Themes here. So give them your top five.

Pete Mockaitis: [00:02:50] Okay, can do. With just the words or the descriptions as well?

Lisa Cummings: [00:02:54] Let’s get a little “Meet Pete” moment. So do the word and also the one sentence what this looks like on you.

Pete Mockaitis: [00:03:03] Okay. So, first, I’ll give a quick preview – one, Ideation; two, Strategic; three, Learner; four, Activator; and five, Input.

In terms of the one sentence:

1) Ideation, it’s true I am fascinated by ideas and how they connect together on my podcast with guests. I eat it up when I see “Oh, wait, there’s one thing someone said” can combine with that other thing they said, so I’m going to focus on prioritizing with the one thing but also building some tiny habits and, boom, there’s this combination synergy goodness, and so that resonates.

2) Strategic. I buy that in terms of if I’m always thinking about sort of what’s the optimal path forward, that’s the name of my company – Optimality, LLC – getting the band for the buck and sort of that 80/20 Rule and action, I’m really after that.

3) For Learner, it’s true. Ever since I was a youngster that’s kind of where my trainer and chief story starts. I was always going to the library reading books about goal-setting, success, teamwork, collaboration, influence. I was just into that stuff, and I remain to this day.

4) Activator, it’s true. I am often impatient. I’m excited to put things into action. Just this week I was thinking it’s just too much trying to manage the guests with merely emails and spreadsheets. I need a CRM, customer relationship management piece of software, and five hours later I had tried nine of them and made my decision. So, yeah, I got after it right away. That’s kind of my nature. I’ll wake up and I’ll have an idea and I just want to like run to the computer and implement it.

5) And then, finally, Input. I do, I love to get perspective from wise folks and learn all that they have to offer and collect multiple opinions to really prove or disprove the sort of key facts or assertions that are going to make or break a given decision.

Lisa Cummings: [00:04:59] These are so good. Thanks for adding the Pete color because even for people who don’t understand the basic definition of it and Gallup’s terminology you explained it and then added your individual color. Just seeing as a kid in the library, I’m imagining you going back and training them so it’ll be fun to hear the depth on that. And then Activator, one that just happened the other day. It’s just a really great specific example so we can see what these are like in real life.

So, let’s talk about if we really relate this to career, and you think back on one of your proudest accomplishments, tell us about that snapshot in time.

Pete Mockaitis: [00:05:40] You know, I’m thinking, the first thing that leaps to mind is just getting the job at Bain & Company itself. I’d say it was very meaningful to me because I had been interested in it for some years before it came about, and it was just a vivid moment. I can recall when I was emceeing a date auction event as a fundraiser in college for a student organization, and when I got the call I just handed the microphone to someone, walked off stage, received the call.

It was great news. I was excited. I hugged my friend, Emily, who was wearing a red puffy coat. It’s forever enshrined in my brain as like the moment that this thing I had been after for some years was now mine.

Lisa Cummings: [00:06:31] I love how vivid your imagery is and all of these. Take us through the preparation, what it was like for you getting ready for applying for this job, making it a thing. It sounds like it was a long time coming. So how was that playing out in your life, leading up to that phone call?

Pete Mockaitis: [00:06:49] Oh, sure thing. Well, I was sort of an odd kid in my sort of freshman year of college. I was sort of determined like, “By golly, I want to work in a top strategy consulting firm when I graduate, and so that’s just what I’m going to do.” And so I began exploring different avenues very early on in terms of student organizations and what were the linkages and how I could have sort of a distinctive profile that I would be intriguing to them.

I went to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign which is not a hotbed for recruiting into those firms, but there are a few each year who get in, and I wanted to be one. So, I remember I would sort of try to find the right people, and the right organizations, and learn from them and see what I could do. And I remember, talk about vivid experiences, I was chatting guy named Bo who was wearing a Harry Potter wizard hat at a Halloween party.

And he said, “Oh, you should join the student organization.” And I was like, “Oh, I was thinking about that, but isn’t that kind of more technology stuff?” And he’s like, “Oh, no. It’s much broader than that. Yeah, and they’re always chatting with so-and-so and they do case interviews,” which is a key step to get a job in these firms, “to get in and, yeah, I think you’d like it.”

And so I was excited to discover that opportunity and then go after it. Then once I met a real person named Jeff who had the position, I was just having a real lot of fun chatting with him and seeing, “Hey, what’s it like on the inside? Is it really what I’ve built it up to be?” and sort of receiving that reinforcement that it was good.

And then, ultimately, I think the biggest hurdle to get the job is the case interview where you have to sort of solve business problems live before the interviewer’s eyes. And so I did a lot of prep. I got the books, I even recorded myself doing case interviews. I’d listen to them back to see how I was doing and to see how I might tweak it to seem more engaging or succinct and insightful.

I remember I was listening to myself doing case interviews while driving up to the interview the day before. So those are things that leap to mind there.

Lisa Cummings: [00:09:06] Those are so good. Now, if you look at your talents, and then you try to make some linkages, now I’ve made a bunch of linkages and I’ve even, although the listeners can’t see your list beyond your top five, as you would not be surprised if you know a Learner and Input. Pete immediately goes out and wants more input and grabs the full 34 premium version of assessment so he can see the whole lineup.

So I see a bigger lineup and I have some things popping into my head about your number 6, Connectedness, and your number 7, Woo. But when you look at your list and you think back on that experience, what links do you see where you’re using those talents as you’re preparing?

Pete Mockaitis: [00:09:47] Oh, sure thing. Well, it’s interesting, in terms of Activator it’s like, “This is the thing I want and so I’m going to start now.” I was a freshman and I was evaluating opportunities. Not only whether they were fun and I would get to meet people, but if they would take me to where I wanted to go, and then jumping in full force for those things I thought could really do it. So, I guess that’s Activator. I’m getting right to it yet Strategic is that I was kind of being selective, and saying, “You know, while that club sounds kind of interesting, I don’t think it’s going to have as much sort of bang for my buck, in terms of taking me where I want to be.”

And so the interestingness is not quite enough to offset this. And then with Ideation, I think I did take some novel approaches to having distinctive profile, like I authored a book in college about leadership and student organizations, and I saw the opportunity to be the Secretary General of our model United Nations, which I thought, “Well, that’s a really cool leadership opportunity in terms of managing dozens of people and thousands of dollars to put together an event for hundreds of folks. Ooh, that’ll be a real nice concept to make an impression, as well as having a ton of fun.” So I was a pure career-seeking robot along the lines.

But I do see those in learning, yeah, talking to folks, learning what the firms want, how they operate, getting the books. And Input, certainly, talking to numerous people along the way to confirm, “Is this really what I think it is?” and learn, “Well, what needs to be done in order to get there?”

Lisa Cummings: [00:11:30] You’re bringing up what happens for a lot of people where if they heard the descriptors in the StrengthsFinder Talent Themes, and they listen to the thing that you just described, they would probably think, “Achiever” because it seems like the easy way to describe what you accomplished. And although Achiever is middle of the road for you, 13, it’s not extraordinarily high but you found extreme achievement at that age.

So, you’re demonstrating something that’s really cool which is I always tell people. StrengthsFinder doesn’t tell you what you go do in your career. It’s more about how you can go do it, leaning through the talents you have. So you found achievement through totally different talents and it’s dangerous to try to look at the words on the surface.

And I think if I listened to your show, which I do.

Pete Mockaitis: [00:12:21] Oh, thank you.

Lisa Cummings: [00:12:22] Which is called Awesome At Your Job. So, for those of you listening and you want to check it out, we’ll put the link in the show notes. It’s a great show about being awesome at your job overall. I think if listened to that show I may hypothesize that you have an Analytical talent, for example, because I know that you mention research studies very often, you mention proof points, your favorite hobby is Monopoly. So you have some of these things, right, that some people might think, “Oh, that sounds like an Analytical guy.”

And Talent Themes show up more in how you approach what you do not necessarily what those interests are. So, kind of fascinating thing you’re bringing up. So, tell us about yearnings and interests, like Monopoly and research studies and proof points, and things that you talk about in your show and how your Talent Themes speak to those.

Pete Mockaitis: [00:13:14] Oh, that is interesting in terms of just what’s fun. So, on my honeymoon, just a few months ago – Yay.

Lisa Cummings: [00:13:23] Yay.

Pete Mockaitis: [00:13:24] I was reading this book Pre-Suasion by Dr. Robert Cialdini on the beach. And so it’s funny, it’s non-fiction but that was just fascinating and fun for me, I was like, “Oh, wow. Well, here’s an interesting fact. They did study and here’s what happened.” And so I’ll find that all the more thrilling than most works of fiction because I guess Ideation is fuelling that fascination in terms of I’m thinking, “Oh, look at all these implications for how I could go put that to work and make things happen.”

And for Monopoly, it’s so funny. I remember one time I was meeting this guy for the first time, his name is Peter; fine name, fine guy.

Lisa Cummings: [00:14:09] Fine name.

Pete Mockaitis: [00:14:11] [laughs] And so as we were playing Monopoly he kept asking me some questions about my career journey and how I went into Bain and why I left Bain and started my own business and these things. And I’ll tell you what, I was so focused on the strategic options and decisions I had to make in that game Monopoly to win I actually had in my head the idea that this guy is trying to distract me in order to win at Monopoly.

Lisa Cummings: [00:14:40] [laughs]

Pete Mockaitis: [00:14:41] I thought, “Pete, that’s crazy. Most people don’t care. They play games to socialize in fun ways.” [laughs] I was being a little rude in retrospect. I kind of apologized to him. I gave him very short answers, I was like, “Well, ultimately, that’s just something I’ve always loved to do.” You know, just one- or two-sentence responses.

Lisa Cummings: [00:15:01] Let’s get back to the seriousness of Park Place, buddy. [laughs] Okay. So, now what you’re helping me see and raise is this concept of domains. I don’t know if you know this about StrengthsFinder, but they’ve done some studies on leadership, and these four domains of leadership actually came from quite a large study on followers.

So, if I look at your talent lineup, not to get too nerdy and distract from the story of you, I’ll give you the quick version. There are four different domains of leadership that people often find their strength in, and yours, to give you the tell as I lean into it, you come in really hot on the Strategic Thinking Talents, and then second highest your Influencing.

So, there are four categories. You have the Relationship Talents. You have the Influencing Talents. You have the Strategic Thinking talents, the thinker guy that you probably are, and then you have Executing Talents. And so, as I listened to your reaction to the Monopoly thing, I could see you being really in your head about what was going on in the situation.

The way I look at these four domains is that they’re all valuable, and they’re all useful ways that you can demonstrate leadership, but this is kind of, when you have one that comes in heavy in your top five, it’s often the color of glasses you’re wearing. Like yours would be, if you looked at your StrengthsFinder report, the Strategic Thinking Talents are actually colored red. And you could see, “Okay, look, my first view on things, the lens I’m going to see the world through will, first, likely be thinking about it.”

Now you have a lot of fast-thinking talents, so Ideation is fast and Strategic is fast, so it’s not like you’re going to go deep and sit around and ponder things deeply for months. You can boom, boom, boom, react to that guy and have your answer. And I noticed your Influencing Talents are also high on your list. You have Activator, Woo, Communication up in your top 10. It’s interesting to see those two. How does that play into how you’ve seen yourself and your career?

Pete Mockaitis: [00:17:12] Well, that is interesting. And what’s funny is I have a little bit of a hard time switching at times in that I really do like people and building relationships, and connecting and laughing and seeing how we’re similar and how we can help each other and collaborate and all those good things. That’s fun for me. But surprising, or I don’t know, just kind of part of how I go, is that when I get deep into the realm of this Ideation, Strategic, Input, Thinking and I’m trying to crack something, or figure it out, it’s just sort of like Peter in that game of Monopoly.

It’s like, “I’m not in people mode right now. I am in finding an optimal solution given all of my options and constraints mode right now.” And I feel a bit sort of like I’m being pulled away from that which I’m attached to and I’m into at the moment, or I’m just sort of like I’m not really present or there. I think that does show up in that they are different clusters and I feel them differently in terms of my whole headspace and emotional state. It’s like, “I’m not in people mode right now.”

And sometimes my wife will notice and she would like me to enter into people mode as we’re being together, or where she’ll just say, “Okay, you’re in your groove. Go ahead and finish that first.” So that’s the first thing that pops to mind there.

Lisa Cummings: [00:18:45] What a deep powerful insight. I love hearing how the thinking stuff is playing out in your head, and then also the relationship part. So, I apply StrengthsFinder to work all the time and find that sometimes the easiest ones to get how you perform relative to other people is through people you’re really close to. So your wife probably knows you about as well as anyone in the world so she’s going to be more comfortable saying it out loud or noticing it or mentioning it. Do you happen to know hers? Has she taken this yet?

Pete Mockaitis: [00:19:20] You know, I don’t think she has.

Lisa Cummings: [00:19:22] Okay. Would be fun. So this could be one where you say, “Okay, look, your first Relationship Talent is Connectedness. It’s your number six. I hear you relying on it relatively often.” So you could ask a question like how could you lean on your Connectedness talent when you’re trying to consciously switch into a mode that would complement the conversation you two are having?

Pete Mockaitis: [00:19:47] That is a great question. And, particularly Connectedness, that’s one of those words for the Strengths Finders that makes me think of, “Oh, like a super network.” But, no, no. Connectedness is more about having sort of like the faith in why things are the way they are or a higher power. And so, for me, that is big.

I’m a Catholic Christian. I think tapping into some of those, well, one, I guess is the headspace of worship or sort of loving people and serving them as folks made in the image and likeness of God can be pretty potent in terms of a reminder of, “Hey, what’s really important here?” “Well, how about we give that person the listening ear and respect and attention that they deserve?”

Lisa Cummings: [00:20:32] Oh, this is so good. I could take this in 20 directions because, one, I hear the interplay of Talents, how your Connectedness and Strategic gets so wound together because you do have so many Thinking Talents, the connection of ideas and not just people and meaning but pull all those things together – connecting meaning, connecting people, connecting ideas. Those are going to play out for you in a way that might even be difficult to separate, you know, “Which talent thing is talking here?”

And then your first Executing Theme is Belief and that, of course, I hear it in what you just said, and so it really helps me see when you say it. Oh, yeah, this would drive how you go about getting things done as well with the perspective of the meaning in your life and what is this all for and how does it play out. I also think this is the direction I’ll ultimately take it, because there are so many ways we could go from that conversation.

So a lot of people struggle with this. You look at your lineup, and I’ve told you about these leadership domains, and you see, “Oh, my gosh. My first Executing Talent is number 12. This sounds like a person. Oh, no, I might be doomed. Does it mean I never get anything done?” Well, clearly you get a lot done. You are a machine it seems. So, where do you get your ability to achieve and get the outcomes and results you want? Because you clearly do.

Pete Mockaitis: [00:22:00] How does it happen? Well, I think part of is just that I think about it in terms of I have a standard in mind in terms of how things should be or go. I think that’s kind of a vague broad thing to say. But, day after day, what mostly happens is I have kind of a picture in my head for what is done, good, complete, dream, nirvana state look like, and then I have all these ideas for what are the things that I could do that I couldn’t bring it there. And then I just become very excited about those ideas and I just sort of run after them.

In terms of the CRMs, I was thinking, “I have a dream” – so dramatic.

Lisa Cummings: [00:22:57] [laughs] Martin Luther Pete has a dream of CRM systems.

Pete Mockaitis: [00:23:03] In which every guest that comes on my show will be absolutely outstanding, like leaving me and listeners with, “Wow.” Well, what’s it take to get there? Well, probably a fuller pipeline so that I don’t ever have a scramble in terms of, “Oh, I’m a little light on interview appointments. I better get some right away.” That’s like an obstacle to that is like when you have the time to patiently vet candidates as opposed to, “Oh, I’ve got to grab somebody,” then the odds are in your favor in terms of getting great ones.

So then, I think, “Well, then what does that system look like? And how can I do that without spending my whole life stuck into analyzing their tweet history?” That’s how I often think about how it gets done, is I feel this tension inside me. It’s like, “I want that to be real and I’ve got these compelling, exciting ideas for what I could do to make that real so let’s go do it.”

Lisa Cummings: [00:24:01] It’s really pretty deep what you just said because I could see Strategic helping you sort quickly, “Here’s the outcome. What’s the best way to get there?” Boom, your Activator says, “Go!” and then you create these systems and the insight that listeners won’t have, is that you and I have had some other conversations outside of this.

Pete and I are pals. So we’ll talk podcast nerd-talk and he has all these great systems and team members who make things happen, and it actually is one of the great things you can do as Activator. You partner with people who see it through the finish line so that you can get the excitement at the starting line, and then other people can do the execution of the systems you’ve established and the vision you’ve created. So it’s actually a beautiful way you’ve worked through it.

Pete Mockaitis: [00:24:43] Oh, thank you. You know, it’s so funny, when you say it like that I think, “Well, of course, isn’t that how everyone does it?” And the answer is I guess clearly, “No, it’s not.” Because I think, “Well, isn’t executing the same thing hundreds of times kind of dull?” But, no, some people are into that.

Lisa Cummings: [00:24:59] A-ha. Okay. So, here’s the last topic we’ll bring up only because we’re running out of time because, geez, this would be so much fun to keep going and going and going. So that comment you just made made me think of the Talent Theme of Consistency, doing the same thing hundreds and hundreds of times. Well, it is Pete’s number 33 talent, so we call that a lesser talent, or maybe somebody else’s talent. Meaning somebody else, right? Yes, somebody else might get really excited about doing something the same way consistently over and over every day. But if Pete had to do that every day, what would work feel like for you?

Pete Mockaitis: [00:25:37] Oh, it would just be so dull. It’s like I would want sort of some spark of newness to make it come together.

Lisa Cummings: [00:25:48] This is a great way to end the show because living in your strengths makes you a stronger performer. Living in your strengths brings you energy and enjoyment about your job. If you’re pulling on your lesser talents, or someone else’s talents, all day every day, you feel drained, you feel burned out, and so many people feel like that and wonder, “You know, gosh, it’s not so hard and people are nice. So why do I feel like this?” And that’s often why, it’s because they’re calling on their weaknesses all day every day but they just don’t quite realize why.

So, thanks, in an unexpected way, for illustrating that point because that is so powerful for people to have that insight.

Pete Mockaitis: [00:26:25] Oh, thank you. It’s been a blast.

Lisa Cummings: [00:26:27] It has been a blast. I’m so excited to have you here to do this. I wish we could triple down on it. Let’s get listeners over to you because you have so many great shows to help people be awesome at their jobs. So, where should they go to dig into your content, your training, your podcasts?

Pete Mockaitis: [00:26:42] Oh, sure thing. Thank you. Well, I’d say if you’re already, well, you are a podcast listener, fire up your app and whatever you’re doing and search Awesome Job. That should be enough to pop up the show How To Be Awesome At Your Job. Lisa herself is a guest on an episode. You might check that out to get another flavor for her. Or just my website AwesomeAtYourJob.com.

And it’s been fun. I’ve had about 130, wow, conversations with tremendous folks and every one of them is about trying to sharpen the universal skills required to flourish at work. So, whether you’re an executive, or a manager, or an individual contributor in marketing, or finance, or anything, it should be applicable because that’s kind of the primary screen we’re using.

Lisa Cummings: [00:27:26] I second that. It is a fantastic show. I met Pete last year, and ever since leaving our meet-up in Chicago, I just have been an avid listener, and it’s just full of great guests and great tips. If you want to go back and listen through the lens of the StrengthsFinder Talents it’ll be really fun to do that. Also, for listeners, if you want some Strengths focus tools to use with your team at work, also check out LeadThroughStrengths/resources and you’ll get a bunch of great free info there.

As we close episode, remember using your strengths makes you a stronger performer at work. If you’re putting a lopsided focus on fixing your weaknesses you’re probably choosing the path of most resistance. So claim your talents and share them with the world.


Direct download: 037-pete-mockaitis.mp3
Category:careers -- posted at: 2:30am CDT

This Episode’s Focus on Strengths

This week Lisa speaks with Alexsys (Lexy) Thompson. They discuss lots of ideas about how to apply strengths to both conflict on your team and gratitude on your team. If you interact with others in your daily life, then this is the episode for you!

Lexy’s Top 10 StrengthsFinder Talent Themes:  Strategic, Connectedness, Futuristic, Intellection, Command, Input, Activator, Ideation, Self-Assurance, Relator

Lisa’s Top 10 StrengthsFinder Talent Themes:   Strategic, Maximizer, Positivity, Individualization, Woo, Futuristic, Focus, Learner, Communication, Significance

Resource of the Episode

You can reach Lexy through the Trybal Performance website. You can also connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

A great way to improve your communication skills is to take Lexy's communications course, Conversation Mechanics: How To Talk About It (Strengths-Based Communication)

Lexy's website has cool resources, including Gratitude Coupons, 34 Strengths Appreciation E-Cards, and more!

Books that are mentioned during this podcast:

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey

The SPEED of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything by Stephen M.R. Covey

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book) by Don Miguel Ruiz and Janet Mills

Strengths Tools

You'll also find lots of StrengthsFinder, leadership, and team tools on our Strengths Resources page.

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.

Here's a Full Transcript of the 30 Minute Interview

Lisa Cummings: You're listening to Lead Through Strengths where you'll learn to apply your greatest strengths at work. I'm your host, Lisa Cummings, and I've gotta tell ya, whether you're leading a team or leading yourself, it's hard to find something more energizing and productive than using your natural talents every day at work. Today, in this episode, we are going to talk about how strengths apply to conflict at work, and how you can apply strengths to gratitude on your team, and why that's important.

Your guest today is the founder of a company, Tribal Performance. I left last week, doing several events in New York City, and at those events a bunch of participants said they wished they had more Self-Assurance and more Command, so those are two specific talent themes people were wanting for. Your guest has both of those in her top 10 talents.

Even though I always tell participants, "spend your energy working with what you've got instead of worrying about what other people have - you can always get your outcomes through the talents you have," I figure you would still find it very fascinating to know that your guest has both of those talents. Shhhh. Even though she has them she's still totally terrified of snakes. As a gardener, this can be a scary thing, so even if you lead through Command and Self-Assurance, it doesn't make you bulletproof.

Besides being super unique, and out there with these unique talents, she's also top notch in strengths-based development. She focuses on delivering StrengthsFinder coaching, performance coaching, and training like I do. She's also planning an epic Airstream RV adventure and has some really awesome communication course content that will dribble into our conversation today. All kinds of great stuff.

With that, Lexy Thompson, welcome to the show.

Lexy Thompson: Thanks Lisa. Happy to be here.

Lisa Cummings: Let's dive right in. I mentioned conflict, and this is one of those items that is tough for teams to master. I'd be curious what your number one thing is that you think creates unproductive conflict in the workplace.

Lexy Thompson: Number one I would say is the avoidance of it, the fear of it, the almost aversion to it. Once we can get past that, we can figure out how to actually lean into it. The funny part about this is at the executive level this seems to be the one competency that sets everybody apart. The best of the best at the senior levels are able to manage this day in and day out with some grace and kindness and high level of accountability.

You and I do our work at that mid-level management often times, and that's often a really good space for them to start trying to get comfortable with what's uncomfortable for them.

Lisa Cummings: I think that's really smart because a lot of people listening are people managers and they want to be in executive roles and I could absolutely agree that that does seem to be a distinguishing factor, someone able to go in and really work in those situations confidently. There are also a lot of listeners who are individual contributors trying to be promoted into manager roles and that is about the number one complaint when I am working with people managers, and they say people have these conflicts on the team and they come into their office like tattle tales saying, "Oh, I'm having this issue with so-and-so ..." and are not addressing it head-on.

If you want to be viewed as a high performer, as self-sufficient, as having high emotional intelligence, you start learning your ways of addressing that head-on in a mutually respectful way, in a way that builds trust, you're going to be looked upon as a great candidate, or at least that area of you will make you a much more viable candidate for a leadership position in general.

What is the why that finally makes people see that this is important?

Lexy Thompson: The self-awareness piece, the strengths journey for somebody, is really eye opening. Inside of that awareness, as much as they're willing to really enter in and do some work, the confidence just builds because you start to ... The wiring's there, you just haven't run down the road long enough to pave it. Once you've got that paved, your ability to run down and come back, you can do it within nanoseconds where it might have taken you minutes before. The more you do that the more confident you become, the stronger runner that you are and then you're willing to enter most races and give it a spin.

Conflict really isn't much different than that; it's just knowing that you can take what you've learned here and see how you can apply it in a new situation.

Lisa Cummings: If you're a manager, how do you know whether your team is functional or not? Let's start with how it looks. If you walk in a room and you see a functional team contrasted with a meeting with a dysfunctional team, what are the differences in how they appear?

Lexy Thompson: There are actual body language cues. There are, like the way people sit, the way people walk in a room, the eye contact that you'll see in the meeting. Whenever I see teams talking to a person in the room but they're looking somewhere else, that tells me there's an avoidance of some type going on, whether it's conflict or self-confidence or whatever, there's something that isn't working amongst at least that two-person group, much less the whole group.

Sometimes you walk in a meeting and you feel high-energy and you feel productivity and in other meetings, you'll walk in and you'll feel flat and kind of dull, and that's another cue too.

Lisa Cummings: What do you do next? Say you're a manager, you've walked into a team, you're new to the company, you get the vibe of the 'something is wrong here' and you have to figure out how to put your finger on it. What are the steps that you take to start to unravel it and understand what the root of it is?

Lexy Thompson: Firstly you check yourself. We all, every single one of us, bring our baggage with us when we go anywhere. What I found helpful when I was learning to be really proficient here was to see what was the story I brought into the scenario I was experiencing called conflict, or avoidance of conflict. Once I could check that, I could either say, "Okay, it is something that's outside of me that I'm going to need to engage with," or "It's a filter and a judgment that I just ran and I called it conflict but it really isn't, there's no data on the other side of this table or this room to help me validate that and I can check myself before I start diving in with someone else." That's the first part.

That's the hardest part sometimes because it's called fatal attribution when we think that our faults are about the other person or environment but if it's someone else's faults, it's their character, so we really have to do that homework first.

Lisa Cummings: I love that, when it's simplified down to the idea that you judge yourself by your intentions and you judge somebody else by their actions. It's easy to see the actions and say, "Oh, that's a character flaw," because you don't know the thing that's going in behind the scenes in the mind. I also think it's tough to know what you're assuming because you only know what's in your own head. How do you take people through that process? You've been checking yourself, how do you check in on assumptions and what's going on and probe into what's happening in a way that maintains the trust?

Lexy Thompson: Probably the next step would be really owning your part of that, and making sure that you use language that shows the other person that you own your part of that. If you and I are in a room and I'm concerned about something in relationship to you, I would say it just like that, "Lisa, this is my story. This is what I'm experiencing. I'm not sure if I'm checking myself or do you feel something, a different version of this or any version of this where you are?" At that point the conversation will evolve and it will go where it needs to go and there may be avoidance on your part, maybe you don't see it or you're not ready. There's going to be a dialog there but at least when I open up and say, "I have something going on over here and I'd really like your help to discover what that is."

You have to make sure your intention and your authenticity is just that because what I'll see new people when they're learning this do, is they'll use the language, but they really are just waiting to tell you what's wrong with you. That doesn't build trust because people sniff that out, right?

Lisa Cummings: That's funny because the surface reaction is always to go back to the Stephen Covey concept of seek first to understand, and then to be understood and to actually genuinely do that. There's a little deeper level around subtext. That concept about you saying people can sniff that out, I think that's surprising to a lot of managers and I know it's surprising to a lot of people, I see it in my workshop. This just happened last week where someone when I asked them about when you're getting triggered and when you're at your worst, what does that look like? This woman said, "Well, I get really quiet and I kind of shut down, so maybe people would realize I'm not talking as much but I don't think they would know anything is wrong."

Several teammates started laughing, and a guy said, "No, no, no you have this eyebrow thing," and he was just being really specific about, "I know exactly when something is wrong." She was totally surprised by all of this. I think people fool themselves into thinking that they can have a poker face, even the people who will beat their chests and say, "I don't bring my feelings into the workplace, it's just about the facts, ma'am." They're still going to show it.

This kind of reminds me of your whole concept of a safe place for souls to show up and that you really can't hide how your soul needs to show up because it's there and no matter what words come out of your mouth, people will be able to tell if it's incongruent, or if it doesn't really sound like you feel like you, act like you, at your core. They'll know something's off, even if they can't name it. How do you go through that process to really even understand how you're showing up to you and to other people?

Lexy Thompson: Yeah, so this is kind of where that beautiful 360 that everybody enjoys doing comes in. You actually do need mirrors in your life, whether it's a good friend who you trust with everything or it's a work mate that you've just met, really seeking feedback in a space where you're willing to take it in and then do something with it, process it, and that doesn't mean that everybody's feedback is equal and it doesn't mean everybody's feedback you have to wear like a shawl.

Inside all of it there's some level of truth, because if you're resonating with one person like that, the odds are that there are more. The biggest ... The funny part, or the odd part of this is most people will say to me, "This happened today in a team meeting." They're learning each other's strengths. One person said something they needed around a belief that they have, and then another person said, "Yeah, now that I know you need that I know you need that ..." and she's like, "Well, are you going to give it to me?" She goes, "Well, I don't know. Why should I have to change how I approach it to meet your need?" There it was, right?

There's that concern about having to change who I am, in order to be with you the way you need me to be. That's a really interesting paradigm for someone to venture into, and really have their own internal conversation around, "How can I hold my own authenticity, and still meet the need of someone else in a conversation so that they can hear what I'm saying, I can hear what they're saying, and we can receive each other as we need to in that space?"

I have not experienced it. I won't say it never exists because just because I haven't experienced doesn't make it so. I have not experienced in the many, many negotiations and conflict mediations I've done, where someone couldn't show up in an authentic way, and meets someone's need and lost in that scenario. It doesn't mean it wasn't scary, it doesn't mean that it didn't take a lot of guts in some situations, but I've never, ever seen anyone lose.

Lisa Cummings: Talk about authenticity at work, and what you see most often people being afraid to show.

Lexy Thompson: Most people are not willing to show what they need. When we talk about strengths, going back to that topic, that whole precedence is that we have a needs and contribution piece to strengths. That conversation, when we have that and people are discovering and I'm sure, Lisa, you've had the same fun, amazing transformative times with your clients. When they're able to actually look across the table and do it in a really safe way. My Responsibility needs these things so that I can contribute in this way. When people can communicate that cleanly to each other, people are actually willing to meet the needs so the contribution can be realized. I think it gives them a way to access that that didn't exist before.

Lisa Cummings: If one of the biggest obstacles in the way of people not showing up authentically, and they need to be able to express their needs, is one of the solutions for it, how do they really get to know their needs in the workplace?

Lexy Thompson: You're right, strengths is one, and it's a really nice, clean way to at least start to explore the possibilities. There are lots of other good assessments, I think, out there. They're as good as we want them to be and master them to be. The journey that I took to get myself there was really, and this is going to sound interesting I think, but it took me six years to get to the place where that was really true for me, and it started with a class we took as a company, and we were supposed to write a paragraph about our mission statement in the world, our purpose kind of thing.

Over time, I took another class and boiled it down to two sentences and then I got it down and down and down to the place where I can tell you that it's safe places for souls to show up. Every time that I choose to do anything in the world, personal or professional, if it can't meet that need, I don't do it. When I got that clear about my life, I was willing to show up and when you're willing to show up then you've got to take risks, right? You're not always going to be received in the way that you might like to, and certainly you won't be liked by everybody.

That also, I would tell you, would also help people with that Self-confidence piece because it goes through that filter of your main purpose on this planet and everything else just falls to the wayside.

Lisa Cummings: This is a great. I think a great pivot point to move into gratefulness as well, because we said we would talk about conflict and gratefulness at work. Some people I see receive this concept really open armed and I've worked with some companies that this has become just baked into their culture, and it's how they operate and they don't even have to think about it consciously. Other people have a reaction about, "Really? At work? This doesn't even sound like something that belongs in the office." Talk about that. Why gratitude?

Lexy Thompson: I wish I could remember whose quote it was but I think you'll know it when I refer to it, but there's that thing that someone who's appreciated will fight the last battle with you and that their performance is better and their health is better and all of those good things. There's a lot of science around it. I do a keynote about Tribal Gratitude. I do think there's the personal gratitude. Every morning I'm up in my journal, and I do my stuff there and then at the end of the day I wrap up my day in gratitude, every day for many years.

Then there was the, "Then what?" Beyond me, what do I do with that? We've been out exploring some of those things and reading some of the best stuff out there. The reality is when you start to extend it across to another human being, the emotional release in a really positive way is overwhelming. I think that might be the hesitation in the workplace, because for so long we didn't want to think feelings had a place. Even now, I'll hear hiring managers be like, "Oh, that's a feeling group. They cry at everything," or "They're upset at everything." The reality is we don't do much without an emotional jaunt to make us move one way or the other.

If you can be in a space where you're expressing gratitude in an appropriate way in your work environment on a pretty regular basis but very sincere and very specific, that's the other part, then that person, those behaviors that that person is sharing with you, are getting anchored over and over again so you're getting more of that good stuff and by default you'll get less of the stuff you don't desire. It also makes it, you know there's that old adage, "You need money in the bank to make a withdrawal."

Lisa Cummings: Yeah.

Lexy Thompson: We're really clear about that too that there's going to be times where it isn't going to be all happy and it isn't going to be easy. If you've done this other really good work on the front side it doesn't have to be really, really hard either.

Lisa Cummings: You're making me think back to a meeting when we were together a couple of months ago, and you suggested that we start off the meeting like that. I thought it was a really cool way that supports your point about understanding other people's needs, as well, and then getting more of, I call it, "Notice what works to get more of what works," because if you're noticing what's working about someone's contributions and then they see, "Oh, someone appreciated that. It's easy to deliver more of that,” because it's repeatable and then I noticed in the meeting where you asked us to kick off that way that the thing that resonated with each person was really different.

The thing that the person decided to comment on, they were all over the map and it told me about each person. It told me about what they value. It told me about what they want the meetings to be about. It told me a lot of information that without that conversation I wouldn't have understood their needs and their contributions in the same way. I can only imagine if you do that a daily practice as a team, you get some really deep insights into how the other people in the room are at their performance best.

Lexy Thompson: Yeah. It's pretty powerful and at Trybal we're virtual so we meet via the web, but at the end of every meeting we have Sunshine Shout-Outs where we, you know, they're not forced, not everybody has to say anything, it's just if it's showing up for you, we ask each other to share those things. We actually have gratitude coupons that are electronic that we give, they're free, and we just say, "Spread it." There's that, I don't know, it's some meme or something floating around saying that they're, you know, gratitude is one of those currencies you just never go bankrupt with, so why not?

Lisa Cummings: Oh, for sure. Yeah.

Lexy Thompson: Yeah.

Lisa Cummings: If you're talking to a team and whether it's an individual contributor or a manager, and they just want to start doing some of this at work and get a movement going, what are some of the practical tools and habits and things you can do? Give me some examples.

Lexy Thompson: There's actually just saying so, right? It doesn't even have to be a big to-do, it could just be at the end of a team meeting. You could just say, "Hey Lisa, I really appreciate that you had my back on that project, and if you hadn't been there it wouldn't have come out anywhere near as good as it, and thank you for that." Then you know, you know what your behavior was and you'll do more of that most likely next time. Too, you can be really formal. You can put pictures or memes or whatever into e-mails and just shoot them whenever someone's knocked it out of the park for whatever reason.

It doesn't have to be big stuff. I got a gratitude coupon once, and this is one of my favorite ones, and it was just a, "Hey thanks for saying 'hi' to me this morning. I needed that." We forget about those little things, about eye contact because we all have our heads down in or our phone or we're walking from here to there. In that vacuum people are just missing that human connection at some time or another. It helps us keep that stuff present.

Lisa Cummings: I agree. It doesn't have to be big and formal. I like that you leave people with a concept that no one has to ordain this. It doesn't have to be a company movement. It can be as simple as you deciding that when you walk by another human at work you're going to make eye contact and make them feel seen, and that can be a form of it. Just taking the time to give credit.

I had a leadership session recently where they were having some issues in the organization where employees were saying their managers were taking credit for the work they did. If you talked to the people managers, they have no idea that this is how that could even be perceived because they weren't intending to do that. People weren't feeling seen or appreciated, or that the credit was getting spread around, so essentially determined that they were all kind of being credit hoarders and takers instead of givers.

Once they started shifting that and saying, "Hey, the more generous I am with thanking people, and sharing that, "Oh, they made our team look really successful. They made our team act successful, and so we're going to give as much credit as possible." That it just spins up into more desire to be productive and more desire to do it, not just to say it but also to do more of it.

Lexy Thompson: Yeah, it does translate it into action. One of the most interesting phenomenons of it is the actual receiving of the gratitude. Most of us are willing and able to extend it. We may not have a practice of it and we may not be consistent, however when it's given back to us, sometimes it feels really awkward. There's also a learning about Self-awareness and even it could be a strengths conversation with yourself or your coach about what is that. What's going on with you when someone says, "Hey, thanks for a great job," and you feel awkward. Whatever that awkward looks like for you.

Lisa Cummings: I think this is a really important topic because it is a gift that you can receive and if you make someone feel like it's less than, "Oh, no, no, no, it's not a big deal. Oh, no, no, no ..." and you're dismissive of the gratitude, it could actually be like you're turning it down.

Lexy Thompson: Uh-huh.

Lisa Cummings: What does a gracious receiver do?

Lexy Thompson: They just smile and say, "Thank you." It's that simple. It's that simple, and it's that hard sometimes. I've had it happen to me. I'll do a keynote and I'm just as nervous every time I do it, and I could have done it a hundred times and someone will come up and say, "Thank you," and if it's more than that and they're trying to expand on that, I feel uncomfortable. I just stand there and I continue to say, "I really appreciate that." I actually let it into my heart. That's part of it, that I've gotten very deliberate with around heartful and mindful practice around receiving, and not just giving.

Lisa Cummings: I know you've been talking a lot lately, because I know you, about letting love in and you take a set of talents like Command or Self-assurance or Intellection or some of the talents in your line-up that people might stereotype as to saying your tendencies could be to not lead with a big loving heart. I don't know your full journey. I just know where you are today and really focusing on that. For somebody who is feeling more like, "Hey, I lead with the logic side and it's all just about the facts for me, and I just try to keep emotions out of work." Why would someone consider leading with a big old heart the way that you were just describing?

Lexy Thompson: Yeah. Thank you for that question. What comes up for me when you ask that question is my grandfather. He was a pretty savvy entrepreneur in a small town in Vermont, where I grew up, and when he was passing away, his cold, old hands were holding mine and I will never, ever forget this, and he said to me, "I won't ever wish I worked an extra day. I will have wished I loved a lot better." That stuck with me. I was young and I didn't really know what that meant at the time and I will tell you I'm just now starting to be able to manifest it in a way that I feel like I'm honoring that.

I will also tell you I work with a lot of people that come out of really bad places in their life, whether it's the death of a loved one, or their near death, or some tragedy. They don't wish that they could do more of the non-emotional work, it is always the relational work. When I look at my lineup of strengths I have Connectedness and Relator in my top ten. They're my only blue lines to humanity because I can spend days and weeks alone, and be quite content but at the end of all of that what matters is the impact that I left and that impact isn't on the bottom line, it's with people.

Lisa Cummings: Without them in your life what would your impact be on? It would just be on a thing.

Lexy Thompson: I think we're in interesting times, being where technology is leading us and there are so many exciting things to explore with technology. This podcast would be a good example of that, right? This conversation wouldn't have existed.

Lisa Cummings: What a great point. It would have only been able to be in a big network environment in a niche like people who are interested in strengths development. I don't think that's going to make it to primetime 20 years ago.

Lexy Thompson: Yeah, I agree. Yeah. It's exciting because I think that we also have an opportunity to find the things we need, when we need them, rather than just when they show up.

Lisa Cummings: Speaking of things that you need, when you need it, we can make some resources show up for people right now. We've referenced a couple of books and resources. We've mentioned Stephen Covey and The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I have a feeling that you do a lot of reading and gathering and researching. I also know you have a class on communications that is darn good. I've flipped through a lot of your content. Maybe since you're going to officially move from Houston, Texas, to Austin, Texas, I can just sit myself down into one. Anyway, tell people about some of your very favorite resources on this concept of communication, on conflict, on gratitude, and be sure to share your course inside of that.

Lexy Thompson: Around the communications piece, difficult conversations, crucial conversations, and non-violent communication are my favorites. They're easy to get to. They're usually on the top reader lists. I think they're all on Audible as well, which is my preferred mode right now. Around conflict, interestingly enough, it's not a conflict direct book but it's The Speed of Trust, also a Covey book, that I think answers a lot of the 'why' around 'why bother' and the value of building trust and the void that's there in conflict that is not trust, and how to bridge that gap.

Another favorite of mine, a real simple read that made a huge impact when I was going through kind of my mission for my own life, was The Four Agreements. It's a very simple thing and yet so very hard to keep top of mind and in action, but it made a difference. Those would be some recommendations I have.

Lisa Cummings: Great ones. Thank you.

Lexy Thompson: Yeah, you're welcome. The one we've developed that's on our website, we'll have a link here, it's a communications course and it has some of the best of the ones I mentioned kind of woven in there. The thing that I think sets it apart, is that it has the assessment StrengthsFinders on the front so as you're moving through the model of communication, you actually bring yourself and all your glorious baggage with you. When you come out of the course, you are quite clear, or at least beginning to be clear, where some of your weak points are going to be, and then how to make corrective action when you need to.

Lisa Cummings: I love it. I can't way to attend. It has been really cool exploring all of our glorious baggage - yours, mine, the listeners' thinking of their own. We'll make sure that we link up to all the resources that Lexy just mentioned, so that you can get your hands on those books and I'm with you, The Four Agreements, you don't even have to go to Audible because it's just teeny, it's a teeny little thing.

Lexy Thompson: Yeah, it is.

Lisa Cummings: There you go. It's like a back pocket size.

Lexy Thompson: It is.

Lisa Cummings: We'll get them all the links to that and to your course. I want to thank you, everyone, for listening again to Lead Through Strengths. Remember, using your strengths at work makes you a stronger performer at work.

Direct download: 036-Lexy-Thompson.mp3
Category:careers -- posted at: 2:30am CDT

This Episode’s Focus on Strengths

This week Lisa speaks with Adam Seaman. They chat about the difference between strengths and talents, as well as practical applications for your top strengths. This interview is a great introduction to what you can do with Clifton StrengthsFinder.

Adam’s Top 10 StrengthsFinder Talent Themes:  Strategic, Individualization, Ideation, Intellection, Input, Adaptability, Command, Activator, Empathy, Futuristic

Lisa’s Top 10 StrengthsFinder Talent Themes:   Strategic, Maximizer, Positivity, Individualization, Woo, Futuristic, Focus, Learner, Communication, Significance

Resource of the Episode

You can reach Adam through the Talent2Strength website. He also posts helpful thought leadership on Twitter. You'll definitely see his Intellection in action.

Strengths Tools

You'll also find lots of StrengthsFinder, leadership, and team tools on our Strengths Resources page.

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.


Here's a Full Transcript of the 30 Minute Interview

Lisa Cummings: This episode is about stepping back and understanding: what the tool of StrengthsFinder is, and what is it like for a team. Let's start with your opinion on why it is so awesome.

Adam Seaman: Great. My goal is to get other people as excited about it as I am. I don't always reach that goal of course, but it's the striving for it, and sometimes I succeed, and I call it "green lit" when I get somebody as excited about it as I am. StrengthsFinder stands out to me; one of the reasons is that it really gives that language that people can describe themselves with. I hear this all the time. It's like, "oh I always knew I had that quality, but I didn't know there was a name for it." Then they'll say, "and I didn't know other people had it or didn't have it, I just assumed everybody was like me." Those are some of the reasons why I really like this tool. The other is that it really dials into the individual, so instead of it being "I'm one of four colors", or "I'm one of 16 letter combinations", you have one in 278,000 chance of somebody having the same top five themes as you have. Those are just some of the reasons I really, really like this tool.

Lisa Cummings: That's so crazy. Any time I cite that number or the chances that someone else will have the same top five talent themes in the same order as you is 1 in 33 million. That just blows people's minds, and they think, "Okay, so this isn't going to be a training where you come into my team and talk to people about the four boxes you can put them in." It makes people so receptive to StrengthsFinder compared to other tools.

Adam Seaman: Yeah, I think it really makes them go, "Alright, this is serious, serious, stuff here. It really does dial into the individual." But then, it does create a little bit of a barrier because there are 34 themes that it measures you on, and learning all 34 is more daunting than learning four colors or something like that. That's definitely one of the challenges for people - to really access this tool deeply. But once you do...and this gets into another thing I really love about this...is most assessments you read it and you're like, "Alright, I guess that's accurate, I guess that describes me, and then what do I do with it?" You file it away because you don't want to throw it away, but what do you do with it? So you just file it away, and that's the real shame that I try to correct with StrengthsFinder.

Lisa Cummings: [laughing] You give them strength shamings.

Adam Seaman: [playing along] I do. I just shame them. If I'm in a grocery store and somebody is like, "Hey, I just took the StrengthsFinder" you know, as people do when they're in the grocery store.

Lisa Cummings: [jokingly] Definitely. When you're picking out butter. That's when I do it.

Adam Seaman: Yes, it's in the butter aisle.

Lisa Cummings: So to get back to serious stuff for a second, you said something about a personality assessment kind of notion, and so for people less familiar with StrengthsFinder, they often assume this is a personality assessment. I know that you view it in a different way, that you look at StrengthsFinder as so much more than that, as do I. So tell us about how you get people beyond that basic view of it.

Adam Seaman: For me what this captures is this idea that we all live in our own self-world. Lisa, right now you're in your office in Austin, Texas, your side of the world. You have your experiences going on, the things that are happening inside of you. Then I'm over here in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I have my own concerns or issues or things I'm thinking of. So we're kind of in our own self-world. That's actually the term for this, it's a German word, and a German biologist came up with this word. It's called umwelt, which is kind of a cool word.

Lisa Cummings: Umwelt.

Adam Seaman: It's U-M-W-E-L-T. So it kind of roughly translates to this idea of self-world. For me what I love about StrengthsFinder is it helps describe what's happening in your own self-world. In my head, and in your head, we both share the Strategic Talent Theme, so we're always playing through if-then scenarios. We do it so fast, that we don't even know we're doing it. What would be really interesting if this were possible, is if somebody else who didn't have Strategic very high at all were to somehow transplant into our heads, kind of like a Freaky Friday kind of thing, then they were to have to get into our heads, or just take your head with Strategic and Maximizer. They're going to have this flurry of thoughts coming at them at such a high rate of speed; it's just going to be overwhelming for them. It's cool to realize that within each person, there's a whole lot more going on than what we ever could tell, or even just ask them about. It's like if I know your top five themes, and I know your number three is Positivity, which it is, I know that your knee-jerk reaction is going to be to look for the upside of things. It's what shows up when you show up.

Lisa Cummings: That's so true. I love the Freaky Friday thought where if you as a teammate...if you said, "Alright I'm going to do this at work, and I'm going to try to get into Freaky Friday mode as much as I can, where I'm imagining what is it like in that person's head and how can I relate to the world the way that they are so that I can understand what would be relevant for them, or what they care about, or how they make decisions, or how they think about the world."

So it's kind of cool as you were talking about the power StrengthsFinder brings, I was thinking man you could almost turn that into an application exercise where you're trying to do it as if you had Adam's invention. Now that you're telling us this with Futuristic number 10 and Ideation number 3, why don't we get you to share with the listeners what your top 10 talents are, or at least the ones that you resonate with most. Then they can get a feel for, if they're new to StrengthsFinder, what these words even sound like...and how do people resonate with them before they even know the definitions.

Adam Seaman: Before I do that, I just wanted to riff on a point that you made. I'm using musical terms, because I know you're a musician, and I have like two musical brain cells and they don't even talk to each other, so I'm not a musician but I speak your language because I have Individualization number two, just as you have.

Lisa Cummings: So you can riff with me; I like it.

Adam Seaman: Before moving onto that, I just wanted to delve a little deeper into this idea of knowing what's going on inside of somebody, that umwelt or that Freaky Friday thing is. I don't have Achiever very high at all; it's way, way down in the 20's or 30's even. So when I'm around somebody that has Achiever, I now am able to do something I wasn't able to do before StrengthsFinder. I am able to say, “Hey, I think I might be a speed bump in the middle of your day, trying to get things done, so you just feel free to tell me if you need to move on.”

I'm this ideas guy (Ideation), I like to talk and brainstorm and be philosophical. People with Achiever, unless it's balanced with some other themes... they don't really have time for that, and it's that awkward moment that I just now know to be able to say, "Hey, if this isn't of interest to you, I'm not going to try to slow you down,” because I know inside of their head is this need to get things done, to rack up points by crossing things off their to do list, and I don't take offense to that and I'm trying to tailor myself to their need. It amplifies that point you were making about when you work with people and you understand not only your themes, but you understand their themes, then you're able to really get the relationship to be optimized better.

Lisa Cummings: Yeah, I totally agree and I think it's one of the most useful things. When you have that person at work who frustrates you, it's that moment where you can go, "Alright, I know their talents now. Their talent themes are this, this, this, and what are they likely thinking about right now?" You're making up a hypothesis but by knowing the talent themes and by knowing the definitions you can really start to make some good guesses about what they care about and how they process the world, and then instead of seeing them as annoying teammate, they can become the, "Well that person's bringing a perspective that is actually really useful to the team, and although it's not my favorite place to spend my head, and it would be painful for me to live there, that's where they live." I think it helps people. Sometimes it's just tolerating each other when they didn't before. Sometimes it's appreciating and partnering way more than they ever thought they would or could do. Then when you get really deep, you start to get an eye for what's working in the world. I always call it, notice what works to get more of what works, and you start to see, "Oh yeah, that must be what it's like for them, that really works in this situation." Then you can leverage it more and actually get more productivity out of it for the team.

Adam Seaman: All of that is great. If you get an appliance and it comes with a user's manual, and it describes here's how you use this appliance, and here's what you don't do with this appliance, and here's how you get the most life out of it. We as individuals have user's manuals, except they're not written. We have to work with somebody or marry them or live with them for years to just even get a glimpse of this is how their user's manual works. But if I know someone's top five StrengthsFinder themes, I'm going to have a really good sense of what's in that instruction manual. The idea is, understand your user's manual and understand the people around you's user's manual, and you can find ways to best work together.

Lisa Cummings: I love that you raise the idea that these are patterns of thoughts and behaviors and feelings that come naturally to us. Sometimes they're going to serve us, and sometimes they're not. I know my Maximizer gets me in trouble all the time, and when I over commit and I start to see my calendar get so overloaded, I realize there is a drive in me, and I feel that it comes from my Maximizer talent, because it wants to keep making everything better, so there's always something else I'm adding to the list or trying to tweak or trying to create this new thing or develop a new product or whatever it is, it's unending. Once you can name it and say, hey that's the one that's talking, you can narrow it down and strategize more easily than when you feel spazzy and out of control.

Adam Seaman: There's so much to talk about here, this is where I geek out on this stuff. I want to make sure at some point we talk about why your top five themes or why your StrengthsFinder results are not actually your strengths. You definitely touched on it there with what you just said, so I want to circle back. I'm also mindful that you asked me a question that I haven't answered yet, which are what are my top themes. I'm happy to skip it, but I don't want your audience to think that I was just ignoring you and I'm a rude guest.

Lisa Cummings: You're such a kind guest. What are yours?

Adam Seaman: My number one is Strategic, as you mentioned earlier. I already talked a little bit about that one. My second one is Individualization, now is that your number four? Do I have that right?

Lisa Cummings: Yup.

Adam Seaman: Okay. So Individualization is this quality of looking to tailor things to the person, so I don't like doing things en masse, and your Maximizer theme is more likes to do things in block operations and very efficient, whereas the Individualization theme is one-by-one, case-by-case, what's unique about this person. My number three is Ideation. This is a quality of always wanting to think outside the box, so sometimes in my mind ideas start flowing and I call it popcorning because when I get in this mode, when you're making popcorn that point where the kernels start popping really fast. That's kind of what it's like in my head, it's like an explosion of ideas, and I get really excited by it, things are really best for me when I can be creative and original, and I don't like doing things by the book. So that's my creativity theme there.

My number four is Intellection, and Intellection is about going deep, looking for insight. Several themes look for truth, Intellection looks for wisdom, whereas maybe Connectedness theme looks for spiritual truth. Or the Analytical theme looks for factual truth. So my Intellection is looking for wisdom and insight. Cool story about this one because when you learn your themes, you get the names of your themes and you don't quite know what they mean. When I was learning about Intellection, I read it, and it seemed like it fit, but when I went back and re-read it, something stood out to me that didn't before. What it was, was a description about how I can be in a social situation, but be checked out to the point where somebody would come up to me and say, "Adam, are you okay? Is something wrong?" I would say, "Yeah, everything's fine, and in fact more than fine." I'm in my lab, I call it, when I'm intellectualizing. I'm just thinking about something, but the thinking face doesn't really look like a happy face, so to somebody outside of my head, which is everybody, it doesn't look like I'm really having fun, but inside of my head there's a party going on. They just weren't invited. Then they might say "Hey what's wrong" and I might say "You just crashed my party. Everything was going good and now..."

Lisa Cummings: Womp womp.

Adam Seaman: Yeah, one of those.

Lisa Cummings: This is one of my favorite ones when teams are together and they talk about some of these things that their talent themes might lead them to do or think or say or look like, I love asking that question. Focus is a good one, that's my number six, where people talk about the mode they get into when they're in their Intellection mode or they're in their Focus mode, then I ask people, "What does that look like on you? How will your teammates know?" Just hearing the story you said, is exactly what it sounds like in the trainings, where people go "Oh, that's what he's doing. Now I get it, and now I know when he made the crash-your-party-face, that's what that means" and it's so insightful to know that about people that you actually need to be productive with every day. It's like having magic secrets to the universe.

 Adam Seaman: Right, it's kind of like that self-world concept I was talking about. To somebody looking at me it might look like, Adam's not having fun, maybe somebody has Includer, and they want to make sure that I feel part of the group. To them I don't look very engaged, but what they can't see is that I'm at my most engaged when I'm in that space. Now if somebody knows I have Intellection, they won't be as off-put by it or as concerned about it. I know time's ticking here, so I'll go onto my number five which is Input, and this was the hardest one for me to understand. We use the word Input like let me have my Input or let me give my Input, as something you put out into the world. This is one of the reasons why you really have to understand Gallup's standard definitions for the themes, because sometimes the label doesn't fully describe what the word is about. In fact, most of the time they don't. They don't give you enough context just looking at the word, you really have to understand the description. What Input is, is it's not about what I put out into the world and give my Input, it's what I Input into myself, it's what I collect.

One of the things I learned that was very useful from the master StrengthsFinder coach, Curt Liesveld, is he said, "What you collect are things you deem to be useful or that have utility." It was really cool because what I collect, and it varies person to person. I collect quotes and I collect theories and models and tools and concepts; I love that stuff. I've developed a really good sense for what's a useful quote or what's not, or what's a useful model or concept and what's not. I've learned how to use my Input theme a lot better, because I understand it a lot more. There's a lot more to say about each one of these themes, but those are my top five. That's all I stayed with for the longest time, but I'm starting to really appreciate the value of looking into your top 10, your number 6-10 themes, because it's kind of like a basketball team and your main players fall out, they're either injured or they're not the right player for the situation. You can go to your bench and bring in a specialist when you need it. You can start to see traces of someone's themes and how they communicate and that's when you really start to feel like you're getting to know this tool so well is when you can hear vespers of the different themes.

So Command is my number seven, Activate is my number eight, Empathy is my number nine, Futuristic is my number ten, and we just hit 30 minutes in six seconds.

Lisa Cummings: Look at that, you are so precise. I'm still standing back thinking, I've never heard the word vespers, it sounds like a funny pronunciation of a Vespa scooter, and that's a clue of Intellection right there, or my lack of. Let's end this show with your view on talent and strengths.

Adam Seaman: So good. Here's the big secret about StrengthsFinder, or one of them, because there are several secrets.

Lisa Cummings: [dramatically] Ooooh.

Adam Seaman: Did you just say "Ooh"?

Lisa Cummings: Yeah. The more you listen, the more you learn.

Adam Seaman: [laughing] That's great. When you take the StrengthsFinder, one of the most powerful insights is to realize that your top five, these 34 themes of talent that StrengthsFinder measures, are not strengths. It gets into the definition of a strength, and the definition of a talent. A strength is an activity in which you have consistent, near perfect performance. So you do an activity regularly with high quality. That's when you know you have a strength, and this is Gallup's definition for a strength. I'll come back to that, because we're going to break it down.

Lisa Cummings: Break it down.

Adam Seaman: [preparing to beatbox] We're going to break it down.

Lisa Cummings: I think you have some other talent themes in there. [referring to beatboxing]

Adam Seaman: Well, beatboxing would be, if I could do it consistently and near perfectly would be a strength, but it's not. It's less than a strength. So a talent, and these themes of talent, the definition for those is this: a recurring pattern of how you think, how you feel, and how you behave that “can” be productively applied. I put the can in quotes because it can be productively applied, this pattern of thinking and feeling and behaving, but it can also counter productively be applied. It's not always productive. Anybody listening could look at one of their themes and say, "Yeah that theme sometimes gets me into trouble." Sometimes it's not productive, it's counter productive.

Let's take a theme like Positivity, your number three. What could possibly not be great about Positivity? I'll just ask you Lisa, are there times where Positivity is not acting in your best interest?

Lisa Cummings: I'll tell you the most trouble I had with my Positivity talent theme was, early in my career as a manager, I realized that people started responding in a way that led me to believe that they thought I didn't think through issues, that I was giving the Pollyanna view of what we were going to do and that naively I was leading my team forward through some decision without any thinking behind it, the [rah rah voice] "Oh yay we're going to do it, let's go". I realized I needed to actually say the decision factors out loud, because maybe my excitement, maybe my energy level about a change, and I'm always thinking about messaging something and how to get people to a new future...so I see how that could all get really blurry and lead people to think that the substance is lacking behind it.

With my Strategic talent theme, I'm thinking so quickly through those things, I might need to catch people up to "Oh, okay, look here was my thought process, there were a lot of factors in the decision, I considered X Y and Z, I realize there are a couple of risks associated, and this is the decision and then back to the yay-part." Even though it doesn't really sound like that, I realized I needed to actually acknowledge either the thought process or the risks that had been considered, or the facts behind things so that people didn't assume I was trying to play team cheerleader with no substance.

Adam Seaman: Yeah, see it's that kind of insight that I think StrengthsFinder can help reveal, that you might not have ever had in any other way. You have this pattern called Positivity that allows you to take any situation and identify, almost like a reflex, whatever the situation is, your immediate reflex is to say, "Well what's the upside?" or "This is a good thing, because of this…" That pattern is going to play out, it's going to do what it's going to do, and then sometimes that pattern is going to be the perfect match for the situation. Positivity is my number 32. I know that for me, there are many occasions where I wish I had that ability to see the upside; it would have helped me persevere more. So there are times where that theme of Positivity is the perfect match for the situation.

The point is that, this is true for any of the 34 themes, that they are patterns that play out in us, they're patterns for how we think, how we feel and behave, but our situations that we're in are always changing. That pattern in one situation may be a huge benefit, but in another situation it would be the last thing you want to have happen. That's one reason why our themes of talent, our top five that we get from StrengthsFinder, they are not strengths yet. There's a lot more to say on this, but I want to pause and see if you have any thoughts on that.

Lisa Cummings: Yeah, I love the way that you describe it. The part that you said that really got me there, that I thought was cool was, "Look it would be kind of sad, if you got your report and you had nowhere to go, because you've arrived. You have your strengths. Voila. You're done." But instead, if you realize, "Okay these are your talents, it's telling you about your natural patterns, there's an infinite amount of stuff to go do to nurture them, to feed them, to make them get applied in a work situation in a way that really serves you." That's the growth part that's really fun that allows them to turn into strengths so they can be productively applied.

What do you think a world would look like if everyone knew his or her talent themes?

Adam Seaman: If I'm in a place where I'm being fed, where I'm known for what I'm good at and my teammates are setting me up for success and I'm able to do as much as possible, even though you can't get it perfectly, but as much as possible I'm able to do the things I love doing, that I'm good at, that I produce good results, that when I'm doing them I feel that flow state where I don't notice time passing, that that's what a situation like that would look like.

Lisa Cummings: I love that you're talking about the food element, because when I do StrengthsFinder training, I'm always using the terms starved and fed, because I think the talent themes act different ways, they show up on you differently. If you are feeding them, and you're nurturing them and you're working on them, compared with when you're starving them out or you're squashing them down because you don't think they'd be valued in that environment, or it isn't valued in that environment, so it's not getting any attention and it's starved. I think that would be a cool way to end also, to talk about what that looks like on the job, when strengths, when someone's talent themes are consistently getting squashed or offended or not valued or not used, and how you've seen that show up.

Adam Seaman: The first thing is, you have to recognize in yourself what is your state of happiness or satisfaction? Then realize a couple things. One is something I heard called the law of two feet. The law of two feet says if you don't like something, if you're not in a good place, relocate. Walk away, go somewhere else. That's the promise that I see in StrengthsFinder, is that if people really embraced it as more than an assessment then they could really help each other find that better fit. Like as a manager, I could see that hey, this person is struggling here, what can I do to shape their job a little bit more so it plays more to what they're like. It's not like you totally have this complete makeover, but a little bit at a time, you could shift your environment so you can free yourself up from the things you hate a little bit at a time to spend more time doing those things that you really enjoy. As that happens, you increase your value.

Lisa Cummings: As a people manager, there's a lot you can do to shape and continually shape the job of people on the team by individualizing a little bit at a time. It's not to say that this is a custom job for everyone, and I can afford to make yours exactly what you'd like it to be. We know that the business world isn't like that; you have a corporate strategy, you have business objectives to meet, and inside of that there's a lot you can do to shape the rule to match the person on the team. As a person, I love that you are highly accountable with the law of two feet because it's up to you, this is your career, your life, and you get to shape it a little bit at a time until it is what you want it to be. People have a lot more leeway to do that than they often give credit for.

I love to quiz people when they push back on that, and I ask them about the job description when they got hired and say "Okay, remember back to the job description, now how many people in the room have the exact same tasks and responsibilities as when you were first hired into that role?" Even though many people have only been in that role for 18 months or some short time, they laugh and say "Oh, no, it's significantly different." There you go, proof positive. Rules shift and change all the time, so why not be actively shaping it towards the activities you enjoy, the way you want your personal brand to show up in the world and at work, and if you're consciously going after, and even sharing with your manager, "Hey, I'd love more opportunities in this area. If a project comes up, please consider me." It's making them aware, because managers aren't mind readers. They don't know that person's interested in it. So having StrengthsFinder as a language for describing an aspirational work place they'd like to live in, things they'd like to see more of, it can be hugely powerful in the way that tasks are assigned and projects are given out person to person.

Adam Seaman: [Emphatically] Truth. You want to find, what is the highest best use for the qualities that you possess.

Lisa Cummings: And if you help your teammates produce at their best, obviously you're going to meet your goals in a bigger way, your business is going to be more successful overall. Also day to day, you're around people for, if you're physically around each other, you're around them for eight hours a day or more, so wouldn't it be better if you helped people and supported them, if you knew their talents, if you did the Freaky Friday, to call back to that. Then you could support your teammates in becoming their best, and that would also help them, help the business, and help you not be around grumpy people all day at work.

Adam Seaman: That sounds like a great final note to end on. That's a drop-your-mic moment right there.

Lisa Cummings: It's a good thought for bringing it all around.

Adam Seaman: [rapping tone] So you need people to check themselves before they wreck themselves.

Lisa Cummings: Yes, back to a rap as well. That's where we're going to drop the mic. It's been such a blast rhyming with you Adam.

Adam Seaman: This flew by so fast, and it's because we're playing to our strengths. We're both talking about something we love and we're passionate about, and so I hope that as a result, some other people are getting green lit about StrengthsFinder.

Lisa Cummings: Yeah, that's the ultimate call back as well. So getting green lit, I don't know what they're getting bit by, but they're getting green lit.

Adam Seaman: They're getting bit by the strengths bug.

Lisa Cummings: Yeah, bit by the strengths bug. We'll link to Adam's company, Talent2Strength, so that you can look him up and see more. With that, remember, using your strengths makes you a stronger performer at work. If you're putting a lopsided focus on fixing weaknesses, you're probably choosing the path of most resistance. Instead, claim your talents and share them with the world.

Direct download: 035-adam-seaman.mp3
Category:careers -- posted at: 2:30am CDT

This Episode’s Focus on Strengths

Today's episode features Marcus Sheridan, also known as The Sales Lion. Marcus is a marketing and sales guru. He's best known for his concept "They Ask, You Answer." He has definitely given us a kick in the pants when it comes to making helpful video content and making an "answers" page for our customers. As a professional speaker, he's also delving into area like: individual strengths, personal success, and true fulfillment.

He's such a likable guy, and you'll love him on his show The Balance if you dig the ideas they explore on fulfillment. If you're curious about how he's become so good at interacting with clients and prospects, listen in. This episode is especially perfect for marketing and sales people. Lisa and Marcus also get a kick out of their mutual love of the word "dang." Yes, it's a southern thang. Lisa is from Austin, Texas and Marcus is from Heathsville, Virginia, so they had a laugh about their vernacular. And don't worry, neither one will drop a "bless your heart" phrase on you when they're actually trying to tell you that your marketing or strengths based leadership efforts are terrible.


What You’ll Learn In This Episode

How to tap into your personal strengths. Marcus tells us that he has done this from a young age. He's accomplished this by being self-aware at all times, and by tuning into his audience's reactions (whether it be one person or a whole audience). Signs to look for: Is the person leaning forward because he is interested, or back because he's bored? Is he looking up because he's having a reflective moment (which should be your goal), or is he looking down because he's only listening and not thinking? If he is smiling at you, this is good, but if he's looking at you blankly, he may just be trying to stay awake!


The art of the question. Our job as communicators is to help our audience discover an insight, before we even say it. This can only occur if we ask the right questions. Listen for Marcus' mention of the mirror of life, and see how people are really reacting to you. If you present things in the correct way, your audience will feel like "it" (whatever that is), is their idea. They won't conclude that you forced them into compliance with your idea. Besides Marcus being a great listener in a human-to-human way, he's also excellent at tuning into customers. You'll see his living proof of "they ask you answer" in the way he adds value on his website and how he shows up in helpful video content.


Prioritization. It's important to prioritize everything in your life, based on what brings you the most energy. Using your strengths will often bring you energy. To find out what your strengths are, grab the book StrengthsFinder 2.0 and use your code in the back of the book. Peak states in life when you're (in the flow) are times when you are gaining energy, not spending it. Learn to love what you are, and know what you aren't. For example, Marcus put his family first and his business second. the helps him to know exactly what he should say NO to. You may have to walk away from opportunities, even when they are attractive, if they don't fit in with your priorities. There was a time when Marcus failed to say no to a great opportunity in San Francisco, California. It turned out to be four days of speaking all day, seeing no Silicon Valley sights, and missing his family. And, people were eating while he was speaking, instead of listening. This was an "ah ha" moment, when he decided to never let money or ambition supercede his priorities - family and self-care.


How To Chase Fulfillment

  • In order to feel true fulfillment, you must move toward something rather than running away from it.
  • Explore your career. It's very much like a hiking trail. You can't tell where it's going to go; you need to keep walking to see. If an idea seems seeded in you, explore it. See what it grows into, and play with it. Get in the sandbox. For example, even Marcus has given himself a  3-5 year on-ramp to play in a career transition. Keep an eye on Marcus. He's living proof of how this works as he authentically shares his exploration into the topic of life, family, and fulfillment - and how they intersect.


Resources of the Episode
You can reach Marcus through his website or Twitter. To listen to his amazing podcasts, click here. Lisa particularly loves The Mad Marketing show. He also does the Hubcast Podcast, One Last Tool on sales and marketing tools. And The Balance show we mentioned earlier. How does he keep up with all of this? The man is an animal (a very kind one).

Marcus' book is They Ask You Answer: A Revolutionary Approach to Inbound Sales, Content Marketing, and Today's Digital Consumer.

Books mentioned in this podcast include:

A selection of Jim Rohn's books - Leading an Inspired Life, My Philosophy For Successful Living, The Art of Exceptional Living (a cd). Jim Rohn was a huge inspiration to both Marcus and Lisa when they were first digging into personal development. In fact, Lisa used to drive around listening to Jim Rohn and Zig Ziglar tapes (yeah, cassette tapes back in the day).

Edgar Schein's Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling

Jim Collins' Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...And Others Don't

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.


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!

Direct download: 034-Marcus-Sheridan.mp3
Category:careers -- posted at: 2:30am CDT