Lead Through Strengths


In this episode, Mike Ganino joins Lisa to answer the question: How can team culture be shaped by strengths?

Have You Downloaded Your Strengths Tools?

One of the best ways leaders can build a strengths-based culture is to offer an appreciation of strengths in action. If you’ll notice what works, you’ll get more of what works because people can replicate what they’ve already done well. Get started by downloading this awesome tool that offers you 127 Easy Ways to Recognize Strengths on your team.

How Can Team Culture Be Shaped By Strengths?


If It Is So Important For Managers To Build Culture, Why Can I Only Find Articles About Offering Stand Up Desks And Pinball Machines - Perks That Hr Offers?

Ohhhhh, culture, we love to talk about it, write about it, read about it, and even watch the 2,000,000 videos on Youtube about it. We love to blame it, leverage it, and try to change it. We spend billions of dollars and a whole bunch of hours on employee engagement and culture improvement initiatives to try to improve it and yet we keep coming up empty.

Is it really all about office fun slides, cold brew coffee on tap, and nap rooms? Do the rest of us have a chance at dipping into the power of culture without the budget of a tech giant who seems to print their own cash?

If you're only managing a project, a team or a division in a bigger organization, do you have any chance of fixing things if the culture and the wider organization isn't promoting the kind of vibe you're looking for? Before I answer all of those questions, let's get clear on exactly what culture is and what it isn't.

Does The Physical Environment Create Culture?

So culture is not about the stated values written in the handbook or hanging on a wall somewhere. It's not about the mission that adorns the company website or the funky design of the open office floor plan. It's not even about how often you get together for happy hours. It isn't about making everyone happy all the time or being a pet-friendly workplace.

Yeah, I get it. I love the idea of an office full of cuddly little Corgis as much as the next guy, but I know it won't help improve the business or the working conditions for the team. It's possible to have a great culture even when the perks are best in class. Yes, even when there aren't fancy modern Norwegian looking desks all around.

Manufacturing plants and ships in the ocean and military bases can have great cultures. Sorry to break it to all those fun committees out there, but we don't need another group picnic to have a great culture.

Now I'm not saying that all of those things aren't useful and aren't helpful. I mean, the point of them should be in getting people to connect with each other. So if you are one of these fun committee folks out there, don't despair — but I do want you to change your objectives a little bit.

Instead of getting people to sign up to go have fun together outside of work, make sure that the events are helping people build relationships — helping them connect with people they don't normally talk to — because if we all go to happy hour and we all just talk to the normal people we talk to, it isn't improving your culture.

So if you are doing fun stuff, make sure you're getting the best out of it by making sure that you're encouraging people to talk to people they don't normally interact with.

Culture = The Existing Beliefs On The Team

OK, back to the topic at hand. See, culture is actually the collection of beliefs on your team and don't worry, I'm not going to go all hippy dippy here and ask you to start meditating or saying namaste day to each other.

But culture is still the beliefs that your team has about what it's like to work there. The beliefs they about leadership, about what matters. It's the beliefs about how they act, how they work, how they build relationships. Those shape the way we treat each other.

If I were to meet you and I thought, hey, this is someone pretty awesome. If my belief about you was that you were a good person and I thought I wanted to get to know you, I would act a certain way. If my belief about you was that you were out to get me or that you were somebody who was ... you know, not so fun to be around, then I would treat you a different way.

To Get More Practical, Think Of The Beliefs As Stories Or Examples That Get Passed Around

I like to think of those beliefs as stories. The stories we tell at work, the stories we tell ourselves (and sometimes we tell each other at work) are our beliefs. They impact the way we choose to act, the way we choose to work and the relationships we commit to at work. The stories that we tell each other become the culture of the company.

Every company has stories that are unspoken expectations about things like:

  • The way things get done
  • When it’s a good idea to speak up (or stay quiet)
  • What kind of people and behaviors wins or lose (and how the game of work is played)

That becomes your culture. The stories your employees tell is where your culture lives. Think of what they say. What is their story about their first day at work or their first week?

What are their beliefs about performance reviews? What are their beliefs about speaking up in meetings and contributing their best ideas to projects? Do you know what they're telling each other? Do you know what you're telling your new hires or even what they’re telling themselves? Because all of those things are being played out.

When it comes time to sit down in a meeting and contribute, when it comes to showing up for a performance conversation and saying, "I'm invested in this because this is about making me better." All of those stories are ultimately what shape and drive your culture.

Now, I'm not saying that you need to just basically go and create a whole new world of storytelling at work. There are a lot of storytelling folks out there who focus on brand and marketing storytelling, which is really about controlling the narrative. No, no.

Is It Effective To Try To Guide Or Control The Stories That Get Passed Around?

I'm not telling you to control your culture or control your narrative. In fact, I don't think you can. What I'm saying is, as a leader, as a manager, as somebody who wants to make a difference, you have the power and the ability to fuel a different kind of story, and when you fuel that different kind of story, you create a different set of beliefs which creates a different set of actions from your team and those sorts of actions. You probably guessed it. Those create your culture.

The way we decide how to show up every day is the culture and some of that is based on how we see leaders responding. A lot of it is based on what the expectations are every day. So what do you do if you're a leader and you say, "Hey, I want to start thinking about culture in a different way. But we can't get the insurance to do a slip and slide through the grass in the grassy area outside of the office.”

Well, you don't need to do any of that and in fact I wouldn't recommend it. It sounds weird and creepy, but what you can do is start to source the stories that your team is telling.

How often do you ask and listen to and document what's really going on with them outside of an annual employee engagement survey? How often do you look for the common variables and the stories they tell?

Are you collecting long form survey data more than just a score on a piece of paper? Are you asking questions like, "What do you believe leadership cares about here? What do you think matters most? Or how do you think people get ahead in this organization?"

Uncover The Stories That Highlight What You Already Do Well As A Team

You can use the stories that you hear to start to uncover common trends in your culture. Then I've got a maybe not so surprising thing for you — you'll start to recognize the strengths from your team. You'll start to see what your culture is strong at. You'll start to see what your leaders are strong at and I'd imagine that those start to look like things that you would have found in a StrengthsFinder assessment. You'll start to see ideas and words resonating.

If your team is all about taking action, you're going to notice that your team is all about moving forward and not stopping to consider lots of options. You're going to see that and you're going to recognize that as one of the strengths that people have.

What's interesting is that you can also use those to start to develop a clearer story for your culture. Once you understand what the strengths of your team and the strengths of your culture are, then you can start to get specific about telling more stories like that. You can start to use that in the way that you interview people and the way that you talk to people.

Leveraging your strengths gives you a really interesting opportunity to create a new kind of culture. So let's go back to culture for just a minute.

If You Work For A Large Company, Create A Culture Pocket

When you think about culture, a lot of times what happens is that we think of this big, big culture of the entire organization. That might be true if you're working for a small company where there's only 20 of you. Then yes, the culture of the team is probably the culture of the company and I would argue that the culture of a 20-employee team probably matches up pretty closely with how the leader believes and the stories the leader creates.

As a company gets bigger and bigger and you start to go into national and global territory with the hundreds or thousands of employees. You start to see that cultures gets pocketed almost. There's a chapter in the book where I talk about cultural pockets and I show how even in a huge organization there are all of these little cultures that exist.

You have the ability to create a culture pocket for the way that your team interacts. You don't have to worry about having perks and happy hours and food trucks outside of your office every day in order to get top talent and be known as a great place to work. You know, Lisa always says that differences are differentiators and I can't agree more when it comes to culture.

Notice What Already Works - What Already Attracts People To Your Team

If you start to use the stories and the strengths of your team, you'll start to see the differences on your team. You know, Apple is a very different place to work than Google. Both are interesting companies creating cool new products and services, but it feels very different to work there. They both have cool offices and perks and benefits, but it feels different to work there. The digital component of Disney feels very different than working at Netflix. Why? Because of culture.

At the end of the day, the three weeks of vacation, the ping pong tables, the catered lunches — those don't necessarily drive the experience with each other. These perks don't change the relationships or the stories that we have about our coworkers, our manager, or the work we do. These perks are easy to copy and if all that it took to build a great culture was having the perks, then everyone could do it.

By leveraging your strengths to tell new kinds of stories about your team and the way you work, you can start to find the thread of your culture and then you can leverage it, communicate it and double down on it so that you can get the kind of people on your team who can help it grow. Whether you're a team of 10 or you're a company of thousands, leveraging those parts of your strengths to create new stories will drive your culture.

Don’t Worry - You Don’t Have To Create A Circus Of Entertainment At The Office

Look, you don't have to treat people like preschoolers who need to be tickled, entertained, and fed every hour to have a great culture. It's about diving in, listening to the stories, promoting those stories, and creating new ones.

As a leader, your job is to create the culture on your team that creates the kinds of stories based on the strengths of your team and the group. So go out there and start thinking about culture in a new way. You don't need 5 tips, 7 Hacks, 9 habits — you don't need any of that. What you need to do is start listening to the stories and changing the way your team works.

Get More Culture Learning From Mike

Enjoyed The Podcast?

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

Direct download: 055-how-can-team-culture-be-shaped-by-strengths.mp3
Category:careers -- posted at: 2:30am CDT


In this episode, Lisa answers the question: What should you do when two talents contradict each other? Don’t worry — you’ll be fine if you work on situational fluency and communication.

Resources of the Episode

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

Have You Downloaded Your Strengths Tools?

One of the best ways leaders can build a strengths-based culture is to offer an appreciation of strengths in action. If you’ll notice what works, you’ll get more of what works because people can replicate what they’ve already done well. Get started by downloading this awesome tool that offers you 127 Easy Ways to Recognize Strengths on your team.

What Should You Do When Two Talents Contradict Each Other?

This question came in when someone in a virtual StrengthsFinder training said, “Uh oh, my Top 5 might be bad news because two of my strengths are opposites.”

I said, “Sounds interesting, tell me more.” He clarified by saying that his Ideation is the opposite of his Consistency talent theme because Ideation makes him come up with constantly new ways of doing things while his Consistency talent theme makes him want to do things the same every time to be efficient and clear.

One of the beautiful things about virtual events is that they’re often big. So with 250 people in the same training room, it was possible to find someone else with those two talent themes.

I asked the other person, “How do these two work on you?” She said, “I’m more into fairness than anything else. So Consistency drives me to treat people the same. Consistency bosses around Ideation and tells it what to work on. So my Ideation’s job is to find more and more ways to be fair in every part of life and work.”

From that conversation, you can see the two important things to explore in your own Top 5 and in the Top 5 of your team members so that you can be extra effective when you work together.  It comes down to (1) Situational Fluency and (2) Communication.

Using Seemingly Opposite Talent Themes For Situational Fluency

By situational fluency, I mean being able to bring your best to a situation or challenge that comes up at work. Let’s use Deliberative and Activator as the example StrengthsFinder talent themes because they’re simple to understand, even if you haven’t done anything yet with CliftonStrengths.

You’ll often hear people using a car metaphor to describe Deliberative as a talent that likes to put on the brakes — to stop or to think carefully about risks before acting. You’ll often hear about Activator as a talent theme that likes to push the accelerator and get going. 

Now think about your own talents in a tough situation at work. You’ve put 20 million dollars into a product launch that failed. Everyone thought it would bring about 100 million dollars in revenue last year, and instead, you lost money.

Half of the team wants to kill the product and cut the losses. Half of the team wants to tweak it and try to fix some issues before doing something so drastic. Meanwhile, you’re bleeding out cash and the board expects a plan by next week. Your team has been spinning in circles. 

Now think about your personal talent themes. Which ones make you feel cautious? Which ones help you feel brave? Which ones put you into high collaboration mode? Which ones make you go into deep thinking? 

Depending on the situation, you might need different things at different times. So, if you think, “Yikes, I have two strengths that can’t really work together well” — then dig into it more because, instead, you can think of it as having more tools for a given situation.

For example, go back to the car metaphor. You have headlights on the exterior and you have dash lights inside of the car. Think of those two as if they're talent themes. If it gets dark outside, you turn on the headlights so you can see. And in the dark, you don’t need so much of those interior lights, so they go dim. Otherwise they’re distracting. They’re too much for the situation. 

Your talents are the same. In one situation, you turn it up. In another situation you turn it down. In some cases, both are in use, but one is bright and one is dim. Think of your talents like that. You can control how bright or dim they are. You can bring the right light to the situation. That’s situational fluency. Rather than bringing all of you all the time, you bring the part that serves the situation. 

So watch for this. Next time you face a tricky challenge or debate like the example I gave you about killing the product, do a quick, mental run through of your talent themes to consciously decide which ones (and how much of them) to bring to the situation.

Communicating About Seemingly Opposite Talent Themes So People Understand Your Intent And Actions

After that Ideation + Consistency example came up in the chat box in the virtual StrengthsFinder training, the next comment was, “Don’t worry. My report tells me that I have dual personalities.” 

What’s funny is that this comment comes up in nearly every workshop. It’s because people imagine these paradoxes inside themselves and they realize the outside world may not be able to make sense of it. Most of us have a bunch of these. I can think of lots of personal paradoxes.

  • Sometimes I’m a workaholic. Sometimes I’m a playaholic.
  • Sometimes I’m a foodie food snob. Sometimes I eat green beans out of a can.
  • Sometimes I’m a luxury buyer. Sometimes I go to thrift stores.

You have things like this too. And you can make sense of them. Yet to an outsider, they can be confusing. If you have the Deliberative talent theme and you love to be the one who makes people stop and think before they do something rash, it might be confusing when 25% of the time your Activator is talking and you’re the one in the room saying, “C’mon, we’ve kicked this around enough.  We could have executed on all three possible solutions already. Let’s go.”

So if you fear you might be perceived as “of two minds” or someone who seems to act inconsistently, be sure to bring it up in conversation. This is why I offered this section on communicating your paradoxes. Of course, before you communicate it, you need to be able to understand it yourself.

For example, I talked to a person recently after a strengths-based leadership speech. She said this was insightful because her Activator shows up constantly in meetings. When there’s small talk, she wants it to hurry up and be done. When people schedule three meetings and you have meeting deja vu because the same things keep coming up over and over again, her Activator is going crazy. It’s dying for a little less talk and a lot more action. 

She also has the Deliberative talent. It doesn’t take up many thoughts in her head during meetings. But when she has a big decision to make, it’s prominent. When she needs to consider a complex situation, she leans on Deliberative heavily.

Her takeaway was that her direct reports hear her saying, “Let’s do this” in meetings. And when she writes emails about big decisions, they hear her say “Let’s slow down for a sec.” She realized that’s why they see her as indecisive but she doesn’t see herself that way. And she left that event knowing that the simple act of communicating this seemingly opposite viewpoint is exactly what her team needs in order to make sense of her two modes. 

To bring it all together, here are two action steps for you as you think through your personal paradoxes:

1) Apply Situational Fluency. Pick a talent and think about when it needs to be the bright headlight you lead with and what situation calls for the dimmers. Know this in advance so that you can bring the situation what it needs.

2) Communicate So Your Paradoxes Do Not Confuse People. Spend the week watching for your potential paradox-perceptions. Where might you look like you’re of two minds? How can you make sense of these two things that live in perfect harmony inside of your head so that others around you know what to expect of you and where these two perspectives come from?

Enjoyed The Podcast?

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

Direct download: 054-talents-contradict-each-other.mp3
Category:careers -- posted at: 2:30am CDT


In this episode, Lisa answers the question: What do strengths look like under stress? She shares the three things that will highlight the shadow side of your strengths under stress, and then gives you ways to reframe them from bad to better.

Have You Downloaded Your Strengths Tools?

One of the best ways leaders can build a strengths-based culture is to offer an appreciation of strengths in action. If you’ll notice what works, you’ll get more of what works because people can replicate what they’ve already done well. Get started by downloading this awesome tool that offers you 127 Easy Ways to Recognize Strengths on your team.

What Do Strengths Look Like Under Stress?

Today the question is about whether strengths look or act different when they’re under stress.  

This is such a timely question because I woke up today ... well, not at my best. After an awesome team StrengthsFinder event in NYC last week, I sat next to a prolific cougher and sneezer on the plane. I’m pretty sure he’s the one that passed me this horrible funk that has taken over my body.

Today, I woke up out of sleeping hard. My head hurts. My throat hurts. My ears ring. I coughed all night — as you can probably hear in my voice. And to top it off, my comforter was covered in puke. Not my puke. My dog’s. Apparently, my dog Monkey is also sick today and she jumped in the bed to get me to let her out. I slept through that.

So, why are you hearing this gross story right now? It’s because, no matter how great your life is — no matter how much you love your job, you’ll still have bad days. And you need to know how your talents show up when you’re under stress, when you’re sick, and when you’re burned out. It’s good to know what do to with them on the days that you want to hide under the covers and do nothing. 

Like me, you probably have client meetings, deadlines, and commitments that lead you to get out of bed anyway — even on a really bad day. You tough it out. I know you’ve had days like this — where it all seems to be going wrong before the alarm even goes off.

Well, those days can definitely bring out the shadow sides of your strengths. Those days can expose ugly sides of your talents — the side that doesn’t normally show up, even though you haven’t invested fully in that talent. The ugly side doesn’t show up day to day, yet it will rear its ugly head when you’re having a terrible week at work. 

For example, if you lead with Activator, you might snap at someone because you’re feeling exceptionally impatient with her lack of movement. If you lead with Consistency, you might throw the rule book at someone who constantly asks for exceptions and today, you’re so done with it. If you lead through Intellection, you might “hole up” in your cave and isolate yourself from the team.

You get the idea here. Now that you have a couple of examples in mind, here are three stressful situations that might expose the dark side of your talent themes.

Three Things That Will Highlight Your Strengths Under Stress (And How To Reframe From Bad To Better)

Three things that will highlight the shadow side of your strengths when under stress are:

  1. Having A Bad Day 
  2. A Person (or Team) Who Frustrates You
  3. An Environment Where You Feel Mismatched

1: Having A Bad Day Or Week —> Your Strengths Can Strengthen You

When things are frustrating, what’s your typical response? For example, maybe you lead through Restorative and you resent the very problem that gave you the bad day. Maybe your Learner talent is annoyed because your team moves too fast to give you a chance to become the deep subject matter expert you want to become to put you at your best.

Think of yours. You probably have a thing you get frustrated about or have a typical reaction, regardless of the cause of the bad day. 

One way to use your strengths in this situation is to rely on old faithful. Of your Top 5 talent themes, you probably have one that’s easy to call on in tough times.

Maybe your Strategic talent allows you to see simplicity through the overwhelm. So turn up the dial on your Strategic talent today. Maybe your Empathy theme gives you unlimited doses of patience. Or your Focus talent allows you to feel some calm in knowing that you’ll knock out today’s list one item at a time, and that it can keep you on task even with the urgent issues exploding all around you.

So that’s it. When you’re having a bad day or week, rely on one that’s easy to call on. Crank up the volume on a different virtue that can shine through despite the craziness around you.

2: A Person (Or Team) Who Frustrates You —> You’ll Make Partners

Think of someone at work who you don’t love working with. If you lead through Responsibility, maybe it’s someone who constantly misses deadlines. For me, I remember feeling eternally frustrated with a woman who treated our sales team poorly.

If you lead through Context, maybe it’s a person on the team who refuses to acknowledge and learn from the failures the team already experienced and you feel that they put the vision out to the organization foolishly because that same vision has failed four times, the only difference is that they called it by a different name each time.

Think about that person for you. Try to concretely imagine a specific person who has been tough for you during your career.

So what do you do about it? One is to identify where, specifically, you think the person is different from you. Even if you don’t know their StrengthsFinder talent themes, just think about what they seem to value and where they’re coming from. As tough as it might seem, assume they have positive intent and imagine a possible positive thing they could bring to the situation.

For example, the person who is frustrated because her teammate misses deadlines could notice (when she looks carefully) that it’s because her colleague wanted to be absolutely sure that the data is correct. He delayed because new information became available, and because he leads through Analytical, there’s no way he would put out misleading data. He’d rather be late than wrong.

In my personal example, think back to the woman who treated the sales team with constant snarky and dismissive comments. Well, when I looked carefully and open-mindedly (and assumed positive intent), I noticed that my team member had an operational focus. She was great at standardizing processes and making us efficient.

So rather than coming at the angle with the frustration about how she treated sales people, we could first find common value in the fact that she made those rules in order to create a good customer experience. We both valued that. When it came time to solve her problem of the sales people not filling out her forms (which is why she was rude to them), we could use the customer experience to keep our conversation aligned to something we both wanted.

The idea here is that even when someone drives you crazy, there’s a thread of something good that they bring to the team. Look for that thread rather than the irritant.

In many ways, you get what you look for. If you see the good that this person brings and you acknowledge it, they’ll bring you more of that good stuff. And you’ll notice that their way of bringing good stuff is probably not how you love to operate. So you should be celebrating it. You can think, “Wow, I’m so happy someone wants to obsess over the data because I’d rather brush over that and get to the customer messaging” or “Wow, I’m thrilled that someone likes to deliver presentations to customers because I’d rather be off in my R&D think tank, speccing out the next product.”

This is the ultimate case of how one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. You probably have a few tasks or responsibilities that you’d like to throw in the trash. And you probably have a few that you treasure.

And amazingly, these are different for each person, so it’s possible to literally swap out your trash tasks for treasured ones. Or you can partner up with someone where you divide out the parts of a project or task so that you each take the part that lights you up rather than the one that highlights your dark side.

3: An Environment Where You Feel Mismatched —> Your Differences Are Your Differentiators

Think of one of your talent themes that you didn’t want to own when you first saw your Top 5 StrengthsFinder talent themes. I often hear things like, “This description of Input makes me sound like a hoarder” or “This description of Competition makes me sound super judge-y with all of these notes about how I love comparison.”

Or someone tells me they don’t think their talent is good for them in their environment. For example, a woman recently told me that she gets negative feedback about her Communication talent theme. Her manager told her she talks too much and that she’s coming on too strong for her teammates.

Looking at the team DNA charts, we saw how that could be an easy place for her to feel mismatched because her team was exceptionally high in Relator and Intellection. Most people on the team were academics who were used to communicating formally, and only after having thought deeply on a topic. On the other hand, she likes to talk things out. She actually does her thinking through the act of talking. And she felt like a fish out of water.

When you feel mismatched, think about how the team needs the diversity of thought. Think about how the team could benefit from other ways of solving problems and interacting with the world. In the case of the woman with the Communication talent we just talked about, she was able to use this as a differentiator.

She became the go-to on the team for PR and customer communications because her teammates preferred to stay behind the scenes. It was a way for her create value for the organization rather than deciding she should squash it or hide it. As she put it, “Now they like it when I talk a lot because it means they don’t have to talk to customers as often."

Another women with the Competition talent decided to use her constant comparison to become a cheerleader for the team. She would dig into the metrics, both inside and outside the company, to highlight where other people were their best in their roles or in their industry.

She helped people see that they were good at something that they didn’t even know about. And it showed the team that Competition didn’t mean she wanted to beat them, it meant that she gets a charge out of winning. And that includes helping the company win and helping other team members win in their roles.

Strengths Resources

To take the “Under Stress” exercise further, explore your talents at the Yucks page. Ask yourself which 1-2 of the words or phrases are big hot buttons for you. Then consider what situations call on that “Yuck” often.

It will give you clues about how to avoid it, get less of it, or to reframe it like you did in this episode. Very often, you can address that same situation through another one of your talent themes. Or you can partner with someone who doesn’t see it as a Yuck at all. 

Enjoyed The Podcast?

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

Direct download: 053-strengths-under-stress.mp3
Category:careers -- posted at: 2:30am CDT