Lead Through Strengths

If you've been following this series, you'll know we've been spelling the word STRENGTHS with nine core competencies that pop out as the most elusive, interesting, or unconsidered when implementing strengths at work. So far, we've had:

1. S.E.T. (Skills, Experience, and Talents)
2. Troublemaker Talents
3. Regulate by Situation
4. Easy Buttons

Now we are midway through as we explore our fifth core concept: “Not an Excuse.” 

Avoiding Responsibilities?

Once in a while, people want to use their strengths like an excuse. Here are a few examples:

“I’m an Activator and I don't like to wait. I only work on things where I don't have to wait.” 

I lead through a bunch of Executing talent themes and I like to get things done. And now you're asking me to do some deep thinking and research, and that sounds boring to me. So I don't want to do it.” 

“That just doesn't sound like fun to me. I lead through Positivity and I can't do anything that is just way too serious for too long.” 

But in the world of work, this is not how we can operate. We have to do certain responsibilities that we don't like. 

When those kinds of thoughts come up, make sure you're assessing that you can‘t use those as a reason to have bad performance or low accountability—just because of something you don’t like doing. 

Understanding The Strengths Spectrum

As it seems, there are two ends of the spectrum that people end up raising around this concept of excuse:

  1. Team members making up their own excuses in their minds 
  2. Team leaders having some resistance in implementing strengths. They think they’re giving people the wrong idea, that they're just going to turn lazy.

When it all comes down to it, revenue still has to keep coming in. As a team you still have to get results, or else none of you will have a job. 

Remember: if you're really living out strengths as tools, you believe in high accountability and in getting results.

We all know that it's better to get more time in our strengths zone and fewer minutes in our weakness zone over time. It's always a great idea to shape your job toward that, but it's not instant. It would be foolish to believe that you're going to live 100% of every moment in your strengths zone, and that all weakness moments will now be gone forever.

Your Team Challenge: Plus One, Minus One

Here’s a great exercise to do if you're leading a team. (You can also do this as an exercise for yourself.) 


Ask every member of your team to think of one thing that they would want to get -- either something they don't have or something they want to get more of. 

A few guide questions:

  • What would you like to add to your work? 
    • Is there something that you already do but you want to get more of it because you just love it? 
  • Is there a kind of work you’d like to experiment with?
  • What do you wish I would assign to you? 
    • Is there a project that somebody else has been assigned over the years and you’ve never been the go-to for this kind of work?
    • Is there something that you think is really in your strengths zone but which you’ve never been able to do or get a lot of? 
  • What would you love to add in your ideal world?


Ask them to think of what they would want to subtract. It could be:

  • Something they don't like
  • Something that drains them
  • Something they procrastinate with
  • Something they wish they could get rid of


Once all members are ready with their answers, you can do a round-robin as a team where you go around the room and every person shares one thing they want to add more of and one thing they would like to get less of.

Sometimes, however, the answers aren't as useful. For example, eight out of ten people might say, “I would like fewer emails.” As a manager, you want to get way more information than that. Prior to a round-robin, another approach could help.

Brainstorm First

Give the members of the team two to five minutes to write as many things as they can and as specific as possible under the + side and the - side of their list:

  • Encourage them to keep their pens moving. If they forget about what they could be adding to the list for their current work, they can start going into the personal zone and write things about their hobbies, for example, just to keep their pen moving. This keeps their mind focused on the stuff that they love.
  • Give them some extra prompts. Put prompts on a whiteboard or a flip chart. Examples:
    • + category prompts
      • At the beginning of a project, what do you love working on? 
      • When you're working with customers, what would you put in the + category? 
      • When you're doing hobbies on the weekend, what would be a + for you? 
    • - category prompts 
      • What are all of the things you wish you could have less of
      • Things you wish to get rid of entirely 
      • Things that drive you crazy 
      • Things that you procrastinate on

As this is a brainstorming activity, emphasize to them that the objective is just to get as many things written down as possible. 

Too Many Common Answers? 

Whenever this happens, as it typically does, immediately acknowledge it. For example, if a lot of the team members say “too many meetings” -- 

  • Encourage them to pick the one that's top for each of them. 
  • Or: Ask them to give one more that’s specific.

That way, they won’t feel like they're getting dismissed, but at the same time you’re getting some more unique and useful information. 

Still, if you hear the same answer many times, then take it as an opportunity to address it like it’s a team scenario. 

Then you can do the share-out in a much more insightful way. As the leader, you may throw these questions:

What would be useful for other people to know about you? Maybe you have something that others in the room could call on you for? 

This would be useful information to your team members. They (or you) would be able to recommend situations where each other’s pluses could be called on for. Opportunities to swap tasks or to be honoring each other's talents would surface. Ultimately, they would be tapping one another for something they want to be leaned on for.

Follow-Through On Your Team

As the leader, set a follow-up 1:1. As soon as your share-out is done, tell your members you’d like to keep their lists so you can dig into them. Doing this will also guide and prompt you to begin assigning them projects that align with their strengths as much as possible. 

Remember: not an excuse to shirk performance is not an excuse to get rid of accountabilities. It is an opportunity to start talking about the things that either feel like drudgery or really life-giving. If you can know these things about each of your team members, imagine how powerful that would be! As you help them align with their internal motivation, your team will also grow and do more wonders.

A lot of high performers are rarely whiners regardless of what’s assigned to them--even if it’s draining for them. The "plus one, minus one" practice can give them a vehicle for talking about what tends to be less fulfilling for them and what really lights them up.

Excitement and energy for the job are the internal drives that you want on your team. Those can be had over time if you've been having these meaningful conversations where you learn more about them and align with their natural values.

The more you do things with your team using the lens of strengths, the better their collaborative strengths will work toward your business results. 

Ready For The Next Concept?

Up next: “G” for "gimme that escalation." Don't miss it!

Direct download: 113-Not-An-Excuse.mp3
Category:careers -- posted at: 2:30am CDT

We notice it all the time: when we point out to people their natural talents through meaningful conversations, their success comes more easily. In this episode, we refer to this phenomenon as “easy buttons” — our fourth core concept in this series.

Here at Lead Through Strengths, we love seeing people’s potentials. It’s always an amazing experience to help others realize something special about them and saying it aloud to them. This is because people often find it difficult to notice their very own potential. And so the more we hear responses like “Really? That’s a special thing?” or “Oh, I’m good at that?” — the more we find fulfillment that we are into strengths development.

Embrace What Feels Easy

A lot of people still hold this default assumption that if something feels easy to them, it’s probably easy for anyone else. They think it’s nothing special. They dismiss it as they wouldn’t want to offer a bunch of work that’s ordinary or easy. In effect, they are actually depriving their team of their gifts or potentials.

“Why bother? Anybody could have done it anyway.”

If you’re a manager, you have to mine for these potentials and spot them. Make your particular team members aware that what they’ve got is something special until they themselves acknowledge it. 

Once they are convinced that what may be easy for them may actually be a challenge for others, they’ll cease to think that their talent is “unspecial.” They will be more inspired to do more of that.

The more you consistently notice your team members’ strengths, the more they will develop the eagerness to cultivate them. Eventually, they will let their easy buttons get pushed. Those little but meaningful conversations mean that much.

Pushing The Button

The CliftonStrengths talent themes show how you naturally think or feel or act at your default. Your reports provide you some words that may serve as clues to make it a little easier to spot your easy buttons for success. Again, while this is a very simple concept, it’s strangely way overlooked in the office.

How exactly do easy buttons work?

What comes easily and enjoyable to you puts you in the strengths zone. And if you’re in your strengths zone, your performance gets strengthened even more. 

When we talk about implementing strengths, we normally ask people what comes easily to them. What do they find most enjoyable? They would list them down for sure, but as previously mentioned, they also tend to think that they’re easy, that there’s nothing special about that. “Anybody could do that,” as they would add.

Nevertheless, as we listen to the conversations, we find that the things that are easy and enjoyable to a person tend to be in their strengths zone. But given their default assumptions, they tend to go for what’s challenging or difficult. In their effort to be top performers, they labor through their weaknesses rather than shine in their strengths.

But then again — as your strengths strengthen your performance, your weaknesses weaken your performance. 

Easy Buttons When Turned OFF

Most of the time, working on stuff that’s really hard for you is like banging your head against the wall. You keep working hard and fighting the struggle that comes with dealing with things that are:

  • not enjoyable
  • doesn’t come naturally
  • not intuitive

In other words, these are not the things you typically excel at. 

Easy Buttons When Turned ON

In order to stand out without draining yourself, you need to be aware of this lever of strengths which when pulled leads to: 

  • better performance
  • people acknowledging you like you’re a top performer
  • getting your desired outcomes at work

That is equivalent to simply pressing those easy buttons.

Your CliftonStrengths talent themes also represent how you get things done, not what you’re choosing to do. So regardless of the job you’re in, your easy buttons will tell you how you can approach any outcome to get better results. 

Easy Buttons in Teams

Easy buttons vary among people. In sales teams, for example, a benchmark personality type is usually set for the ideal salesperson. Desired types may include:


  • A challenger – one who challenges the current beliefs that are embedded in the organization today
  • Presentation-savvy – someone who is the best at presenting case studies


The truth is, all these will depend on the easy buttons for each person.

Maybe there’s Person 1 for whom it’s natural to challenge current thinking, so that’s what he is inclined to do. But the person who’s best at it is the one who’s developed that in a way to make it a palatable conversation for another person.

Maybe there’s Person 2 who’s really great at collecting data, case studies, and analytics. In a sales engineer capacity, he can brilliantly present data that support how the product has worked for other similar companies. This can lead a client to make a buying decision.

Maybe there’s Person 3 who’s highly effective at building relationships with people by breaking the ice and making them laugh and have a good time. He may say, “I’m a relational person, therefore that helps me sell because once the relationship is built, then we gain mutual trust that works out for us.”

These are very different easy buttons and you could take any of those three people and they could all learn the other model. They could memorize sales tactics, scripts, and whatnots.

But for them to achieve their best performance, as a manager you have to help them figure out their easy buttons. By pushing these buttons, you help them towards great outcomes.

Hearing Excuses?

As you explore this fun concept with your team, you still might feel some resistance or hear excuses like: 

“Nope, I’m not doing it your way because that’s in my weakness.” 

“Nope, not in my strengths zone.”

When you face this scenario, hang in there because that will be tackled in one of the upcoming core competencies. 

Key Takeaways

  1. What you need to accomplish at work is dictated by the job description, but how you do that will largely benefit from talent themes tools. Think of them like easy buttons to help you deliver your responsibility with much better results.
  2. Keep a list of your talent themes somewhere readily visible or accessible. Some ideas include:
    • A frame of your Top 5 talent themes on your desk 
    • As magnets
    • As your phone’s lock screen display 
  3. Examples of moments when the “easy buttons” concept comes in handy:
    • When you’re feeling a little bit stuck and you need something to help you maneuver the situation
    • When your default reaction hasn’t been working for you and you’re looking for a new way out

Your natural strengths are easy for you for a reason. Why choose another way?

Ready For The Next Concept?

Up next: “N” for “not an excuse.” See you in the next episode!

Direct download: 112-Easy-Buttons.mp3
Category:careers -- posted at: 2:30am CDT