Lead Through Strengths

Finding Energizing Tasks At Work

We’re almost at the end of our STRENGTHS series, where we discuss a total of nine concepts that will help you implement strengths with your team at work. In this episode, we'll explore one of the most interesting topics in this series: Honored and Insulted. 

This topic always generates the liveliest conversations. Why? Because people generally have this special keenness over what might honor or insult their talent themes. If you're a manager and you assign energizing tasks at work, imagine what it could do for productivity and employee engagement. Win-win!

Read on to learn how to keep your team motivated using the strengths perspective. If you know what honors their talent themes, then you likely know their personal values. When they work on a team where they can see the fit between the work and their values, they feel more motivated and energized.

Imagine a pyramid-like structure, where strengths are at the top, natural talents come next, and values form the base. Strengths are the talent that you've already developed well, while natural talent is how you think or feel or act in your default situation. 

At work, there are situations (or entire cultures) that either insult or honor your talent themes at a human level. We don't meet many teams that talk much about personal values.

The thing is, if your values are insulted, work can feel like soul-sucking drudgery. On the flip side, if your experience at work feels totally aligned with your values, you'll feel pumped. It actually acts like a fuel to keep you motivated and performing at your best. Energizing tasks at work - the concept might seem doable, yet it might seem far from your current situation. Hang in there because it is totally possible, regardless of your role.


How To Keep Your Team Motivated: Know What Might Insult And Honor Their Talent Themes

Within a team, there are lots of small moments that can suck the energy from you. You know them: draining tasks, things you procrastinate, or people who wear you out. Worse, these scenarios could make you want leave your job if you're not actively addressing them. These are sneaky de-motivators.

Let’s look at these examples. If you're a people manager, definitely look at these examples. Think about your team members and what energy takers might be foiling their plans to show up as a top performer. This is a super practical way to apply CliftonStrengths at the office. In fact, the energizing tasks at work might spill over into energizing responsibilities at home. The more you find these energy makers, the more you can bring them into your life.

1. Leading Through CliftonStrengths Responsibility. Imagine that you lead through Responsibility, and you’re working on a team where people are constantly showing up for meetings 5 or 10 minutes late. Because it's part of your DNA that you do what you say you're going to do, these people who disrespect other people’s time annoy you big-time. In general, no one likes it when someone misses a commitment, but it’s a different (deeper) level of insult to someone's talent of Responsibility.

While you learn to get over it after a while, and rationalize that it's just how the working world seems to be, you also might tag these moments as your “red line” or “red-faced” moments. They lead you to wonder why people can be downright flippant about it. That's an example of an energy taker for those who lead through Responsibility. These are the de-energizing tasks at work, or in this case, the de-energizing moments and interactions that can drain you and make work feel like the hardest of hard work.

2. Leading Through CliftonStrengths Analytical. Imagine leading through this strength and someone regularly pulls random anecdotes out of the air. You would, of course, wonder if this person ever fact-checks or uses reasoning skills. “Do they ever vet their comments to see if they're actually true?”

When you keep encountering moments like this, it can get to your nerves. When people seem to be making decisions that feel highly emotional, this would be insulting your talent theme of Analytical. When teams work on problems that come from things like, "this doesn't feel right" you will expect them to validate that gut feeling before investing gobs of money or time on something that might not be a an actual problem. Maybe it's just that one vocal customer's opinion - not an experience shared by others.

Imagine how helpful it would be to know that your talent theme of Analytical is getting insulted. You can say, "Aha - no wonder this meeting is always so frustrating for me. Maybe I can spin that around by offering to vet or validate the gut feelings that come up so often."

3. Leading Through CliftonStrengths Includer. Imagine you’re leading through this talent theme. You’re really good at identifying who among the team a) has given a voice, b) has not said anything, and c) might want to comment but hasn't been given the chance.

But when people talk over each other and ignore what one or two other people have to say,  it would be an insult to your talent theme. This could feel quite rude to you even if you’re not the person that’s not being included. Consequently, you develop this dislike and distrust of the people who are excluding those others and their ideas.

These are just some of those “red line” or “red-faced” moments that might happen when your talent (or values) are insulted. These may be small but they can add up over time and lead to feelings of disillusion, until you think, “Ah, I'm not valued here.”, or “This culture sucks. I don’t want to be a part of this team.”

These are the kinds of conversations that can put you in a dilemma of whether to deal with it or leave, as far as your talent theme is concerned.

That's exactly why it's so important to honor your talents, and also learn to honor the talents of teammates. When their strengths and values are honored, they can show up at their best. They can contribute something the team needs, and it may not be easy for others to do that thing. If you're a people manager, you can assign them as their most energizing tasks at work. They literally act like a fuel.

Your Team Challenge: Acknowledge Each Other's Talents

This is where strengths-focused conversations, done consistently, become very useful. It's a practical way to apply StrengthsFinder. Over time you build the trust that allows you to share with the team what honors your themes and what can make the workplace feel ideal or “the best.” Your team members will be able to avoid the difficult dilemma that can make them decide to leave their job. When values and strengths are in alignment, the team feels motivated and valued.

Even if this isn't part of your team culture today. You can be the person who helps the team begin to notice (and say aloud) what already works well. These small acknowledgements help every person understand what puts their teammates at their best. With some conscious effort, you can slowly shape your job description toward these energizing tasks at work.

Go Beyond 'Give And Take' When You Apply StrengthsFinder

Lisa, our founder, once shared that her troublemaker talent is Maximizer. At the same time, she also works closely with someone in her team who leads through Activator. So, while being a Maximizer, Lisa would pore over her work and polish things to make them better. Those are energizing tasks at work for her - making things better and better and better.

On one side, the Activator talent would wait on her and prod her to “just move on with it” or "just ship" the product. Lisa understood where the input was coming from. In some cases, where the quality output was high-stakes, she acknowledged the person by saying, “This is going to kill your Activator, but I need one more day on this.” In other cases, when good (and done) was better than great, she'd do the hand off. It all depends on the business outcome that the team agrees upon. This is where you can apply CliftonStrengths to get the best business results.

Of course, there are times when give and take is the reality. Although it feels good to live in your personal strengths panacea, you can't let your personal preferences trump the business priorities. You should constantly be looking for ways to get better results by using your strengths.

At the same time, be careful to not let them be an excuse. It would be unhealthy to be so obsessed with finding energizing tasks at work that you refused to do things that drain you. If you did that, you'd appera selfish and not results-oriented. Strengths get more powerful when you think beyond yourself. It makes total sense. Strengths work in relation to other people and other contributions being given on the team.

Practicing “give and take” comes handy within your team because when you become familiar with each other’s talent themes, you have a short code language to use. But you can also extend it to your stakeholders, your customers, and your colleagues outside of the team. You may not know what their talent themes are, given your much shorter engagements, but imagine how much stronger your working relationships would be if you start getting a feel for what honors them or what insults them.

Internally on our team, we find a regular flow of #goinput or #thatwasmyrelatortalking type of hashtags to keep it lighthearted and acknowledge the good sides and the dark sides that can come out from a talent.

3 Reasons To Apply CliftonStrengths Conversations Regularly and Informally

This whole concept of exploring what honors or insults talent themes is important for 3 key reasons:

1. To get a well-rounded team. In any given team, there’s a clash of perspectives that are not discovered until they are actually talked about. Suppose you brought your whole team of 10 direct reports together to apply StrengthsFinder in a virtual strengths discovery training.

Imagine watching their conversation in the chat box about the things that honor or insult their talent themes.

You’d probably realize that some of the things that drive them crazy, you yourself are doing sometimes. Is it an "Oops, I'm frustrating you and I'll stop" moment? Is it an "Uumph, that really drains you, yet it's a reality of our team's responsibility" moment where you try to mitigate the pain or impact? Regardless of the type of insight, the important part is that you're talking through them so you can address the situation with mutual respect. 

You have opposing views of things because, for example, what you would view as common sense may not come as common to how others think. What would come easy for you may not come as easily for others.

It’s also the reason why some people don’t bother letting their strengths out because they don't think those contributions are a big deal. If you can find those hidden gems and let them out, the whole team is better. With that strategy, you get a well-rounded team and you can stop obsessing over being a well-rounded person who is good at every possible thing under the sun.

2. To get your job matched to strengths. Conversations like these also allow you to discover what aspects of one’s job could lead to that person disengaging from that job.

If you apply StrengthsFinder to uncover what honors a person's talents, you'll uncover their easy buttons for performance. You'll find that a job matched to strengths feels easier to perform. A job matched up to talents also brings energy to the person doing it. In fact, if you're using your natural talents, the work can even feel easy. At a minimum, it's easier to get into flow.

Contrasting that, if your job is not matched to strengths, it will likely feel draining. You can usually do the work. You can get the results, yet it will feel effortful. You may procrastinate or feel drained and you can't figure out why. If you've been feeling that way, ask yourself if you've been working out of your weakness zone, or out of your non-talents. Often, it's an unexpected cause of burnout. As our colleague TyAnn often says, when your job is matched to your weaknesses rather than strengths, it can give you "a case of the Sunday nights."

3. To get more energizing tasks and get fewer draining tasks at work. Conversations like these become an opportunity to turn a “Man, this culture is awful” experience into a “So, if this is what other people value, which runs against my values, then here's how I'm going to cope.” So, think of what strategies you can come up with to convert a workplace experience into a positive and enriching one.

You can't always pick your responsibilities on the job. Of course, you want a job matched to your strengths. And you want energizing tasks at work, but sometimes the role is the role. Even if you can't to a lot to shape the job description, you can adjust the way you approach the work. At a minimum, you can adjust the meaning you make out of it. This might sound like a Jedi Mind Trick (and maybe it is), yet it's effective at bringing your energy and motivation back.

Key Things If You're A People Manager Applying CliftonStrengths

Here are key pointers to note before conducting a conversation with your team on what might honor or insult their talent themes.

  • Make sure the conversations are well-facilitated as you apply CliftonStrengths. Sometimes, these team chats can result in a venting session about all of the  "other annoying departments" or issues at your company. We're not saying you should squash or hide issues, yet it does take some skill to keep the conversations aimed at specific performance - and the things you can actually control or influence. Aim it right and lead the team to productive conversations.

    One useful tip is to ask them to list 3 energizing tasks at work and 3 draining tasks at work. We call it the "yucks and yays" list. That makes things specific, and it helps you cover both the Honored and Insulted. In this case, because you're trying to uncover their deeper values and reactions, focus the yucks and yays on situations rather than job duties. For example, someone might feel honored (or insulted) by the situation of an urgent interruption. But if they said "customer calls" you wouldn't understand why it's a yuck or a yay.


  • Be specific as you work toward the goal of getting their job matched to strengths. Get to the in-depth scenarios and situations that happen in an average work day. Apply StrengthsFinder using some of the tools and language behind them, as modeled by our examples involving the Responsibility, Analytical, and Includer talent themes. For example, the difference between, "I hate all of the emotion in our ops meeting" and "I'd love to help us pinpoint the depth of the problem we identified in the ops meeting" is night and day. The first one is venting. The second one is getting the job matched to strengths. It's action-taking for Analytical. It's volunteering and contributing the talent to a team who needs it. It's practical application of CliftonStrengths at work.

Ready For The Final Concept?

Now that you're loaded with energizing tasks at work, let's get to the next topic. Up next is the last in this series of nine core concepts: the Starved And Fed Continuum. See you there!

Direct download: 116-Honored-or-Insulted.mp3
Category:careers -- posted at: 3:30am CDT

Our seventh core concept in this STRENGTHS series, “Takes Time and Intention,” may sound like a lame title compared with our previous topics (“Troublemaker Talents,” “Easy Buttons,” “Gimme That Escalation,” etc.), but as we go along you’ll find that there’s a lot more nuance to it than that. You’ll get a deeper sense of why strengths take time, and hence calls for intention along with consistency. 

As in any process or situation, patience is a virtue. Something good always awaits, so stay with us!

Let’s break this core concept down to its two components.

1. Strengths Take Time

Between the two components, time is generally the easier one to commit to. It may mean a little bit of being patient, but the concept is more about asking:

“Now what?” 

“How do we keep this going?” 

After all the strengths blitz you go through with your team -- for example, going through the motion of reading “StrengthsFinder 2.0,” or preparing a budget for a team offsite and then getting together for some retreat or teambuilding activities -- ultimately, what do you do with all of that? How do you connect them to your natural strengths once you’re back to the grind?

While team activities like these open to a number of realizations, the questions remain: what’s next? How do we go about what we’ve learned? 

It all boils down to having the patience to take consistent effort towards building a strengths-based culture or thinking on the team. This includes breaking old thinking patterns in order to adopt new and better ones. For example, if many in your team are oriented lopsidedly towards weaknesses, it will take consistent effort in order to correct that. 

The best thing we can recommend is to have meaningful conversations with your team over time. And to achieve meaningful conversations, that takes a lot of trust between a manager and the team members.

Patience As A Way Of Thinking

Here at Lead Through Strengths, the way we help patience come into effect is by making it a way of thinking rather than just generic words of encouragement. Instead of telling teams to “just keep waiting, it will happen,” we prefer for them to think of strengths as the way they can get any results more easily. 

To illustrate this concept further, if you're using your natural talents and you've been developing them into strengths, you should be able to apply them to the work you're already doing. It shouldn't feel like strengths is so much of an initiative or an event or an extra thing on your plate that’s already full, but rather something like —

"I’m gonna lend my strengths to the work I already have to do."

When you are constantly busy and overworked, you would not want to view strengths as an extra task to have to manage. You would have less resistance when you are able to successfully lend your strengths to the work that’s currently on your plate.

When you see this from your own perspective, it opens things up and paves way for patience that will allow these meaningful conversations to happen over time. It is over time that you discover more about your team. Ultimately, when your understanding about each other deepens, trust is built and you collaborate better. That’s how you can honor their talents so that they can be effectively applied at work. 

Remember: Think of patience more like how you do the work you're already doing to easily achieve results versus seeing it as another item on your plate. That helps make patience more effective. 

2. Strengths Demand Intention

If time is the easier component in this concept, intention is the bigger one. As human beings, we have a number of cognitive biases, including negative cognitive biases. Let’s skip Google search and the psychology language by looking at this term this way -- if we are naturally oriented to spot what's negative, that is usually because we are trying to figure out what's gonna hurt us. 

“What weakness do I need to shore up with?” 

“What do I need to improve at so that I don't get fired for it?” 

“Where do I need to shut up in a meeting because otherwise, a) it might endanger my job, and b) I might disappoint my teammates who might think I’m not being a good collaborator.” 

These are just some of the reasons we are drawn towards this negative cognitive bias. The problem arises when we become too focused on it to the point of overdone or overblown. That’s where the idea of leading through strengths becomes powerful, because it gives you a totally different result when you’re working within your strengths zone. 

What Happens When We Lead Through Strengths Instead? 

When we think of strengths as a tool that we could use, like the "Easy Buttons" we talked about in Concept #4, that can unlock some real performance gains that people are missing out on. 

Have you ever tried to pull a nail out with the back of the hammer and you don't have the lever in the right place because you can't get it up in there all the way? Because you're not pulling against the strong lever, you exert more effort to get the nail out so it bends it all sideways and messes up the material you're pulling it out of. That's what it’s like when you're working in your weakness zone. 

But when you're working in your strengths zone, you get the full leverage and you exert less effort to get better results. You get that kind of satisfying feeling when it happens. 

Time And Intention As A Factor In Realizing Strengths

Setting time and intention means that you stay consistent as you go through the process of fully realizing your strengths, from spotting talent to developing it.

  • Spot the potential talent when it’s happening. You have to spot it when it's happening. If you’re an individual who is trying to spot your own talents, you may want to focus on your unique abilities, or those things that are easy for you to do but not for other people.


  • Experiment with the talent. This is the stage where you test the potential talent. Here, you must be able to realize that it can work well for you when you try it out and work on your potential. You have to give it credence and check what impact it can create for others. For example, see and check for yourself that the thing you thought was easy and that no one would care about, actually seemed to help the team out.


“Oh look, people actually care about that.”

"That actually helped the team out."

“Now that actually helped me get good results that people like.”


  • Apply the talent. Look for places and opportunities where you could offer your talents and be seen as a valued contribution.
  • Develop the talent.  When developing your talent, have the mindset that if you can achieve much with less effort, imagine how much more you can get if you will try harder. Then you would be inspired to double down on it and develop further so you can offer an even bigger contribution.

This whole process of seeing the talent, experimenting with it, applying it, and then developing it further may sound like an easy cycle to do, but it takes time, intention and thought. You’ll find that it’s not that easy to do when you don’t set aside time from your busy schedule, or if you're not stopping to give it some thought. It takes all that in order to succeed in this personal exercise for growth. As a personal exercise

Your Team Challenge: Create A Strengths-Based Subculture 

At the introduction of this series, we mentioned a 3-coin challenge that can help get you in the habit of noticing what works in each of your team members so that you get more of what works. 

The beauty about doing that as a team, especially if you do it consistently with time and intention and it works well, is that you get to start a culture in your company. That would be the culture where, 

  • You are oriented to each other in a way that favors strengths, you call it out and notice it in each other
  • You are mindful enough to recognize what the person is trying to contribute so that when they do and you see it, you're like, 

“Oh, yeah, that really was effective, but I wouldn't have noticed it otherwise because I would have been too busy in my computer and did not care to look up.” 

A tiny subculture of 10 people (or whatever size of direct reports you have) is powerful enough to start the snowball effect of what the whole team is doing. It is even more powerful than the company culture overall, as the different departments, founders and variations that come at play can get pretty complex. But if you are a team where you all work closely and learn about each other day in and day out, that is going to be a force in the company. 

So, Now What?

The concept of taking time and intention is a very important that we’re giving it its own term and airtime. It allows patience or some breathing room for the strengths to fully develop instead of cramming them all in at once. 

Have meaningful conversations with your team over time, and you’ll find that it is much more effective and less expensive than constantly going on offsites. 

Ready For The Next Concept?

Up next, we're going to talk about a concept that you surely wouldn't want to miss: "Honored and Insulted." Stay tuned! 

Direct download: 115-Takes-Time-and-Intention.mp3
Category:careers -- posted at: 2:30am CDT

Our sixth core concept is a perfect build-on to the “Plus One, Minus One” activity mentioned in our previous episode, Concept #5: “Not an Excuse.” 

Plus one, in particular, is about mining your team of the things they want to have more of. Then, as you dig deeper into this challenge, it’s amazing what you’ll discover from each of the team member’s responses. 

The Story Behind ‘Gimme That Escalation’ 

In one of the recent training sessions, a guy came forward and expressed what he has written on his wish list. 

I would love to have more escalation calls.” 

This statement set off these confused looks and reactions among others in the room. 

Did he just say that right? ‘I want more escalation calls?”  

What is he talking about?” 

These people were shocked that the guy was wanting more escalation calls. So of course, they had to ask him for further explanation.

According to the guy, he’s the “deepest subject-matter expert in the whole organization on this matter. He’s quite confident that he can very well handle when a customer turns utterly irate.

“I know that they can be so frustrated and can give up any time, but I know I'm gonna resolve it. If anyone can, it's me.” 

His awareness and certainty that he has the resolution and knowledge to turn things around fires up his love for doing escalations. And for that, we have named this concept in his honor.

Open Up To Meaningful Conversations 

The guy’s gimme that escalation statement opened up a whole conversation with others in the room. If you guessed that his teammates instantly offered him their own escalation calls, that’s not far-fetched at all. But expecting him to accept all escalations may not be realistic since of course, he actually has to get some other stuff done

While the guy got more escalations after such conversation, he also freed up his plate with tasks that were on his “minus one” list. Obviously, he was able to achieve the “plus one, minus one” balance, thanks to some good thinking and meaningful conversation. 

Opening up about what you want more of — though oftentimes surprising many in the room — can create a shift in the tasks. This proves that indeed one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.

Expanding The Concept 

How can we expand this concept further so it’s easier to apply? Consider the following as fun exercises for you as an individual or as a manager. 

1. As an individual: Discover other people’s “trash” tasks

  •  Gather information. Consider walking around the office and listen for what people are kvetching, complaining or procrastinating about. This is not to suggest that you join in the watercooler talk or random office conversations. Your goal is to capture as much information as you can for this little internal research project. 
  • Look out for “magic” moments. Most likely as you listen, you’ll find some “aha” moments. You discover that certain things people complain about are not bad at all. They could be stuff you actually like doing. You’ll find that what others consider as an area of weakness or difficulty might be an area of expertise for you. As you look out for these moments, compare and take notes. 

2. As a manager: Discover your team’s “loathe” list and shift tasks when possible

Imagine if you knew what each of your team members’ trash tasks were, especially their top list. Just knowing this could be really important because you are able to spot whether the “loathe” list includes tasks they have to do every day. You get an insight into the team’s demotivation points.  

In reality, it might not be that outright and easy to shift things around, as tasks that people hate still need to get accomplished. But in a lot of workplaces, the assignments are not homogenous, so you might have some power to be able to switch things around. Perhaps you could take something off the plate of a top performer in your team who may be losing interest in their job as they have to do what they loathe on a daily basis. 

Time And Trust Are Key

Opening up a conversation with your team members about the tasks they hate require a lot of trust. That's why you can't do strengths just as a one-time offsite team building and expect it to create all the magic things in the world. It takes meaningful conversation over time, up to that point they are comfortable enough to say, “Sure, I'm gonna give it my number one best, but I actually hate this job duty.” 

The ‘Gimme That ________’ Exercise

On the flip side, this exercise can prove powerful for the whole team, as it opens some cool opportunities. When assigning projects to your team members, consider these:

  • Their strengths. For each team member, find and assign to them that thing that lives in their strengths zone, especially if it's not in the strengths zone of everyone else. What is it that they love and makes them come alive?
  • Their expertise. Think about the projects that tend to get assigned at work. Those who are good at certain skills or knowledge areas related to those projects can be the go-to persons. 
  • Their development plan. If you’re the type of manager who puts considerable thought on what a person wishes to develop, as expressed in their individual development plan, be on the lookout for a relevant opportunity or project for them.

Sometimes, however, it can be pretty difficult when you’re finding an opportunity for them based on expertise and career goals. Let’s say a team member wants a very specific project, and you happen to have just one project like that and it’s already assigned to another person. This leaves you with very little choice as a leader. 

As a team leader, what do you do? 

Gimme That Challenge 

Here’s your challenge: get cool with limiting or difficult situations like that and then approach the conversation in terms of talent themes. 

As we know, talent themes are about how they get things done. You can just imagine what strengths and talent themes can come up. So, here’s what you can do.

  1. Ask each person to think about their talent themes.
  2. Let them come to you with 3 examples of projects that call on how they think/feel/operate in the world. 

Check out these “gimme that ________” scenarios:

1)  Gimme that situation. (Includer talent):

Okay, next time you're assigning projects and it’s important for you to find someone who will thoroughly listen to all of the requirements of each stakeholder, really cares what each person has to say, and want every voice of every department to be represented -- call on me.”  

2)   Gimme that dilemma. (Deliberative talent):

“Hey, next time you're assigning a project and you need someone to look at the downstream risks of a decision, or someone who can think seven or eight steps ahead about all the things that could go wrong so that we don't step in the potholes -- I'd love it if you consider me.” 

3)   Gimme that complex problem. (Restorative talent):

“Next time you're assigning projects and you have one that just seems like a big, hairy problem, I hope you'd think of me. I love to roll up my sleeves and just really get into all of the ways to solve a complicated problem.” 

With this approach, what they provide could allow you more space and flexibility in assigning projects.

You’ll find that there are actually a lot more opportunities for each individual than if their “gimme that _____” was too specific and narrow. 

This becomes awesome to you as a manager, especially that some people in your team don’t want to deal with such kinds of problems. 

Key Takeaway

It’s important that you get your team to communicate their wish list of work and projects that align with their strengths. This will help you look for opportunities and assignments where they can apply those easy buttons every day on the job and give their best. 

Ready For The Next Concept?

Up next: “T” for "takes time and intention." Stay tuned!

Direct download: 114-Gimme-That-Escalation.mp3
Category:careers -- posted at: 2:30am CDT