If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
Over 8,000 people take Gallup’s Strengths Finder Assessment every day. That’s 8,000 people who discover the top five strengths that they possess in four distinct categories; Executing, Influencing, Relationship Building, and Strategic Thinking. And each one of those 8,000 people is unique. Gallup has noted the likelihood of someone having their top five strengths in the same order as someone else is 1 in 33 million! That means personalized results are nearly as unique to individuals as their fingerprints.
But few of those people ever get to the application stage, where they learn how to leverage different individual strengths to maximize team success. How individual strengths manifest is dependent upon each specific constellation of a person’s Top 5. And how the team succeeds is dependent upon how all of those collective strengths are understood, balanced and expressed.
What follows are valuable lessons that I have distilled about strengths based leadership and coaching. These particular lessons came from team and individual coaching sessions I lead for 15Five, a San Francisco based tech startup that creates employee engagement & performance management software. You can read the entire case study here.
Here are five steps for using strengths based coaching to understand individual talents, help develop them into strengths, and aid the team to leverage individual strengths for powerful results:
1) Have each team-member discover their Top 5 individual strengths via the Clifton StrengthsFinder Assessment. Note that strengths are not the same as talents (natural ways of thinking, feeling, or behaving). Talents include seeing what activities provide satisfaction and delight, what activities keep people in flow, what they learn rapidly and what makes people say, “I’d like to do that again”.
Talents are neutral, but how we choose to apply them makes them a strength or a weakness. Some examples of talent include the natural ability to connect seemingly disparate phenomena (which we often see in those dominant in the Ideation theme) or create and adhere to structure and organization (which we often see for those dominant in the Discipline theme).
2) Understand that natural talents color our perspectives. When we discover them in ourselves and our teammates, that can help provide clarity for achieving common goals and to understand and appreciate where teammates may be coming from. All employees then understand that they can offer the best of themselves and create a workplace culture that grants permission to others on their team to do the same.
3) Develop a daily practice to use for particular themes every day to transform natural talent into strengths that improve employee performance.
4) Develop individual strengths by involving something that matters to individual employees. For example, Achiever (just like it sounds) has needs like creating spreadsheets and Trello boards to have everything organized.
5) Managers provide honest employee feedback through the lens of each employee’s strengths. This can lead to increased productivity and company growth.
Themes are not strengths or weaknesses by default. It is only through understanding individual constellations of people, that leaders are able to determine a strategy for team-wide success. And through practice, we can calibrate our Top 5 into something truly powerful.
Teams benefit greatly when they understand the strengths of people with whom they work closely. What really helps people to work together seamlessly and establish positive workplace culture is understanding the needs and contributions of colleagues.
For example, Maximizer contributes an orientation towards quality. They need quality to be valued as much as quantity. Somebody who leads with Maximizer would not do well in a role where they are required to produce a great amount of work-product of adequate quality.
Another example, is the Strategic theme. These folks contribute imagination, possibilities and persistence, but they need the freedom to make course corrections mid-stream. This could drive someone with the Discipline or Consistency theme crazy, since they thrive much more effectively in establishing routines and repeated systems that we can stick to.
These thematic differences are an advantage. That’s not to say that Discipline and Consistency cannot work with Strategic. Understanding how these themes are different and can respectively work off of each other, uncovers blind spots and creates a much stronger and well-rounded team.
In the end, everyone is served by calibrating their strengths. When we lead with our dominant themes, other strengths come to life through that sense. Strengths serve us best when we are flexible, shifting the lens when we work on different projects, and understanding which strengths will contribute the most to optimizing our workplace performance respectively.
Always ask which strength is best to lead with and what brings more value for the situation at hand. We likely wouldn’t use a hand saw to drive a screw into the wall, because a screwdriver would work far more effectively for that task. Our Strengths operate accordingly. Our awareness of what is needed and what will contribute most effectively, helps us to calibrate and recalibrate our own, while also understanding that calibration is continually taking place with the team as well.
Leaders with a Strengths-Based Orientation, focus on developing their people around their unique strengths. This includes understanding our contributions and needs and those of others on the team. Leaders can find the right roles for people and then allow conditions to be right for everyone on the team to collaborate and thrive.
You can learn about your unique talents and your Top 5, that 1 in 33 million you possess, by taking the Clifton StrengthsFinder.
Darren Virassammy is the Co-Founder and the Chief Operating officer of 34 Strong. Darren writes, speaks and trains teams extensively on Strengths based organizations. He focuses on providing solutions to the disengagement problem through talent development and building strengths based organizational culture. A few of the numerous organizations that Darren works with on developing strengths-based teams include: Bank of America, Genentech, State Street, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Hitachi Data Systems.
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