The Power of Effective Strengths Use

Have you ever been frustrated by a work colleague, friend, or family member whose strengths were different than yours? What if the qualities that make someone their best trigger you to toxicity?

Now consider this. What if you saw those differences as assets rather than obstacles? What if you could see the strengths beneath the frustration you feel and tap into the power of effective strengths use to interdependently create exponentially greater results? 

As I reflected on this, I recalled a recent conversation with a friend who has a strong inclination to move to action, to execute, to get things done. This is one of the qualities I admire most about her. We had been discussing a business opportunity and exploring how we might deliver a program to serve an identified need within the community. I had been gathering research, exploring and assessing several possibilities. As I shared this with her over a period of a few days, she brought her curiosity, caring, ideas, and desire to bring her contribution. I could feel her energy and all of these qualities as she then asked me, "So have you decided (on which option) yet?  What are the next steps?"  

I felt her compelling urge to take action. She believed in the project and saw the possibilities. While I appreciated her zeal, I politely responded, "Our next steps are to continue to do our research, and gain clarity on the market opportunity, our marketing approach, and our business model.  She was in "Let's go!" mode, I was in "move forward with what?" mode. Through my lens, I saw the need for further discovery and planning work before moving to execution. As I moved from initial frustration, born from the needs of my strengths (Maximizer, Arranger and Strategic in particular), to an appreciation of the strengths inherent within our divergent perspectives, I saw opportunity. I became excited by the possibility of collaborating interdependently with my friend, tapping into each of our strengths to create something wonderful that served us and others.   

I did not want to suppress her executing strengths, rather I sought to learn how to effectively use them. Her innate strengths, and her personal and professional conditioning have ingrained in her the importance of taking action. These would be extremely valuable when we were ready to move to execution. This propensity to take action, to get things done, also manifests in how her days typically unfold.  She is up and going early in the morning, working out, getting things done, and going non-stop until 5:00 PM or so. Then it is off to take her kids to soccer games, music lessons, or to drive her kids to play dates with friends. Her motor is always running on high. My curiosity compelled me to ask her, "When throughout your day do you take time to pause?"  She said, "After I am done with my day.  You know, I am always so exhausted and stressed I need time to myself to recharge. Sometimes I will go for a walk or take a bath to calm myself down."  "I see." I replied. "How about during your day?"

(Silence, followed a few seconds later by the deer in the headlight look reflecting an "aha" moment) "I don't." she said with honesty and conviction reflective of this reality. This invited the question, "What if you did?"  

We then discussed pause practices she could adopt to slow down, increase her mindfulness, and better manage her energy level throughout the day to better serve herself (and others). This wasn't about finding flaws and myopically calling out weaknesses. It was about seeing the strengths she had and exploring what might be different with expanded awareness and more effective use of those strengths.

We probed to reveal possibilities: What if you were more in tune with your energy levels throughout the day? What if you could identify signals from your body, your emotions, your language, and thought patterns that were energy depleting? What if you created practices to help you quiet your mind, become centered and focused, and to recharge throughout the day, as needed, to stay energized, experience less stress, and become even more effective?

Similarly, we explored how I might create expanded awareness and more effective strengths use. What might I do differently to be more effective? Effective strengths use impacts not only how you show up, it also influences others, as you value each person for their unique talents. As ineffective strengths use can bring both you and others to toxicity, similarly effective strengths use can amplify the contributions of each person in the team with powerful results. When we each operate from effective strengths use, bringing our best to the shared objective and valuing what others bring, we can interdependently create a 1+1 = 11 effect.  

In this state, you become energized by feelings of fulfillment, excitement, and appreciation born from your contribution and that of your partner. Together, each contributing through their strengths, you produce results clearly greater than each of you could have done alone. You also learn through this process of collaboration which enhances your contributions to future endeavors.

This learning can be a fascinating study in human behavior dynamics. As you discover how each person's strengths combine effectively and ineffectively you reveal another layer of complexity. With this complexity, acceptance without judgment, mutual respect, and appreciating each person for their uniqueness become even more critical. It got me thinking about how to effectively tap into both her strengths and mine to create a highly productive and successful team?  

While we share many strengths within our top 15 (Gallup Strengths Finder 2.0 Assessment), they show up differently for each of us. This reflects our uniqueness and how each of us is wired differently. This can be a source of frustration or a fountain of opportunity. While initially our differences manifested in frustration, upon deeper inspection, they revealed opportunity born of our unique talents. We have discovered that her inclination to move to action effectively complements my pragmatic, systems thinking approach.  While we are both strategic thinkers, we each come at this in our own distinctive way which adds value to our working relationship and to the end product.  Similarly with influencing, the blended concoction of our strengths expands our possible approaches while allowing us to situationally be agile and choose the best tactic to meet the need.

What will this mean for how we might partner? It means we are grounded in an appreciation for what each other brings and share an interdependent mindset that reflects this. It means we will build on this foundation and continue to learn and grow as we discover how to best apply our talents to serving a shared purpose larger than ourselves.

When you remove ego from the equation and focus on effectively using and contributing through your (and others) strengths, you create the space for confident vulnerability. When you truly appreciate all that you are (strengths) and all you are not (weaknesses) and are ok with both, you build the foundation of acceptance without judgment. When you are able to be this way with yourself, you invite others to similarly be, extending acceptance without judgment beyond self to others. When you value each person's unique contribution you look through the lens of value and collaboration rather than deficit and competition. By expanding your awareness and improving your strengths intelligence in this way, you invite the power of interdependence (I serve us, so we can serve others). Scarcity and deficit-thinking becomes abundance and possibility-thinking. 

As you begin the new year, what would you like to be different in your life?  In your career? What if you expanded your self-awareness and more effectively used your strengths? How would that impact your fulfillment, performance, and relationships?  

What if a year from now, you could say your growth against your goals was exponential? What if instead the possibility of 1+1=11, for you, your team, your organization, your family, 1+1 =11 became a reality for you in 2016?

Be Bold. Be You. Breakthrough.℠

I Have A Dream (tribute to Dr. King)

Being Genuine with Yourself and to Your Career