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Discovering Our Strengths

In my three-part series on delegation, I left one enemy of delegation unaddressed.

This is a thankless task. I don’t want to make someone else do it.

This one is undoubtedly relevant to delegation; however, it warrants its own post, touching on one of my core beliefs.

Take a moment and list out some of your strengths and your weaknesses.

You probably barreled right through that, so I’ll ask again. Really take a moment and list them out.

Review your list. How many strengths did you identify? How many weaknesses? What are the most meaningful items on your list? In reviewing that list, what emotions do you feel? Are you energized by your strengths? Or demotivated by your weaknesses?

It is not uncommon to come up with more weaknesses than strengths in this exercise and to focus our energies on how to eliminate the weaknesses. If we do this with ourselves, and more importantly, with our team, the research suggests we have it backward.

Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Don Clifton was one of the formative books from early in my leadership career, along with the StrengthsFinder tool it introduced. It was followed by StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath and an enhanced version of the instrument. Rath shares one of the key findings from Gallup’s research outlining the impact of focusing on strengths and employee engagement:

  • If your manager primarily ignores you, there is a 40% chance of your being actively disengaged.
  • If your manager focuses on your weaknesses, that chance drops to 22%.
  • If your manager focuses on your strengths, that chance drops to 1%

Think about that for a moment. If you focus on addressing weaknesses with your employees, you have a 1 in 5 chance of that employee being actively disengaged. If you focus on developing strengths, that chance drops to 1 in 100. I don’t know about you, but I like those odds.

If you are interested in learning your specific strengths, I recommend purchasing either of the books linked above – each includes an access code to take the assessment. Once you understand your top strengths, you can focus on how to steer your work towards leveraging those strengths in your daily job. 

Let me share a few personal examples. One of my top strengths is Maximizer. From StrengthsFinder 2.0, “Taking something from below average to slightly above average takes a great deal of effort… and is not very rewarding. Transforming something strong into superb takes just as much effort but is more thrilling.” I re-read these words recently and thought immediately of how I describe my coaching practice – radically accelerating leadership growth. Coaching is my passion because I have the privilege to work with leaders who are ready to learn and grow and help them get to great. It’s no surprise that the first “Idea for Action” in the book for Maximizer is “Seek roles in which you are helping people succeed. In coaching, managing, mentoring, or teaching roles, your focus on strengths will prove particularly beneficial to others.”

Another top strength I have is Relator. I thrive on close, high-trust relationships. This realization also pointed me towards mentoring as a technology leader and now coaching as my chosen profession. It lets me engage deeply with my clients, forming a trusting relationship as I support their learning goals.

As a leader, you can improve your team’s engagement if you understand each individual’s strengths and organize the work to take advantage of those strengths. This is how we solve the delegation pitfall referenced at the start of the article. Just because you think it’s a thankless task does not mean everyone on your team feels the same way. Find the person who enjoys that task – you’ll be doing yourself and that person a favor!

I can think of two examples in my last role that illustrate this point. We would periodically survey our customer base to get feedback on our products. It wasn’t uncommon to get 2,000 replies with detailed comments explaining what they loved and where they wanted us to improve. I knew there was value in processing all of that detail and codifying it – I also knew my team didn’t enjoy that work. One colleague tells me they have an allergic reaction to Microsoft Excel. In contrast, I’ve found that this is one of my superpowers. I’m combining my Input and Maximizer strengths when I parse through data in a spreadsheet and learn from it. This is precisely the kind of activity that gets me into a Flow state, as first described by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. I completely lose track of time and love every minute. So I wouldn’t delegate this task to a teammate who wouldn’t enjoy it. I would save it for myself and ensure I had enough uninterrupted time to get into a flow state for maximum productivity.

The second example came into play when I had critical written communications. While I think I do a decent job writing, I know that good feedback can continually improve the result. Editing someone else’s writing is not something I enjoy, so I would fall into this delegation pitfall and just do my best on my own. Then one day, I learned that one of my colleagues had an English degree, and she loved editing and improving other people’s writing. When I had something important, I started asking her if she’d like to provide feedback. Each time I felt like I was delegating a thankless task, and each time she thanked me for the opportunity to leverage her strength and provide feedback. It was a true win-win.

If you’d like to identify your strengths, aside from taking the assessment, I invite you to try this simple exercise. For the next week, keep a journal of your loves and loathes. At the end of each day, note the activities you did that day you loved and the ones you loathed doing. This simple exercise will quickly give you clues about where your strengths lie. Ask your team to do the same and share what they learn. You’ll start to identify new possibilities in no time.

Schedule time with me if you would like to talk more about how to leverage your strengths every day.

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