Successful leadership: How to energize our strengths in a world where we are taught to “fix” our weaknesses
I am not sure of the exact moment when I realized that leadership development could be more productive, and potentially more impactful, if it focused more on strengths and capabilities, than on gaps and deficits. Nonetheless, it has been my great fortune to have done so at a time when others are now slowly coming to the same realization.
I had lunch last week with a friend and client, who is at the precipice of a beautiful new chapter in her career. She has spent the better part of the past six months exploring herself and her vocation through the lens of who she is when she is ‘at her best,’ and when she is engaged in activities that are aligned with her deepest and most important personal values. After an intensive job search, she’s joyfully accepted a position which connects her with the aspects of her personal and professional life that give her great joy and satisfaction. These job characteristics also play to her strengths as a professional and offer her room to stretch herself in new directions.
At Colloquia Partners, we have the privilege of working with individuals from all walks of life, in various stages of growth and transition, who are often at a crossroads. We commonly hear, “I have been very successful in my career, but I feel like something’s missing” or “I am unsatisfied with my ability to contribute to something more meaningful; I’d like to make a difference.” Many of our clients have worked with highly reputable career transition coaches, yet are at a standstill, unsure of their path forward.
Building blocks of success: Our strengths
One important aspect of this exploration, whether you are looking for greater satisfaction in a current role or firm, or you are looking to make a move elsewhere, is to get clear about your values and your purpose. A critical next step is to take inventory of where and when you do your best work. What is it that makes you feel most alive, where are your greatest strengths, and what are your most important growth opportunities?
People are notoriously poor at self-evaluation, even in circumstances when we are taking stock of the things we really like and are good at. As we evaluate feedback from others, “[w]e gravitate to the bad news and tend to skim over the good,” says Shane Lopez in Making Hope Happen. He concludes that, “…when we study what we do best before we focus on our deficits, …we open up more pathways to success.” Assumptions about how we are perceived by others, or worse, what we think others want us to be, all fog our mirrors. There are a number of great tools available to help us find a clearer reflection, some of which include Gallup StrengthsFinder, and VIAStrengths.
Among the tools we use to help clients discover their unique strengths is the Reflected Best Self Exercise (RBSE) conceived and distributed by the faculty at the Ross School, University of Michigan. Like most other 360 assessments, the RBSE draws upon raters’ experiences of the leader/learner from all aspects of a learner’s life. However, unlike most similar tools, the RBSE asks raters to share stories specifically focused on understanding the learner when he or she is ‘at their best.’ The output from this process is rich, robust, and intensely powerful and can be used to inform the learner’s choices for the future.
Having participated in the RBSE, I can share its power to create transformation. Although I am a long-time proponent of 360 feedback, having genuinely benefited from it in the past, the RBSE specifically provided insight into how and when I do my best work. The initial experience was both unsettling and affirming. I received this piece of feedback from a peer and someone I love dearly, “Her heart and vision are too big to be described as a process. She has an innovative mind that lives nicely in the consulting world, where ideas and strategic outside-the-box thinking are embraced. She needs to be able to freely walk from the corporate world…” These few sentences helped me find the courage to leave a successful career behind and focus clearly on creating the future that I had always dreamed of.
It is refreshing to see organizations such as Cisco adopting strengths-based coaching practices in their internal talent development processes. Like us, they use tools and assessments to aid in the identification of their team members’ professional strengths and capabilities. The outcomes of these assessments are used to align individuals to roles and responsibilities where they have the greatest interest and are considered most likely to flourish.
We hasten to share our belief in a balanced approach to cultivating self-awareness through feedback and comprehensive assessment processes. We agree that, “…high-performing leaders tend to get better by developing new strengths, not just enhancing old ones,” a perspective shared by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic in his January 2016, Harvard Business Review critique of strengths-based coaching. A holistic appreciation of strengths, opportunities for development, and areas for growth is essential for crafting success.
Our experience has been that adding strengths-based components to a comprehensive assessment process opens doors for the learner, which might otherwise have remained closed and unexplored. And, we believe that there is incredible value in discovering and sharing stories of great work, positive impact, and hope for the future.
If you, or someone you know, is looking for a way to activate your success, let us help you ignite your journey.