Based on Strength

The best leaders have a good idea who they are as a person.  They know their strengths and find ways to use them in their jobs every day…” from an interview with Josh Allan Dykstra, Organizational Development Specialist

The concept of natural talent has always interested fascinated me – the way some people have such an obvious proclivity for music or art or sports or telling jokes or cooking or growing things or teaching… all the multitude of talents that make the world go round.  And sometimes I wonder about the talents people have that go undiscovered, because I’ve seen talent revealed quite by chance and it causes me to think about the times that opportunity doesn’t occur and someone’s true talent may never be uncovered.

It seems the Gallup Organization has been extensively studying the concept of strength and strength based leadership.  According to Josh Dykstra -who happens to be my friend C’s son-in-law, but is also one heck of a smart young man- a strength is where “talent meets knowledge meets skills.”  It’s about knowing who you are and what your strengths are, and then finding ways to use them in the things that you do everyday.  Apparently the worlds best leaders don’t necessarily share a list of similar characteristics, as you might imagine.   What they do have in common is a heightened sense of self-awareness which they’ve parlayed into their life and work.

This information comes at an interesting time for me, because over the past several months I’ve been tested in my job in ways that are uncomfortable.  I’ve kvetched about it here a few times, but in essence, my job has changed dramatically so that I’m now in a position of  totally managing other people’s work, while still being responsible for the final product.  I’ve been trying to figure out why this is so difficult for me, why my stomach knots up every morning when I’m driving into the office, why I sometimes feel like crying when I sit at my desk and survey the piles of papers littered around me. 

So reading about strength based activity makes me realize that the reasons I feel so unhappy and frustrated is that I’m no longer using my natural strengths to their best advantage.  It makes sense to me that if people are most effective when they’re working within the areas of their greatest strength, than the opposite would also be true- that we are not only less productive, but less satisfied when we our work entails utilizing our weaker traits.

Now here’s where my inner Puritan pipes up.  “It’s work, you ninny,” the black-robed figure scolds, “it’s not supposed to be fun or satisfying.  It’s supposed to be hard!”

But the Gallup people have a different take on the subject.  Don’t we owe it to our employers to give them our best selves?  And doesn’t it behoove companies to encourage  employees to discover their strengths and help them find ways to use them in their employment positions, to make them more effective and productive?  Shouldn’t that be a win-win for everyone?

Hmm.. it should, I think.

So in the days ahead I’ll be delving a little deeper into this idea of strength based leadership, trying to determine just what my strengths (in this context) might be.  Perhaps I can find ways to use them in this new world I’m working in.  And perhaps in the process, I’ll gain a better understanding of myself as a person.

I’ll keep you posted.

To find out more about strength based leadership, and the StrengthFinder assessment, visit the Gallup Strength-Finder website here.

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8 thoughts on “Based on Strength

  1. Ah, this entry resonates on a monday morning before I head to work, stomach slightly knotted at what is ahead, including the “littered desk(!)” to the team I manage.

    Think I might have to have a look at the book/link you mention.

    What are we doing?

    (BTW, your blog header is GREAT!)

  2. I related on several levels with your last posting. I was in a position of leadership a few years ago and absolutely hated it. I’m not a natural born leader – I’m a great worker bee but I need someone else to be in charge.
    I don’t want to have to motive people to do their jobs or chastise them when they don’t. What I found for me is that most of the people I supervised didn’t have the work ethic I had. They were not punctual, were sneaky and manipulative and only put in a half days work and when I confronted them, they were full of excuses and anger.
    I know a stronger leader would have motivated them – maybe – maybe not -or been able to write them up and not lose sleep over it. For me, it threw me into a depression and I had to get medication to function for about a year. Not good. So making sure someone is in a job where their talents shine and they are comfortable is very, very important.
    Now, I do my job of advising students and I go home at night knowing I did the best job I could and I don’t need to worry about what others below me are not doing. It’s much better and I’m much happier and am no longer depressed.

  3. Once upon a time, there was a Jeanie who was very content working independently and not having to boss anyone around. Then she got an assistant. Then a second employee. She loves her job; she hates having to supervise folks (though it’s much better since one bad apple went somewhere else to rot.)

    My strength in the working-together department is being part of a team. When my team has given me evaluations, they say I’m a good supervisor, and I think they’re probably right. But my stomach goes in knots when I have to confront them or a tough issue. And when it does, it keeps me from being my best.

    I so relate to what you have to say and will look forward to more as you explore this with yourself.

  4. Hey Becca, one I’m reading right now that might be useful for you is “Go Put Your Strengths To Work” by Marcus Buckingham. He does a great job at taking the idea of strengths to a next, more tangible step–particularly at work. If I can ever help with anything, just let me know. All the best!

  5. This obviously struck a chord with lots of my friends who feel the same way about working in a area that’s not one of their strengths. Is it a trend among the artist-writerly types that we like to work independently and not “manage” other people?

    Josh, thanks for stopping by and for the book recommendation – I’ll definitely look into that one.

  6. Hey Becca, I’m fascinated by your post and was reading through the comments, so I thought I’d answer your question about artist-writerly types… It took me years to realize how much I enjoyed working independently… being self-employed has allowed me to work in my areas of expertise for an individual clients… and I do like that. I also like collaborating with other professionals. I DO NOT like managing others. I’m capable of doing it, but it brings out a lot of my negative qualities. I do not thrive when I feel responsible for the work of others.

    I have not read Marcus Buckingham’s book but I saw him on Oprah and I think his message is spot on.

    I think the problem is that somewhere along the way, we were taught to believe that if the work isn’t hard, we aren’t working hard enough. I know that when I’m working in areas of my strengths, there’s an inner motivation to do the best job I can… to get to the other side of whatever “challenge” I may encounter. When I’m working outside of my strengths, the stress makes me want to crawl under the covers and cry.

    • Ah, so you don’t like managing people either. Another creative soul who prefers to work alone. If I were a pscyhologist, I might do a study about this 🙂

      I really like the way you expressed the feeling you have working within your strengths. That’s the way I feel when I’m preparing music or working on a writing project. I also feel a sense of calm and certitude – the feeling of being a round peg in a perfectly cylindrical hole.

      Crawiling under the covers to cry…yep, I’ve had that one too!

      Thanks for your thoughtful response.

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