Monday, May 19, 2008

Leading From Strengths

My strengths, according to the Now, Discover Your Strengths Finder are:


I discovered these strengths about six years ago when my friend Susan gave me Marcus O. Buckingham's book, Now, Discover Your Strengths, and insisted that I take the Strengths survey. I am so glad that I did.

Funny thing about discovering my strengths was that I previewed the list of strengths that were possible and pegged the five that I thought surely described me. It turns out that I was completely, 5 for 5 wrong. Not one of the things that I believed about myself turned up as a strength. At first, this really peeved me. It negated what I thought of myself. But, the more I thought about it, and certainly now six years later, understanding that I had hidden, untapped, undiscovered strengths was a major turning point for me. It was really the beginning of my building a dream that started from the inside and was well-suited to what was me and part of my nature. Focusing on my strengths, I was able to start to construct my vision instead of conscripting myself to others' dreams and ideas, be they those of my parents, my spouse, or society at large. For me, the experience felt like the confining box of
shoulds exploding, and the possibility of new and unconsidered leaping forth.

One of the busted thoughts I had was about being a leader. I was raised with a pretty traditional top-of-the-heap idea of
The Leader. He, (rarely she), was the one who fought the hardest, the one who survived the most attacks, and eventually attacked proactively to protect his status and his turf. I am from parents who lived that and fostered that sense of dogged competitiveness, even among us siblings. I married a distance swimmer, a competitive spirit a bred of its own.

Now, having embraced the ideas and ideals of empathy, connectedness, learning, and especially, activator, I have an understanding of leadership that is collaborative, connected to root ideals in an organization, and more about fostering discovery and problem-solving than persuasion or demanding do-as-I-say allegiance. I work hard to activate others' awareness so that fuller and more expansive decisions can be reached. I help create better analytical thinkers that consider more data, different types of data, more possibilities, and lead their team to right-for-us solutions. I activate curiosity and a motivation to learn where it has fallen dormant. And, I am adaptable to most people's amazement because I connect bodies of information in ways they never could. And, all of this I didn't see in myself just a few years ago.

Once I accepted I had been projecting and influencing the weaker aspects of myself, I started actively developing my strengths. Equally important, I actively try to match my weaknesses with others' strengths. Thankfully, my husband has strengths in totally different areas than me. Together we cover more strength area, and we have learned to defer to each other's strengths. Also, we think of each other as the embodiment of unique strengths, acknowledging our separateness and our partnership. Your whole relationship with someone -- be they your spouse, your co-worker, your boss, or your child -- changes when you see and value their strengths. And, of course, when you see and value your own.

The amazing paradigm shift that Buckingham's work offers is this: you will be happier and more successful if you work to develop and leverage your strengths instead of the opposite, which we were taught all through school -- to work like heck to better your weaknesses.

Now, I always lead from my strengths. Discovering your strengths, (the newest version is called Strengths 2.0) is an important first step for anyone interested in being your most authentic, capable self.

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