My friend Joe is different from your typical mining executive. Like his colleagues, he is dedicated to keeping the plant working 24/7. But Joe is equally curious about the inner workings of human beings, starting with himself.
“A few years ago I went on a personal development journey to get a deeper understanding of who I am and what makes me tick. I wanted to be a more authentic ‘me’ unbridled by either real or perceived organisational or social barriers. I was fortunate to have a coach*, who as a first step encouraged me to get a better understanding of my strengths**.
“There are thirty-four strengths in total. We are all unique so for each person some are more dominant than others.
“This way of thinking is very different to the typical organisational approach which is largely to ignore strengths and focus almost entirely on weaknesses.
“I was sceptical when I first saw my print out. I read the descriptions of some of my top strengths and thought, ‘That isn’t me.’ For example, number two on my list is ‘Includer’, described as someone who spontaneously notices people’s good qualities, is accepting and inclusive of others and helps them fit in.
“I needed to validate them. I asked myself, ‘Are they true?’ and ‘Do they resonate?’
“I notice people’s good qualities some of the time, but definitely not all the time! So does that make me an Includer, or not?’
“Then my coach suggested I think about them as talents, which require a regular and constant investment of time, skill and knowledge from me to develop into strengths where my performance is consistent at a high level.”
What Joe was saying resonated for me. I am very good at thinking strategically and learning new things, and possess a strong drive to achieve results. But I don’t operate in these modes 100 per cent of the time. Hence, I find it helpful to think of strategy, achieving and learning as talents worth developing into strengths. I’m sure it will be a life-long project!
I then asked Joe which talents or strengths were top of his list.
“The surprise was four of my top six all have to do with relating to people. It took me a while to accept I have this softer side but gradually I realised it’s true.”
Joe’s relationship building talents draw him to work with others to achieve a common goal, talk to people about their hopes and dreams, share what he knows with others and exchange ideas. He enjoys having deep, speculative conversations with interesting people and developing others, helping them figure out what they need to progress. He is a curious person, fascinated by the mysteries of life. He believes in the fundamental connectedness of the world.
“I also realised the way I get things done is primarily through solving problems. This means I seek to understand the facts to figure out what’s wrong in a situation and then work with others to resolve it. I appreciate the rewards of successfully resolving difficult issues together.
“I always think about the future. I need to be inspired about what is coming or life feels dead. I can go through hard times now if I’m looking forward to better times ahead.
“Lastly, everything I do must be consistent with my core beliefs. Unless I stay true to my purpose in life and my values I lose direction.
“That had me explore the question: what is my purpose in life? I realised I am here to make a positive and lasting contribution to the people and the environments around me. I am willing to go to great lengths to improve people’s lives, helping them resolve problems affecting their quality of life.
“In terms of values, what is important to me is being the kind of person who respects others and does what he says. My priorities are family, community, environment and well-being.”
Joe sent me a four-page document bringing together his purpose (why he is here), values (what is important and how he makes decisions) and his talents and strengths (how he is going to get there).
“I’m really glad I did this work. I’m moving on from my job soon so it’s important to go after opportunities that play to what I’m good at.”
Joe has worked for big corporations most of his career earning a predictable salary with good benefits. But he is not worried about the uncertain future.
“Being futuristic has me be interested in what might lie ahead. I enjoy thinking about it and how to get there.”
He is not too concerned with who is next employer is going to be or how much he is going to get paid. Instead he is focusing on the big picture given by his talents, strengths, purpose and values.
“I’m really not sure what the specifics are. I want to work where friendships and team work are encouraged. I want to be around people interested in developing themselves and the organisation is interested in its people.
“I’ll seek roles that fit my values and organisations defining their purpose by their contribution to society. I need to work for a vision I can believe in.”
* Deborah Protter of The Values Partnership
** The best strengths inventory I know of is the Gallup Strengths tool. Millions of people have used it:
Disclaimer: I receive no payments or benefits of any kind from Gallup for recommending their products. I just want everyone to discover their strengths!
I asked Greg, a good friend who has built up a thriving business, is a wonderful dad and husband and a contributor to his community, to tell me the story how he got to where he is today.
“It certainly wasn’t school,” he said. “I was one of those dumb kids. The teachers told me so. And my class mates. Everyone.
“The truth was I had no academic ability,” he continued matter-of-factly. “I’d read something but try as I might I couldn’t get it. I never had the answer. They kept telling me I was dumb and I believed them.”
My heart sank at the thought of it.
“I was also small, weak and totally un-sporty,” he said. “My ego was broken.
“I cared what people thought of me and wanted to compensate for my failures. Fortunately, I was good at communicating and made friends easily. I deliberately set out to get in with the smart, sporty, popular people. Especially the big, cool guys. They protected me.”
“How did you become the person you are today?” I asked again.
“It’s only the past ten years I’ve thought about that. How did I become me? I didn’t used to think I was unique or special. Everyone seemed the same.
“Now at fifty I’m discovering all about myself. Strengths Access* put it in a box for me and wrapped it up.
“It’s helped me identify the combination of strengths and talents unique to me. For example, I already knew I am good at relating to others but now I realise I have this ability to understand someone’s thought process. They feel comfortable with me because I get inside them. It is a gift few people have.
“I’m also good at motivating people, building relationships and aligning teams. Only a small percentage of the population can do what I do. Now I know I am special. I feel more whole as a person.
“It’s also allowed me to accept my weaknesses. I’m now ok with my academic history. Being ‘dumb’ doesn’t matter anymore.”
I leaned back in wonder. Here is an accomplished man who for most of his life thought he was rubbish. But that was just a story, fabricated more than forty years ago by people in authority telling him a lot of crap about himself. Unfortunately, he believed it.
I think many of us, including me, have had similar experiences.
This story helped Greg survive in some ways but soon became limiting. Anything positive he did, like creating friendships, he dismissed as a mere tactic to escape the burden of being ‘dumb’.
By discovering his natural strengths and talents, however, he has been given an entirely new story about himself. He realises he is an effective communicator. He has the gift of winning others over. He can lead teams of people. Ultimately Greg knows who he is and what gives him joy in life. He is at peace about the past and can now concentrate on making his unique contribution to the world.
“I’m very clear what I will and will not do. It’s a small thing but I used to write job descriptions for people we wanted to hire. I thought that was what the boss supposed to do. I am the one paying the money so I should be clear who I want to hire, right? But I’m no good at that sort of thing. It’s bad for me, bad for the business and bad for the people we’re interviewing. It wastes so much of my time doing something I’m no good at. I’ve given someone else the job.
“I also hate cold calling. I found a great guy in the Philippines who sounds completely American. He is bright as anything. He makes initial contact with potential clients, finds out if there is any interest and if so, I’m handed a warm lead! I end up closing a lot more business than before.
“Now I’m spending most of my time with clients. They’re the ones paying the big money for our people. I need to understand what their needs are and get my organisation to deliver. Everyone wins.”
Watch for more articles about people developing their strengths. Please get in touch to talk about strengths based mentoring.
*The best strengths inventory I know of is the Gallup Strengths Access. Millions of people have used it: https://www.gallupstrengthscenter.com/Purchase/en-US/Index
Disclaimer: I receive no payments or benefits of any kind from Gallup for recommending their products. I want everyone to discover their strengths!