[Side note: A family emergency happened yesterday causing me to need to concentrate and take care of my wife this week. I will not be posting any new content this week (Though I might be posting a quote post or repost). I will also be mainly offline for the next several days.]
This post is written by Paul Sohn who writes at Salt+Light. He has a passion to equip, empower, and transform people and organizations into kingdom-minded world changers. Paul is an author of He Said, She Said, and YOU?: Your Pit Stop for Inspiration which you can download here. You can connect with him on Facebook and LinkedIn.
Far too many leaders lead without a thorough understanding of their strengths. Three years ago, I stumbled on an article from Harvard Business Review, Making Your Indispensable, where the authors Zenger and Folkman inspired me to embark on a self-discovery project, helping me discover my objective strengths that will accelerate my leadership journey.
The authors suggest that good leaders can become exceptional by developing just a few of their strengths to the highest level —but not by merely doing more of the same. Instead, they need to engage in the business equivalent of cross-training —that is, to enhance complementary skills that will enable them to make fuller use of their strengths. For example, technical skills can become more effective when communication skills improve.
Step 1: Identify Objective Strengths
Leadership is less about how you view yourself but more about how others view you. That’s why I conducted a 360 degree feedback. I have selected a group of cross-sectional individuals who I felt could provide objective feedback.
First, I established a baseline by conducting a self-assessment of my top strengths. Then, I asked these individuals to identify my top five strengths and three weaknesses with specific reasons. I utilized Zenger and Folkman’s 16 Leadership Competencies Framework which outlines major strengths by category (e.g., character, personal capability, getting results etc) supported by multiple complementary strengths.
The questions I’ve asked are the following:
1. What leadership skills do you think are strengths to me?
2. Is there anything I might do that might be considered a fatal flaw?
3. What leadership ability, if outstanding would have the most significant impact on the effectiveness of the organization?
Step 2: Choose a Strength to Focus On
A strength you feel passionate about that is not important to your organization is essentially a hobby, and a strength the organization needs you don’t feel passionate is just a chore. You actually need both.
In order to identify your “passions”, here are some questions to think about:
• Do I look for ways to enhance this skill?
• Am I energized, not exhausted, when I use it?
• Can I imagine devoting time to improving it?
• Would I enjoy getting better at this skill?
If you have answered “yes” to these questions, this was a solid way to quantify your passions.
For example, my top five “passions” are:
2. Problem solving
3. Communicate powerfully and broadly
4. Inspires and motivates others
5. Relationship building
Once I collected all the feedback from 15 individuals, I tabulated the results on a spreadsheet. (I highlighted my top five strengths below).
1. My Competencies (which are gleaned from the top 5 strengths from 15 contributors),
2. My Passions (through asking questions through the evaluative framework), and
3. Organizational Needs (which in this context is consulting which is where I eventually want to be in)
People who excel at motivating others are good at persuading them to take action and to go the extra mile. In my case, self-development is considered one of my dominant strengths. To amplify this strength, I looked at the complementary skills:
• Displays honesty and integrity
• Inspires and motivates others
• Provides effective feedback and development
• Takes initiative
• Is willing to take risks and challenge the status quo
It’s important to choose a companion behavior that like a good strength is important to the organization and makes you feel enthusiastic about tackling it. However, at this point, it’s constructive to consider your lower scores as well.
Step 4: Develop it in a Linear Way
I have identified direct ways to improve these skill sets. Here is an example of how I plan to improve my communication skills.
• Find ways inside and outside of work to improve communication skills (volunteer to make presentations to senior management, ask colleagues to critique e-mails, speech
• Practice talking about a random topic at mirror twice a week for 30 minutes. Record myself and correct errors
• Listen and observe great communicators and learn from their techniques.
Utilizing the four-step process will help you quantity and objectify your strengths. I found this discovery process extremely rewarding resulting in a greater confidence as a leader. This has enabled me to engage in deliberate practice of my strengths on a daily basis. I hope this will inspire you discover your strengths to be an exceptional leader.
Questions: What are your top five strengths?