Tuesday, January 20, 2009


You've probably seen them featured in airport bookstores: Stephenie Meyer's vampire series. Designed for young adult women, and written by a BYU graduate and mom, The Twilight Saga features Bella, a high-school girl who falls in love with Edward, a "vegetarian" vampire (yes, these vampires don't bite people!) who both live and attend high school in the small town of Forks, Washington. How does such series of books appeal to readers of all ages? Great writing and intriguing, if somewhat unusual, plots!

I completed the last of the four-book series, Breaking Dawn, this weekend. I wanted to share with you a quote from Eleazar, who, in conversation with Edward and Bella, speaks of the special and unique talents of each vampire. He says (page 597), "Yes, no talent ever manifests itself in precisely the same way, because no one ever thinks in exactly the same way."

This is brilliant! Though (most of) our talents are not vampire-like, Eleazar speaks so well to strengths -- both yours and mine. Even if you and I share the same list of strengths, we will manifest them very differently, depending upon how we think, our values and passions, our personalities, and our styles of communicating. Our strengths are unique! We have the opportunity to apply our strengths, each of us, in a unique way and in the venues we choose.

And we don't need to bite anyone on the neck.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Nope. No defintive leadership strengths

Sometimes I am asked, "What strengths are necessary to be an effective leader?" That question leads to an odd response -- "all of them" and "none of them" both seem to work! The reason is, there is NO single strength shared by leaders. The essential component of using your strengths to lead is not possessing a particular strength -- it is knowing and using your own unique combination of strengths in the service of leadership that creates effective leadership.

Donald Clifton researched leader strengths for 30 years. You know his name -- after his death, the StrengthsFinder instrument was renamed to honor him, the Clifton StengthsFinder. When asked about his greatest discovery after all those years of research, Clifton replied: "A leader needs to know his strengths as a carpenter knows his tools, or a physician knows the instruments at her disposal. What great leaders have in common is that each truly knows his or her strengths -- and can call on the right strength at the right time. This explains why there is no definitive list of characteristics that defines all leaders."

Know your strengths intimately, and apply them when you serve as a leader...that's the key! You already have the right strengths to enable your leadership.

(quote from The Gallup Management Journal newsletter, Finding Your Leadership Strengths published by Gallup Press, Tom Rath and Barry Conchie, December 11 2008)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Who would you hire?

Imagine this scenario: you are choosing between two candidates to fill a position in your organization. Candidate A has no weaknesses relative to the competencies of this position, but nothing stands out as a strength. Candidate B, on the other hand, has a few minor weaknesses but a clear and profound strength in an area critical to success in the job. Whom do you hire?

An interesting question! I read this question in a book titled The Extraordinary Leader by John H. Zenger and my colleague from a few years back, Joesph Folkman. (published by McGraw-Hill in 2002, an updated version of will be released in June, 2009. I've already pre-ordered my copy!)

Zenger and Folkman go on to explain that their research with 8000 leaders ties strengths with "overall effectiveness." Leaders who are perceived to have no strengths are rated, on average, at the 34th percentile in overall effectiveness. Leaders perceived to have one strength (average of 4.5 on a 5.0 scale by raters) move to the 64th percentile in effectiveness. Leaders with two clear strengths move to the 72nd percentile; three strengths moves a leader to the 81st percentile; four strengths is at 89; leaders perceived with five clear, profound strengths score at the 91st percentile for overall effectiveness.

When we understand that developing and knowing our strengths -- whatever those strengths may be -- leads to overall effectiveness, we will be eager to articulate and develop these strengths!

So, whom would you hire? I'll opt for Candidate B myself!


Monday, December 1, 2008

An Election of Strength

I have my biases, it is true. I am quite pleased we have a President Elect who makes me feel proud. Last week, my husband ran into Bret and Dot at the grocery store, as he does most Friday mornings. They chat about having grey hair (or is it silver?), and all that goes with it. Even Bret patted Beryl on the back and said -- "I am impressed with what your guy has been doing since November 4. I didn't vote for him, but he is surprising me now!"

It seems that Barack Obama was elected, more than any president I can recall, on the basis of his strengths -- especially his strengths of character. Many political commentators have written of his strengths. He cares about people. He articulates and demonstrates his values. He collaborates. He listens. He has a vision (well, most of the time!) And perhaps the greatest strength of all -- he is able to instill hope.

People, especially at these times, are seeking hope. And we have found the possibility of hope by truly seeing, highlighting, and voting for the strengths of a leader. I heard no one quip, this election, that he or she was voting for the "lesser of two evils." Obama's and John McCain's ability to demonstrate their strengths made this an election of strength. For that, too I am proud.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Can Strengths be Applied to Any Role?

I've been in e-mail conversation with a reader of our book -- I thought you might find it interesting! She poses, essentially, this question: How can somebody play to her strength when there are few job openings and remuneration that make the most of her strengths?

The assumption in this question is that certain strengths are more applicable to certain roles -- and the corollary, that certain roles require certain strengths. For simplicity sake, let’s assume all available jobs are technical IT jobs. If I have no strengths that can be used in the field of technology, I will not succeed and I will not contribute. However, what I believe is much more likely to happen, is that each and all strengths can be applied to most any role. If your strength is data analysis, where is that needed in the development and support of technical innovation? If my strength is creativity, how can it be utilized in the design and creation of technical products? If Carol’s strength is in relationship building, how can it serve IT customer management? If Tom’s strength is in design, how can his strength be used to market products and services?

Basic to this philosophy is our belief and experience that all strengths are useful … and that it is the great diversity of our strengths that creates innovation, inspiration, and engagement. This is one of the great benefits of looking through the lens of strength – our strengths are applicable across a wide range of jobs, organizations, and roles. If I have strength in seeing the big picture, I can apply that in the field of literature, or IT, or social justice. What is imperative is that workers and leaders look deeper than technical skills, to the underlying strengths that can feed and nourish the business, especially when combined with the strengths of the person in the next cubicle, and the other person down the hall.

I would love to hear your further thoughts on these questions …

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Interviewing for Strengths

This month's Gallup Management Journal (www.gmj.gallup.com) features an article by Brian Brim, Debunking Strengths Myth #3, in which he writes about "probing for strengths." Brim suggests many questions, including "How do you communicate?" "What drives you?" "How do you set direction and make decisions?" "How do you overcome obstacles?" and "How do you maintain and build relationships?"

While these questions may be useful, they are likely to incite skill-based answers, or simply confusion. There's nothing wrong with tackling the strengths questions head-on. In our book, Play to Your Strengths, Carol and I suggest questions such as these:
  • You indicate that you have a skill in empathy (or creativity, or analysis, or whatever they've listed on their resume or development plan.) What talent or strength do you possess that underlies this skill?
  • What does the word "empathy" mean to you and how do you know you possess it?
  • Tell me about a situation at work in which you were challenged to use your strength of "empathy."
  • What do you excel at?
  • What is easy for you?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • Tell me about the last time you were in the "flow" and lost track of time. What were you doing?
  • Review the last two weeks in your mind. When were you at your best -- engaged and productive? What strength or talent was manifesting at that time?

It's fun and powerful to discuss strengths with employees, candidates, and best friends! It is useful for managers who want to engage the best of their staff members, as well as for people who work together or live together. Enjoy your discovery!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The World to Come

In 2006, it was Gonzales and Daughter Trucking Company by Maria Amparo Escandon; in 2007, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. This year, our local public library chose The World to Come by Dana Horn as the book of the year. All over Bend, Redmond and other locales in Central Oregon, book clubs read this book, and the library offers films, talks, book discussions and, best of all, visits by the author, so we can read this book as a community. It’s a great time and we all gain from the discussions!

The World to Come begins with the theft of a Chagall painting, and then follows the history of the painting back to those who owned it and to Chagall himself. It’s a good read!

On page 84 there is a comment that is haunting me. I.L. Peretz is speaking to Der Nister (these men are poets and authors who write in Yiddish -- a whole world I knew nothing about!) Peretz says, "Your purpose as a writer is to achieve one task, and one task only: To build a paper bridge to the world to come."

We all write. For some of us, writing is a strength born out of innate talents in creativity and clarity. For others of us, it is something we do simply to communicate in today’s world of electronic communication. I wonder what is possible if we each accept the responsibility that each time we write -- whether we’re writing a book, a holiday card, or an e-mail – we write from the perspective that this bit of writing is building a bridge to "the world to come." This bit of wisdom inspires me to think more carefully about what I write and to ensure my words open up possibilities and options and dreams and visions ... and not shut them down. This wisdom is doubly important for leaders, especially today as we often communicate to our followers in written form.

As you prepare your next e-mail or blog comment, please consider if your words build a vision; if they inspire and engage; if they enable others to see the next step in creating the future.

How are you building "a paper bridge to the world to come?"