Back in my Xerox days, I remember one of our high-ranking leaders telling us we wouldn’t be able to score A’s in all categories of our lives. “You can get 2 A’s and a C, or all B’s, but you can’t get A’s across the board.” This was especially disheartening given we were a group of self-motivated, high achievers. Of course, we were ambitious and idealistic and thought “Well, maybe she can’t, but we can.” Little did we know….
The Gallup guys agree. In “Strengths Based Leadership”, Tom Rath and Barry Conchie (the same guys who wrote StrengthsFinder 2.0), talk about how, based on their studies, they have not found a single leader, not one, who has “world class strength” in all categories. Matter-of-fact, “…those who strive to be competent in all areas become the least effective leaders overall.” Ouch! So much for our idealistic thinking that we could do it all – well, we could, just not successfully!! The strongest leaders have an acute sense of who they are – strengths and limitations. It is the strong leader who has the courage to be true to themselves and strive for excellence in a select number of categories versus all categories.
The updated message: know and leverage your strengths, build teams to be well-rounded, and know who you are – weaknesses and all. [I was relieved – their first book focused on strengths and all but ignored weaknesses. Understanding your weaknesses and how your team compensates is as critical as knowing and leveraging strengths. Awareness and competency, not necessarily proficiency, are must-have goals.]
“‘Leaders do not need to be well-rounded, but teams do’ is a concept supported by research indicating strong leaders who know who they are, and how to use their strengths, did a better job engaging their people.”
That’s big! Leaders who leveraged their strengths were better able to drive organizational growth – albeit different strengths and different styles of getting it done, but getting it done none-the-less. If you’ve taken the Strengths Finder, you know your “Top 5″. They are categorized into: Executing; Influencing; Relationship Building; and Strategic Thinking. The most successful leaders build high performance teams by drawing on these four categories, and complementing their own strengths. Not a unique concept but a good one. Healthy teams are diverse, they appreciate “candid conversations” and “different perspectives” – resulting in robust dialogue. Healthy teams are “high performance” because they understand how to productively leverage their individual contributions.
After many years and lessons learned, I now understand where our Xerox leader was coming from. (isn’t “wisdom” a beautiful thing??) I work with leaders who frustratingly try to be everything to everyone….or leaders who feel like failures for not being perfect. Sometimes the leader who figures out what their good at and how to use it, brings out the best in their people. Getting clarity and perspective about yourself and the impact you have on others is one of the best things you can do for your career…and for those who chose to follow you. She was right, I haven’t gotten straight A’s – but I have gotten A’s in my categories-of-choice…by leveraging my strengths, “knowing who I am”, and having the courage to not be perfect!
What are your strengths? How do you leverage them in your career? Let me know!