Leading in a Dysfunctional System #4: Push Toward Your Strengths, by @drtoddwhall

90% of all workers think improving their weaknesses is the best way to improve their performance. They are wrong. Dysfunctionally  wrong!

Part 4 in series: Leading in a Dysfunctional System.

by Todd W. Hall, PhD

This is the fourth entry in this series on leading in a dysfunctional system. As I mentioned in the last post, developing and moving toward your strengths requires pushing gradually toward your strengths. Here are three practices that will help you do this.

1. Recognize that playing to your strengths is strategic for you and your organization. According to a 2007 Gallup survey, only one-third of workers in the U.S. report having “the opportunity to do what they do best every day.” This suggests that most organizational leaders in the U.S. do not develop a strengths-based culture. In fact, nearly nine of ten people agree or strongly agree that improving in their areas of weakness is the best way to improve performance. This is the current you are swimming against, especially in a dysfunctional system.

Research suggests a very different picture: the greatest potential contribution you will make lies in your strengths. You will grow most in your strengths because you will naturally practice and continue to learn in these areas. And the greatest contribution you will make to your team also lies in your unique strengths. In Strengths Based Leadership, Gallup researchers Tom Rath and Barry Conchie reported that the most successful leadership teams possessed a broad range of strengths that typically spanned four domains: executing, influencing, relationship building, and strategic thinking. Teams need to be well rounded, but you don’t. The most powerful contribution you can make to any system, including a dysfunctional one, is to focus on your strengths.

2. Identify the precise activities that make up your strengths. A first step here is to take the StengthsFinder 2.0 measure developed by Gallup, which you can find at strengthsfinder.com. This will provide you with your top 5 themes, as well as an action plan. While I have found this tremendously helpful, it’s like a 30,000 foot view of your strengths. To really get a handle on your strengths, I have found Marcus Buckingham’s suggestion (in Go Put Your Strengths to Work) extremely helpful: reflect on specific activities you do on a weekly basis, and pay attention to how you feel before, during, and after the activity. As I highlighted in the previous post, do you feel competent in it, compelled to do it, immersed when doing it, and fulfilled after doing it? Or, in contrast, do you feel incompetent, repelled by it, distracted while doing it, and drained afterwards? For a one-week period, write down how you feel about all your major activities. Then once you identify the ones that are strengths, try to capture each one in a clear, one-sentence statement.

3. Create value by gradually spending more of your time on your strengths. In a dysfunctional system, you will be pulled to react to the negative emotion, rigidity or chaos. In order to lead the system toward increased health, you have to proactively shift your job toward your strengths for the good of the organization. This is difficult in all organizations, but especially in dysfunctional systems. First, connect your strengths to your current role. Spend some time thinking about how you can accomplish your functions differently by employing your strengths.

Second, note ideas you’ve had that flow from your strengths but that you may have dismissed without thinking much about it, because they didn’t fit directly in your job description. Over time, you can make them fit. You will have to put some extra time and energy in at the beginning, but once you create tangible value, it will become clear that this activity needs to be done, and that you are the one to do it.

Stay tuned for practical strategy #5: Seek extra support outside of work.

Reflection: What are examples in which you have created value based on your unique strengths?