Last week I had the opportunity to provide strengths coaching for the Chair Academy’s Annual Leadership Conference attendees. These are department chairs for colleges and universities around the country who have a variety of teams reporting to them. As the week unfolded, a pattern emerged for me: the leaders I worked with virtually all had several executing strengths in their top five – the ones they automatically use as a matter of course.
These operate like a pair of glasses that color the world in a certain way. All of us have a primary lens through which we see the situations and people we interact with. In the strengths world, it is understood that someone whose top five strengths are predominately task focused organizes information around their primary objective. That is natural for them. The team members they wanted to understand better, the ones who “pushed their buttons”, had different strengths and thus, a different world view. Many of them likely organized their priorities and thoughts around relationships because that is the lens they look through.
Task-oriented folks can be great in relationships and relationship-centric people can be great at executing. They simply use one framework or the other to orient themselves in the world. The sticking point for many of those I spoke with came down to one understanding: not everyone sees the world the way I do.
What may be most bright and shiny to a person who lives with the strengths of achiever as his number one is not going to look the same way that someone who has harmony as her number one strength and primary lens. How do we navigate team dynamics with people who see the world so differently and whose priorities are thus different? I believe there are a few things we, as leaders, can do to create highly functional, diverse teams. Here are three:
- Understand your own primary strengths. They are the lens through which you see the world. They can be paired alongside other strengths to form a synergy in your approach. For example, I can pair my strategic strength, which takes a broad view of the big picture, with focus, which zeroes in on what is most important in this moment. As I do that, I accomplish more of my top priorities.
- Know your blind spots and get support for them. Understand the analogy that just like when driving a car you see the front pretty well (top five or seven well-used strengths). You see the next seven to ten about as well as you can see from your side mirrors in your car and you have blind spots to the rear. We all do. Accept that. Look for structures and other people who can support you where you aren’t as strong.
- Get good at asking team members and colleagues, “What’s important to you and how do you see this situation”. Then listen without judging them as wrong. They are simply seeing with their own lens. All kinds of possibilities open up to us as we have these open-ended explorative conversations of discovery.
So many of the frictions in our teams and relationships could be eliminated or minimized by using this understanding to be collaborative in sharing our perspective with no judgment or blame.