Embrace Your Natural Leadership Strengths

Embrace Your Strengths

If you want to be a successful leader, don’t focus too much time and attention on weaknesses. Whether as an individual or as a team, it’s more productive to leverage strengths.

Leadership coach Bill Munn helps us do that with his innovative assessment tools and management training. For over 25 years, he has helped leaders uncover their natural characteristics to influence others. I recently spoke with him about his new book, Why Make Eagles Swim? Embracing Natural Strengths in Leadership & Life.

 

“Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle.” –Napoleon Hill

 

The Difference Between Skills and Attributes

I’m a big believer in managing to strengths, and your book provides a set of tools for doing this effectively. What’s a quick definition of an attribute? How is that different from a skill?

An attribute is an inherent, instinctive trait. Think of it like the wiring of a person’s internal microchip. Attributes determine our perceptions of the world and the way we behave toward it.

It’s not surprising that people can sometimes confuse attributes with skills. Here’s the key: skills are learned and practiced rather than instinctive.

For example, a person with a high Relational attribute exhibits an innate sensitivity to other people and their feelings. This person can’t help but feel sad when others are sad, happy when others are happy, etc. That’s not a skill; it’s a natural attribute.

Now let’s say that this same person wants to really leverage her Relational attribute, so she decides to practice some related skills. She might choose to hone her effective listening skills, to help her tune into other people for even more profound insight.

In this way, skills can enhance our strongest attributes. But they’ll never replace those innate characteristics.

 

“Skills enhance our strongest attributes.” – Bill Munn

The Myth of Well-Roundedness

You talk about 3 forces that fuel some negative biases. Let’s focus on #1: the myth of well-roundedness. It seems that this appears everywhere. Why is this one damaging to professional growth?

The myth of well-roundedness pervades our world today—this idea that we’re somehow supposed to be good at everything. What a damaging theory! That’s not how we’re built.

Just look at the most successful people—those you know, those in the public eye, those who have defined history. They’re full of flaws and failures, and they’re full of greatness. Do they become successful by trying to become well rounded? No. They focus on what they’re great at, so they are great.

 

“Successful living requires prioritizing.” –Bill Munn

 

The fact is, successful living requires prioritizing. If we were immortal, we could waste years trying to get a little better at our challenge attributes. But we have limited time. And if we focus on optimizing our power-alley attributes, we’ll see a much higher return on investment for the effort expended. Our teams and companies benefit much more from this approach—not to mention our own careers (and personal lives).

Think of it this way: An eagle could probably improve its swim stroke a bit, to become a more “well rounded” creature. But with that same effort, think what it could do for its flight speed and soaring height. So when was the last time you saw an eagle working on its backstroke?

 

“Don’t become a wandering generality. Be a meaningful specific.” –Zig Ziglar

 

Never! I love that example. Would you share an example or two of an attribute from the inventory?

Developer is our term for one who naturally encourages, teaches, and prioritizes other people’s growth and development. This person prefers working behind the scenes, rather than getting the spotlight for himself. Actually, Skip, Developers make great leadership bloggers—or coaches, teachers, mentors, etc. They’re also great leaders, because when people care about your growth, you want to follow them.

A Logician perceives the world in terms of cause, effect, and logic. She assumes that events flow rationally and that people do things for logical reasons. (As you can imagine, she’s an opposing attribute to the Relational we talked about earlier, who is so tuned into emotion and other “illogical” factors.) The Logician looks for data and analytics to describe situations and assumes that solutions lie in the facts.

  

How do I find out my own high and low attributes, my profile?

We actually use an array of tools to do this, including a questionnaire, assessment, and analysis exercises that you can do on your own or with a partner.  The goal of all these tools is to help you define your own profile, which will consist of a few different categories:

  • Power-alley attributes: Your most natural traits, the attributes you basically exhibit no matter what – in fact, it would be extremely difficult (if not impossible) for you to avoid demonstrating these traits.
  • Functional attributes: These attributes (which we break down further into 3 functional levels) are like tools you keep in the garage rather than on your tool belt – they’re available to you, but it takes a bit of extra effort to access them.
  • Challenge attributes: These are the 1 or 2 attributes at the bottom of your list – the things that you just don’t do really well, no matter how hard you work at it. 

Why Make Eagles SwimWhen I’m working with others, knowing their attributes is as important as knowing my own. What’s the best way to do this (if I can’t have them take a test)?

This is where our tools for listening (and watching) for revelation become so valuable. Since our attributes are inherent and ingrained, we reveal them constantly in the things we do and say.

It’s analogous to a radio station constantly broadcasting. But to hear it, we have to tune in. Same with people. We constantly “broadcast” our attributes through our descriptions of events, our stories about people we liked or disliked, our reactions to outside stimuli – in short, through our response to life events.

Effective listening focuses on accurately tuning into the content of what the speaker says. That’s essential and always important. Listening for revelation, however, is an additional step that goes beyond content and unearths the speaker’s attributes.

It’s impossible to overstate how powerful this type of listening is.

 

“Listening is being able to be changed by the other person.” –Alan Alda

 

Create More A More Effective Team

How do I use this to create more effective teams? 

First, you teach your team that the attributes they find so irritating in others are actually the very traits (and people) best positioned to help them better perform, grow, and develop.

Second, you emphasize that there are no “good” or “bad” attributes. Each attribute brings something important and valuable to the table. This perspective helps people become intrigued by others’ behaviors. Team members soon stop thinking in terms of who they “like” and start supporting one another in incredible ways.

That’s the big picture. There are also many nuts-and-bolts tools for applying this concept in building, balancing, and growing your teams—team attribute matrices, team-building ideas, hiring practices, etc.

 

3 Times to Pair Opposites Together

Break the Rules and Upend Business As Usual

Upend Business As Usual

 

Should salaries be public?

Is it possible to eliminate the performance review process?

Should customers come second?

Do open offices work?

 

Most businesses have rules and practices that have developed over many years. Whether inherited from long ago practices or invented by the company, these rules often continue unquestioned.

My friend Dr. David Burkus is a business school professor and author who questions many common business practices. His research reveals that many of the rules are outdated, misguided, and possibly counterproductive. His research looks at the contrarian practices of companies such as Zappos and Netflix where the rules are being rewritten.

 

“Great leaders don’t settle for low levels of efficiency.” –David Burkus

 

From designing office space to eliminating annual performance reviews and unlimited vacation policies, David’s book ignites a debate and conversation.

Some of the “rules” may stand the test of time because they work while others may be held in place based solely on tradition. Regardless, his newest book, Under New Management: How Leading Organizations Are Upending Business As Usual, is a good reminder that it’s time to review all the rules and determine whether they still serve a valid purpose.

 

The Case for Change

David, in one book, you have assembled some of the most contrarian practices being used in business today. What led you to this approach?Under New Management

After I wrote my first book, The Myths of Creativity, in which I talked a bit about practices like hackathons and 20% time that spurred innovation, I started to get even more curious about the things innovative companies were doing that seemed unusual or opposite of best practices. As I travelled down that rabbit hole I found lots of people writing about why the ideas were unique and appealing, but no one was making the case for why these practices work so well. Since organizational psychology is my background, I started to look at these ideas through the lens of human behavior and found compelling reasons for why they might be better than best practices.

Do you believe many of our management practices and principles are outdated? Is this a global view?

Well that depends. As Daniel Pink rightly pointed out in Drive, the shift from industrial work to knowledge work left a lot that needed to change about how we motivate people. I think that shift has broader management implications, which I explore in Under New Management. So yes, if you’re organization does mostly knowledge work, it’s likely that your management practices are rooted in some outdated assumptions.

 

Ban Email and Increase Productivity

Let’s look at email. Does banning email really work? Do these techniques work in larger organizations? Doesn’t moving to other technology tools just move the problem and not address the fact that it is people, not the tool, that cause it?

Email is an amazing tool because it’s cheap and it’s asynchronous. But it’s a difficult tool for exactly that reason. It’s easy to send…so we send it far too much. And because it’s asynchronous, it moved us to a world where we’re always on. There are a lot of other tools that are also cheap and asynchronous, but it’s a matter of how the tool is used.

And yes, to some extent, it’s a people issue. The companies that banned email took a deep look at their communication needs and settled on another tool for internal communication. If you’ve looked at what your team’s communication needs are and email meets those needs….great. But odds are, there’s a better tool out there.

 

“Leaders are discovering that limiting email improves productivity.” –David Burkus

 

13 Counterintuitive Ideas to Upend Business As Usual

  1. Outlaw email.
  2. Put customers second.
  3. Lose the standard vacation policy.
  4. Pay people to quit.
  5. Make salaries transparent.
  6. Ban non-competes.
  7. Ditch performance appraisals.
  8. Hire as a team.
  9. Write the Org chart in pencil.
  10. Close open offices.
  11. Take sabbaticals.
  12. Fire the managers.
  13. Celebrate departures.

 

Eliminate the Performance Appraisal

4 Ways to Get Appreciated at Work

 

“The deepest craving of human nature is the need to be appreciated.”  -William James

 

Undervalued

 

Usually, I would run into my friend at the gym.  He was always full of energy, smiling, and lifting more weight than seemed humanly possible.

One day, I was leaving when I noticed him arriving at the gym.  He was walking slower than normal with his shoulders slumped.  His trademark smile was missing.

Though I really didn’t have time to talk, I asked him how he was.

“I’m good,” he responded, a bit too quickly and with an even less convincing acting job than he realized.

 

“The deepest craving of human nature is the need to be appreciated.”  -William James

 

“Want to grab a cup of coffee and chat for a minute?” I asked.

We sat down at a table with our coffee.  I’m not one to waste much time and jumped right to the issue.

“What’s up?  You are clearly down.  Why?  What’s going on in your life?”

“I don’t know.  The Preds lost last night.”

I knew him well enough to know that his hockey team losing a game was not the cause of his change in attitude.  Here was a guy who would regularly bounce off of walls with his energy.

I didn’t even need to say anything.  He could read skepticism in my face.  If he missed it, I would recommend he check his vision.

“Ok.  I just feel unappreciated at work.  I turn something in, and I just get overloaded with more and more.  Every once in a while, a little recognition would be nice.  Maybe a bonus?  Heck, even a beer would be cool.”

Appreciation.  It’s what William James says is the greatest human need.

Stay at home moms (or dads):  you know what this is about more than most.  Thankless chores.  Constant demands.  And the world shows little respect for your efforts.

 

“I praise loudly. I blame softly.” -Catherine the Great

 

Reasons Your Boss Does Not Appreciate Your Work

 

There are many reasons you may be unappreciated at work.

Here are a few:

You’re not doing a good job.

You’re boss doesn’t realize the work you are doing.

Your boss is overworked and overwhelmed.

Your boss is a jerk.

Your boss isn’t skilled in recognizing others.

Your boss has childhood issues and needs therapy.

 

I shared with my friend some ideas for him to consider:

You should change your perspective.

More work may equal appreciation.  Your boss may be recognizing your good work by giving you more work.  He may not be expressing it in the way that you want to hear it, but for some people this is how it works.  More work = great job!  When you think of it that way, you may find ways to utilize this for your benefit.