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

37 Quotes to Become a Better Listener

Listen Up!

Listen up,” she said in a voice that was obviously coming from a strong mother, “You had your choice.”

I don’t know what the argument was about, but I noticed her kneeling down, talking to a boy who was about four or five years old. This kid may have been insistent, but my bet was on the mom. She was having none of it.

But, what she said next got my attention, “You are going to learn to listen. That’s a skill you will thank me for later.”

Wow. Not what I expected.

I walked away, thinking how lucky that little guy was to have a mom so intent on teaching him how to be a better listener. One day, he may owe his success to it.

It’s something I have been working on. We all need to listen more. It is one thing to listen, and another to be a listener.

 

Quotes to Help Us Listen Well

Here are some quotes on listening well that may inspire you to become a better listener:

 

“The word LISTEN contains the same letters as the word SILENT.” –Alfred Brendel

 

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” –Ernest Hemingway

 

“If speaking is silver, then listening is gold.” -Turkish Proverb

 

“Be careful how you are talking to yourself because you are listening.”  -Lisa M. Hayes

 

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” -Winston Churchill

 

“Sometimes the most influential thing we can do is listen.” –Bob Burg

 

“The first duty of love is to listen.” –Paul Tillich

 

“There is a voice that doesn’t use words. Listen.” –Rumi

 

“Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you’d have preferred to talk.” –Doug Larson

 

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.” –Harper Lee

 

“Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.” -Jimi Hendrix

 

“It takes a great man to be a good listener.” –Calvin Coolidge

 

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

 

“Whoever answers before listening is both foolish and shameful.” -Proverbs 18:13

 

“One of the greatest skills any leader can master is becoming comfortable with silence.” -David Grossman

 

“The art of conversation lies in listening.” -Malcom Forbes

 

“You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” -M. Scott Peck

 

“Listen like every sentence matters; talk like every word counts.” –Geoffrey Tumlin

 

“One friend, one person who is truly understanding, who takes the trouble to listen to us as we consider a problem, can change our whole outlook on the world.” -E. H. Mayo

 

“God speaks to us every day only we don’t know how to listen.” -Mahatma Gandhi

 

“Big egos have little ears.” -Robert Schuller

 

“A leader must be a good listener. He must be willing to take counsel. He must show a genuine concern and love for those under his stewardship.” –James Faust

 

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“The single most important key to success is to be a good listener.” –Kelly Wearstler

 

“Be a good listener. Your ears will never get you in trouble.” –Frank Tyger

4 Secrets of Passionate Organizations

How to Create Performance Breakthroughs

 

How can your team reach its potential?

What if you could add a dose of passion to every member of your team?

How do you improve productivity and morale?

In his new book, Performance Breakthrough: The FOUR Secrets of Passionate Organizations, Mike Goldman reveals the four secrets for creating a more passionate organization. With 25 years of experience coaching organizations of all sizes, Mike Goldman has seen what works and what doesn’t. I recently spoke with Mike about how to create performance breakthroughs.

 

“The first step to a performance breakthrough is to accept that we are all different.”

 

Effective Techniques for Understanding

To treat others the way they want to be treated, we need to understand them. What techniques do you recommend to have someone listen and really understand someone in order to make secret one work?

I would recommend using three different techniques: asking, observing and assessing.

 

ASKING

Ask- Meet one-on-one with each team member to ask him or her about their values, motivations, and learning styles. Don’t come right out and ask, “What motivates you?” The answer you get won’t be very helpful since, chances are, your team member will just tell you what they think you’ll want to hear. You want to ask behavioral interviewing type questions like:

Think back to a time when you were incredibly motivated at work. What happened right before to make you feel that way?

Think of a time when you had to learn something new, and it just “clicked” for you. What method of learning did you use?

 

OBSERVING

Observe – Watch the individuals on your team during meetings, high-stress situations, and social situations and take note of their styles and reactions. Do they take the lead in meetings, or do they follow? Are they agreeable, or do they play devil’s advocate? Do they thrive under pressure, or wilt?

 

ASSESSING

Assess – Conduct behavioral and personality assessments: There are many good behavioral and personality assessments on the market, such as Innermetrix®, Profiles International®, DiSC®, etc. These assessments are typically very accurate and may give you and your employees important insight on their styles, talents, values, and motivations.

 

“Giving ownership enables people to reach their true potential.”

 

FOCUS ON STRENGTHS

Anticipate: The Art of Leading by Looking Ahead

Navigating Change

Studies show that the companies that navigate change well last the longest.

Why do some corporate leaders navigate through massive change while others seem oblivious to it?

How do you position your organization ahead of the trends?

Is it possible to learn to anticipate and prepare for the future?

 

Rob-Jan De Jong is a speaker, consultant and faculty member at Wharton’s executive program on Global Strategic Leadership. His new book, Anticipate: The Art of Leading by Looking Ahead, outlines what it takes to become a visionary leader. Sharing examples and principles from his research, Rob-Jan’s mission is to increase your personal visionary capacity.  I recently had the opportunity to ask him about vision and the art of looking ahead.

 

“Anyone can grow their visionary capacity.” –Rob-Jan De Jong

 

3 Keys to Unleashing Vision at All Levels

As a CEO, I just loved this sentence:  “Vision is not an exclusive for those in top ranked positions.”  It’s really something for everyone, not only those with a title.  How do corporate leaders unleash creativity and vision at all levels of the organization?

  1. Empowerment and trust. 

An important success factor is around empowerment and trust.  A directive company culture is detrimental for people’s engagement.  Having a sense of influence is a prerequisite for getting people to become involved in the hard work of engaging with uncertainty and anticipating the future.

 

“Vision is not an exclusive for those in top ranked positions.” –Rob-Jan De Jong

 

  1. Fault Tolerance.

A second critical factor is fault tolerance. This naturally goes with empowerment – people will get it right and every so often they will get it wrong. These are the important moments of truth for you as the leader, as your response will set the standard for the culture that shapes from these moments. People will be on the lookout about how serious you are about empowerment. My simple suggestion is to not focus on what went wrong but to focus on what the person has learned.

 

“Visioning, future engagement, anticipation is a skill set and a mindset.” –Rob-Jan De Jong

 

  1. Enabling Others.

And a third factor that should not be underestimated is that you will also need to enable your people to do this. Visioning, future engagement, anticipation is a skill set and a mindset. And it is often a step aside from the environment people have grown accustomed to, so you will need to enable your people to strengthen themselves in this area.

That might sound like blatant promotion for my work and my book, but I’m absolutely convinced that this has been a gap in management theory.  Despite the widely acknowledged importance of ‘vision’ in leadership, little – if any – systematic support has been provided in terms of developing your visionary side as a leader in a responsible way.  Scholars, business schools and strategy textbooks agree that a vision is one of the most powerful instruments a leader can have.  And how you go about developing this side of your leadership has been met with tremendous silence.

It was my intention to fill part of this gap by offering a comprehensive perspective on the topic, original ideas, a developmental framework, various practices, and many stories and anecdotes to draw lessons from.

 

“Vision, the hallmark of leadership, is less a derivative of spreadsheets and more a product of the mind called imagination.” –Abraham Zaleznik

 

Learning to Be Visionary

How to Conduct A Job Interview Without Getting Sued

This is a guest post by Johanna Harris. Johanna has been a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Labor and in-house labor counsel for two multinational corporations. She is currently the CEO of Hire Fire and Retire LLC. Her new book is USE PROTECTION: An Employee’s Guide to Advancement in the Workplace.

As a manager, one of your most important responsibilities is interviewing an applicant for an open job position. The key is to be probing and thorough and, at the same time, avoid any questions that could be interpreted as illegal or improper.

Not sure how to ask the question?

Sometimes managers ask illegal questions because they’re not sure how to acquire important information that they are in fact legally entitled to know. A manager may legitimately want to know whether an applicant can master all of the procedures required of the job. Unsure how to get at these qualifications, he asks the applicant how old he is – an illegal question. Or a manager may legitimately want to know whether an applicant is available to entertain clients in the evening. Similarly unsure how to address this issue, he asks her whether she has young children – again, an illegal question.

Four main areas to probe

During a job interview, there are four main areas you want to probe.

  1. Does the applicant have the skills that match the needs of the new job?
  2. Can the applicant be available at the times and places you need him?
  3. Does the applicant possess the core attributes that would make any person a valuable employee?
  4. Does the applicant fit within the culture of your organization?

Skills

To ask effective, legally permissible questions about a prospective employee’s skills, you need to do some homework. That means learning in detail the duties of the job, as well as the level of skill required to perform those duties. It also means prioritizing job responsibilities, as some duties may be more important than others. The formal job description is a good place to start, but it certainly is not the end. Talk to employees who are successful in the same position. Consult with users of the services provided by the new job. Check out industry descriptions of the job, too

Once you know exactly what the job requires, you can craft pointed questions to the applicant that relate directly to the job requirements. That includes her previous work or projects. “How does your experience in the design of user interfaces for retail store management carry over to the healthcare field?” “How does your experience in selling heavy equipment to agribusiness carry over to marketing pharmaceuticals?” There is nothing illegal about giving the applicant an assignment – to be completed either at the interview or at home – that shows whether he indeed has the specific skills required of the new job.

While your focus is on the specific responsibilities of the job, you can still ask more general skill-related questions that help you get a feel for the applicant’s attitudes toward work and interactions with peers. “Have you improved at your current job?” “What skills or experience do you still lack?” “How do you approach your work?”

Availability

An employer has the right to know whether the applicant can be available at the times and places necessary to complete the job. Your task as manager is first to determine exactly what kinds of availability the job requires and then to ask about them up front. “Can you work 15 hours of overtime each week?” “Can you be available to entertain clients approximately twice each month?” “Can you travel out of the city for monthly sales conferences?” “Can you fly to California in March of every year for the annual sales summit?” These pointed questions put the applicant on notice. If he cannot meet these availability standards, he is at risk of being fired. Putting these requirements up front can also give him a sense of comfort that he knows exactly what will be expected of him.

Mobility may be an important prerequisite for advancement in your company. If so, then you should explain that up front, too. You are entitled to inquire, “Are you prepared to transfer from our branch office to the national headquarters?” Even if you believe that applicants with children are less mobile, you cannot ask him a question such as, “So, what arrangements have you made for child care?”