Strengths In Overdrive

Personal improvement experts have been advising us for years to focus most of our time on improving our strengths and managing our weaknesses. However, in working with Strengths Partnership, I have learned there is a third and much overlooked aspect of human performance we need to guard against — strengths in overdrive.

If Superman used the same strength to shake your hand as he did to stop a moving train, your crushed hand would be the result of a strength in overdrive. For myself, Enthusiasm is one of my productive strengths. Not unlike Superman can crush a hand, my Enthusiasm can sometimes crush a spirit when in overdrive. Upon some poignant reflection, I recently realized the impact of that on my own family.

The other day I called my father and asked him to do me a favor while he was out running errands that day. He returned having accomplished his errands and mine as well. You figure I would be excited he was able to help me on a day when the rest of the world seemed to need me for everything else. But my enthusiasm quickly went into overdrive once I learned that he didn’t do exactly what I wanted. Enthusiasm in overdrive looks like this: your enthusiasm can be seen as too emotive or overwhelming sometimes making others feel their views are not valued or appreciated. Perhaps my Self-confidence played a role in it as well; coming off brash or arrogant when in overdrive. The other thing working against me in this situation is that Flexibility is one of my weaker areas and when things go exactly as planned, it’s draining. Unfortunately, I ignored my own triggers of expectations and became enthusiastic in a negative way. This ruffled family feathers in a way that, needless to say, I am not proud of. I later gathered myself and apologized to my father, but unfortunately it was still hurtful when all he was trying to do was help.

Fortunately Self-improvement is also energizing for me and from this experience I have learned a lot. First, be aware of your productive strengths. There are many ways to discover them including asking others, reflective thinking and journaling, and even taking a strengths inventory assessment like the Strengthscope. Next, take the time to identify the triggers that push you to use your strengths in a way that is harmful to yourself and/or others. The key to preventing overdrive is to know how to keep from going there in the first place. It comes down to knowing he triggers that put you in overdrive, because once you cross the line, it is too late! Asking questions of yourself like “Am I going too far?,” or “Am I coming off too strong?” can be a helpful and intentional way slowing down and staying in your peak performance zone.

Our strengths can be our greatest asset and natural resource that we can draw on to build confidence, resilience, continue to develop, and perform at the highest levels. While strengths can be developed infinitely, knowing when to dial-up and dial-back strengths is a critical part of individual and leader agility. Strengths in overdrive can move you past peak performance and disrupt relationships, even with those close to you. Finally, be patient with yourself; growth is always a journey, not a destination.

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Greg Smith is a leadership specialist with a passion for entrepreneurship and building great organizations. Born and raised in Youngstown, Ohio, Greg is a natural entrepreneur raised in family-owned construction and manufacturing companies. He has vast experience with teamsters, unions, and a staffs of over 150 individuals. Currently, Greg serves as the Chairman of Compco Industries (steel fabrication), the President of Ray Simon, Inc. (art and photo-realism), President of 1080 Media (print/video/web design), and Principal for Achievers USA. Greg has an MBA in Executive Leadership from University of Nebraska-Lincoln/Gallup University and a Bachelor’s degree in Business and Marketing from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Greg resides in Poland, Ohio, with his wife and four children.

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The Strengths Triangle

The most important thing you can do to have a great career — and quite possibly, a great life — is to know what you do better than anyone else, know what energizes you, and know where you came from.

We sum this up by saying: “Know your strengths.”

Research shows that the best leaders in the world don’t have anything in common with each other, with the exception of this one thing — they’ve redefined “success” to mean “self-awareness” and in the process, they’ve discovered their strengths.

The more we understand ourselves and apply that knowledge in a productive direction the more successful we will be.

But how do we find our area of strength?

It boils down to discovering where these three things intersect:

  1. Talent
  2. Passion
  3. Life Experience

Talent is the naturally occurring patterns of behavior you have, allowing you to effortlessly do some things excellently almost every time. The best way to uncover innate talent is through an assessment like the Strengthscope.

Passion is what would make you jump out of bed in the morning. It’s whatever makes your heart beat a bit faster. It’s what you love. These are the things that, when you do them, they never feel like “work” — even if they’re part of your job.

Life Experience is made up of the things you know, the skills you’ve gained, and the experiences you’ve had that make you, you. It is the cumulative image of all the formative events in your life: your family background, schooling, work history, etc.

There is also an element of personal Character that encircles all these components, determining whether we focus our unique abilities in a positive or negative way (or, if you’re melodramatic like me: using your powers for good or evil).

In a picture, the whole thing looks something like this:

Find the place where these three things intersect for you, and you’ll have discovered your “sweet spot” — your area of strength. Just like the muscles in your body, the more you work on that area the more it will develop and grow.

Use The Strengths Triangle and your life will never be the same.

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P.S. Know what’s really fun? Taking this to work — i.e. creating a team or organization which helps people do this. Coincidentally (or not at all), this is exactly what we do!

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A Sweet Spot @ the 2012 Training Conference

Valentine’s Day wasn’t the only sweet spot last week. We took Strengthscope on the road to Atlanta at the 2012 Annual Training Magazine Expo where we captured the heart of more than 3,000 attendees.

Many lasting relationships begin with a great first impression. Between our social, crowd savvy, and energetic staff silhouetted by our artistically crafted, eye-candy of an exhibit, we made hundreds of incredible first impressions who are just beginning to understand what it means to love Strengthscope! With brand-building and heart warming promotional items like Strengthscope Mints and, “Release the Energy” pink-corked, champagne emblazoned t-shirts to give away, we gave a whole new look to speed dating. Not only that, we gave away Amazon.com Gift Cards, and one lucky person even won a hot new Kindle Fire just for signing up for our newsletter! Can’t say I ever had many first dates like that. The meeting was a perfect match!

In all seriousness, our first industry event in the U.S. was a huge success. The interest level around Strengthscope and our suite of products was incredibly high. Our goal was to build a broader awareness of this outstanding line of products and that mission was accomplished. There were many times when all of us were busy talking smart about Strengthscope. The exhibit crew did a great job despite the long hours and fast pace. They were always at the ready waiting to engage. Having worked meetings like this many times before with different products, I can honestly say that the discussions we had were much more robust than most at a meeting like this. All of this and we had a lot of fun, too! As first dates go, I would say it was two thumbs up and ready for more!

If we met you in Atlanta we will be connecting with you sometime in the next week. If not and you want to join in the conversation and you want to find out what all of the excitement is about, give us a ring, send us an email, friend us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

C’mon — join the fun and spend more time in your sweet spot at work!


Mike Miller is Director of U.S. Operations for Strengths Partnership

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5 Core Disciplines Of A World-Class CEO

Who has the most critical and influential role in an organization? Typically that would be the Chief Executive Officer. Not only is the organization’s future impacted by the CEO’s leadership, the lives and livelihood of thousands of people, sometimes entire communities, are affected by their decisions.

Recently I was asked by a CEO that I was working with to define what a “World-Class” organization is and how to move his company in that direction. I told him that it has to start at the top, and that “World-Class” organizations always have “World-Class” leadership.

We began our journey by outlining the criteria that defines world-class leadership performance in the Chief Executive position. High-performing CEOs can be measured by their ability to lead their organizations in delivering sustained performance in the top 10% of their industry in the world. But what attributes allow them to achieve such amazing results?

In order to be successful at a world-class level, Strengths Doctors believes there are five core disciplines that Chief Executives must focus on — and that these five things are ALL they should focus on:

1) Building and Maintaining a Strong Leadership Team

Building a strong leadership team is perhaps the most critical of the five core disciplines because it drives the other four. It is also one of the most evasive because it requires substantial commitment from an executive team and its leader. A world-class CEO knows that having a cohesive leadership team will build trust, eliminate politics, and increase efficiency. A healthy team does this by knowing one another’s strengths and weaknesses, holding one anther accountable for actions, openly engaging in constructive conversational conflict, and fully committing to team decisions and vision. Quite simply, cohesiveness at the executive level is the single greatest indicator of future success that any CEO can achieve.

2) Inspiring Stakeholders with Organizational Vision

CEOs must establish a vision and use it to anchor and align key stakeholders (owners/investors, board, leadership team, employees, and customers) around the culture, values, and purpose of the organization. Great CEOs articulate a vision of something bigger and better than themselves. They also create a sense of urgency about realizing the vision. They export the vision to others by clearly communicating it early and often, creating and sustaining a guiding coalition of those who support and work diligently toward the goal. Great CEOs represent the company to all key stakeholders with high levels of accountability, confidence and integrity and create value through building strategic relationships within each group. They inspire their stakeholders and engender pride of association.

3) Making the Right Investments

World-class CEOs make the right decisions about where to put the company’s limited resources. They work closely in consultation with their leadership team to stay on top of both short-term financial performance and long-term trends and goals. To do this properly, CEOs must cultivate and leverage a deep knowledge of how the company creates value and makes money. Great CEOs maintain a close, hands on understanding and appreciation of the key levers that drive revenue and anything that poses significant risks to the financial stream.

4) An Unwavering Focus on Strengths and Talent

To successfully execute strategy, CEOs must ensure the selection development and retention of great talent. Word-class CEOs set the bar high and make strengths and talent management a personal priority. In addition to the careful selection of their leadership team, great CEOs invest in processes that support the growth and performance of all employees. Why? They know that cultivating exceptional talent is a major competitive advantage — perhaps THE competitive advantage of the future.

5) Removing Obstacles to the Implementation of the Vision

Even the best leaders will face unforeseen situations outside their control that pose serious threats to the organization’s well being and maybe even its existence. Great CEOs recognize that the way they respond to these challenges plays out in full view of all stakeholders. Courage, ethics, and a strong moral compass, especially during great times of stress and challenge, are the character traits that result in high levels of credibility, trust and followership.

The Bottom Line

The model described here is a holistic one, and each discipline is critical to building a healthy and successful organization. A “World-Class” Chief Executive Officer focuses their time on only these five things:

  1. Building and Maintaining a Strong Leadership Team
  2. Inspiring Stakeholders with Organizational Vision
  3. Making the Right Investments
  4. An Unwavering Focus on Strengths and Talent
  5. Removing Obstacles to the Implementation of the Vision
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A New Tool For Strengths Discovery

This entry is admittedly a bit “press-release-y,” (probably because it’s a press release), but we wanted to let you know about this exciting announcement. We are thrilled to be part of the Strengths Partnership!

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LOS ANGELES, CA/CHARLESTON, SC (October 12, 2011) — Strengths Doctors announces today it’s become the first consulting group in the U.S. to be accredited with the Strengthscope assessment. Strengthscope, a dynamic assessment tool, provides a comprehensive measure of an individual’s strengths at work, allowing companies to grow and develop individuals through a practical and proven strengths-focused approach.

“We’re excited to continue to build teams and leaders with the addition of Strengthscope to help our clients better understand and grow,” says Dr. Marvin Arnsdorff, co-founder of Strengths Doctors and Strengthscope Accredited Partner and Business Consulting Partner. “With the research behind Strengthscope, we know it will be another way our clients can give energy to what they do best.”

“For us, the Strengthscope tool provides the perfect marriage of strengths-focused assessment, education and application techniques for independent consultants and for the companies we work with,” says Josh Allan Dykstra, co-founder of Strengths Doctors and Strengthscope Accredited Partner and Business Consulting Partner.

Strengthscope U.S. utilizes the Strengthscope online assessment taken by thousands of individuals worldwide. Accredited users learn the system through one- and two-day trainings. They then gain access to development solutions enabling individuals and teams to build on their strengths and translate them into success.

“Strengthscope benefits the growing market of independent consultants looking for a way to help companies and leaders understand their teams and themselves,” says Mike Miller, Director of Operations for Strengths Partnership U.S. “Its unique 360-feature and team report provides individuals and organizations with a competitive advantage by clarifying what gives them energy, edge and accelerated growth opportunities at work.”

“Strengthscope’s approach is founded on research and experience, making us a pioneer in strengths-focused business improvement,” says Strengths Partnership co-founder James Brook. “Because we believe when you unleash the full power of people’s strengths, organizations can significantly improve their results and capacity for future growth.”

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About Strengths Partnership & Strengthscope
Strengths Partnership (www.strengthspartnership.com) is a global assessment, consulting and training company dedicated to helping organizations achieve success through assessing, aligning and developing the strengths and skills of their workforce. Strengths Partnership designed and launched a strengths profiler, Strengthscope, in 2006. Organizations including American Express, Facebook, ING Direct, Tesco, Thermo Fisher Scientific and Volkswagen utilize the Strengthscope tool.

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Building A Strengths-Based Culture

We know that at the core of a healthy organization is the idea that people are respected and valued for their different gifts/strengths/talents. This is where true diversity is found, as well, as it is these innate abilities which create our worldview and varied perspectives.

If a tribe can adopt a mindset which truly helps people see each other as unique, special, individuals that have gifts and strengths, and that these talents provide important variety and valuable differing perspectives to the team, an almost magical level of trust and collaboration forms.

While a strengths-affirming culture is not easy to achieve, it is an essential goal for companies who wish to remain competitive in the new hyperconnected, collaborative economy.

For the past few months, I’ve been fortunate to be a part of a group called the MIX Hackathon Pilot, helping to brainstorm ways to reinvent management from the inside-out. We followed a systematic “design thinking” model to narrow down the most pressing issues in today’s organizations and collaboratively build out solutions. I led a small team in creating a “hack” called “Build A Strengths-Based Culture.” (If you’d like a bit more info on the hacking process, go here.)

This is an incredibly in-depth look at why a strengths-based culture is crucial for success and what problems it solves. It also serves as a practical guide for how to get started in making this a reality in your organization.

Check out the full, very detailed hack here.

There are few things better than finding/creating work that uses our strengths. We did our best to make this hack incredibly practical and straightforward — I hope you will find this guide helpful!

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If I Wanted a Dream Job…

I have to admit it, I am at the mid-point of my life, and I have never had a “job.” I have always been self-employed in the service of others.

However, if I wanted a dream job it would be the Chief Culture Officer (CCO) of a progressive company.

What does that mean?

As the CCO, it would be my job to create a culture of engagement and meet the needs of every single employee of the company. I wouldn’t keep track of every employee; that would still be the HR Director’s job. I would focus on creating a culture of engagement and meeting employee’s needs, to the best of a CCO’s ability, not through empty pep talks and token bonuses but through building clarity of purpose, strengths-based goal setting, individualized personal development plans, and consistent confirmation that the employee is satisfied and even delighted to be associated with the organization.

I would love this job. If I didn’t enjoy consulting and my own timelines so much, I’d be knocking on the door of every Fortune 100 company that would listen to create a position of CCO demonstrate what a major difference someone in that role could make to their bottom line.

It’s this simple: when an employee is happy and engaged in his work he misses work less, quits organizations less, creates safer work places, produces higher quality work, and is passionate about serving his customers. Just consider enormous turnover costs; the CCO’s salary could easily pay for itself just from the savings in recruitment and retraining resources. Most organizations don’t know how much money they would be making if their employees loved working so much that they took it upon themselves to work harder and more heartfelt than they would otherwise. It’s called discretionary effort and it’s invaluable to the organization.

With a CCO on board to make sure that each worker has a reason to feel excited and empowered by her employer, a progressive organization could find itself with a workforce passionate about its purpose and customers.

Now there’s a company and a culture that I could get excited about.

…If I wanted a dream job.

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The Treasure Hunter

Not long ago I was in a serious career path transition. I was dazed and stranded in the land in between a great past and a promising but unsure future. During the days I was anxious and doing a lot of soul searching and a lot of praying. At night I was restless, not sleeping, and when I did sleep, I would have crazy dreams. However, one of the craziest dreams has stuck in my head, and it’s had a profound effect on my life and the actions I take on a daily basis.

I have always loved movies about treasure hunters like Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark and Laura Croft: Tomb Raider. I’m sure that I must have seen one of them, or something like it, earlier that night.

The dream begins with me, dressed in Indiana Jones garb, walking with torch in hand though a tight corridor into a dark, tall, massive cavern. As the light from my torch illuminated the entire space of the cavern I noticed an altar in the middle of the vast space. On top of the altar sat a shiny gold object. As I drew closer to the glow I could see what appeared to be a very ornate container or vessel of some kind.

My curiosity of this treasure overcame my good sense as I reached out to grasp and hold this beautiful object in my hands. It felt unusually warm for this dark and damp place. The warmth of this prize compelled me to begin to rub my hands over it. Suddenly, there was a flash and the dimly lit cavern was filled with a bright purple hue. I quickly set the vessel down on the altar and began rubbing my eyes. When I finally could open my eyes, I saw before me a majestic man wearing a long flowing white tunic.

I didn’t know what to think as my head was spinning. Without thinking ahead, I blurted out, “What are you, an angel or some kind of genie?” At first he didn’t say a thing… he just eyed me up and down like he was looking right through my soul.

In a deep but soothing voice he said to me, “Thank you for your troubles. I am here to answer your wish. Will it be a business wish or a personal wish?”

“Business wish,” I answered without thinking twice.

He began waving his hands slowly in the air and speaking in that deep soothing voice. He instructed me to imagine clearly the wishes that I had in mind. Then he asked me to visualize what would happen if my wishes were fulfilled.

When he was satisfied that I had clearly visualized my wishes, he said, “Now think of all the gifts you have. Think about your mental gifts, physical gifts, and your spiritual gifts. Think about all of the different abilities and talents you have.” He let me process things for a moment as he continued waving his hands. Then after a moment, he asked if I had those gifts clearly in mind. I nodded yes.

He continued, “Think especially of those gifts and talents that would be useful in making your wish come true.” And so I thought about which of my strengths might help me, and exactly how I might use them.

Then he said, “Now, I want you to think about all of the people who might be able to make your wish come true. Not just the people you know, but the people you might need to meet who could help you. Think about what you would ask them to do and why they may want to help you.” So, I thought about all of the people who might help me make my wishes come true.

While I was thinking about all of this, he clapped his hands together with a mighty force causing another flash of light, but this time there was no purple hue, just a silver white glow around us.

Then, he asked me to close my eyes and think of the very first thing I could do to make my wishes come true. As I did this, he handed me a scroll. “When you have the first step clearly in mind,” he said, “open your eyes and read the scroll.”

I did as he asked, then I opened my eyes and he had disappeared into thin air. I read the scroll, smiled to myself, and nodded my head in agreement.

Since having that dream, and tapping into my innate talents and strengths, great things have happened. I feel that I have a truly blessed life. My actions, priorities, persistence, and my clarity of purpose have never been stronger in my life.

Perhaps you are wondering what was written on the scroll that he handed me. It simply said, “If you have faithfully followed my instructions, you have discovered the treasure within yourself and your wish has already begun to come true.”

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Strengths in a Facebook World

Recently I was at a speaking engagement discussing how to create a “Strengths-Based” culture in organizations vs. a “Command and Control” environment. One of the participants asked two critical questions. He asked, “Wouldn’t it make more sense if we determined and focused on young people’s strengths, at an early age, instead of focusing on fixing their weaknesses?” and, “Shouldn’t we know our strengths before we find ourselves miserable at work because it wasn’t the right fit?

My answers… yes and yes!

His questions had perfect timing, because I had just read an Associated Press article about Dr. Edward Zuckerberg. He is the father of Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder and CEO of Facebook. Dr. Zuckerberg encourages parents to support their children’s strengths and passions with a balance of “work and play.”

Probably the best thing I can say is something my wife and I have always believed in,” he said. “Rather than imposing upon your kids or try to steer their lives in a certain direction, recognize what their strengths are and support what their strengths are and support the things they’re passionate about.

Based on the apparent success of his four children, he might have something here.

We spend half of our waking hours at work — 90,000 hours of our lives, if we work from college graduation to retirement at age 65. That’s a lot of time that can be spent doing what you love — and getting paid to do it — or hating getting up every morning. In the United States, only 13% of workers say they find their work meaningful, and only 20% think their jobs are using their talents (Miller, 1999). If you’re like me, you want to be counted as the 1 in 5 that enjoys going to work 90,000 hours of your life.

Imagine what it would be like to live in a world in which we all knew and lived through our greatest talents, a society in which each of us would view others in terms of their unique talents and strengths. What would that look like? How would people feel? How would they act? What would our organizations look like? What would happen to social relationships in a strengths-based world?

Imagine that by age 20 you would know each of your greatest talents and have an understanding of the potential for strength they offered. Wouldn’t you naturally have the self-confidence that would come from awareness of your potential, and wouldn’t awareness of your talents bring you a sense of identity and purpose?

If you were raised in a society that enthusiastically helped its youth fully know and understand their talents, so much would change. You would be more energized to fulfill your purpose. You would be less frustrated because the trial-and-error process of discovering your strengths would be greatly diminished. All in all, you could live the life you were born to live.

Fortunately, there are several wonderful tools out there that help people determine and focus on their strengths. I recommend StrengthsExplorer (for youth ages 10-14), StrengthsQuest (for ages 15 and up), and StrengthsFinder 2.0 (for adults). (All are available on our Resources page in the “Strengths” category.)

The truth is, learning about your innate talents and strengths as early as possible in life — and applying them to reach your maximum potential — isn’t just good for the individual, it’s good for everyone. Simply put, if we all focused our lives on building upon our strengths, the world would be a better place.

Could there be an outcome more worthy than that?

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Engagement 1.0

Engagement is a trendy business buzzword these days, and it sounds pretty fancy. But the way engagement looks isn’t very complicated at all.

It’s easy to tell if an employee is engaged. They miss work less, quit organizations less, create safer workplaces, and produce higher quality work. Overall, they are simply happier and more passionate about what they do, which translates directly into better results for the whole company in all sorts of tangible and intangible ways.

But if engagement is so easy to spot, why don’t we see more of it? The latest figures state that at least two-thirds of the US population is not engaged in their job! This is a disturbing fact for a couple of reasons.

First, disengaged employees negatively affect a company in the opposite direction of the above positive laundry list. A lack of passion on the job creates more sick days, more turnover, more accidents, and lower quality work.

Yes, lost productivity is quite alarming. But the the loss of personal satisfaction is just as frightening, if not more so. Why? Because work never affects us just while we’re inside our cubicle–it always spills over into the rest of our lives.

Besides, we spend far too much time in our companies–a third of our life!–to hate what we do.

The research is clear–engagement positively impacts profits. But the tricky thing about engaging employees is that it will never matter until we change the way we think about work. As long as people are thought of like machine parts, identical and replaceable, all the research in the world won’t make a difference.

Fortunately, the tides are turning and a work revolution is coming. There is evidence sprouting everywhere of an emerging mentality that truly cares about the things our former bosses ignored. The future marketplace will resonate with the pulse of meaningful work, and at the core of this is a heart of engagement.

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P.S. Why the bridge picture? Because the process of engagement is all about connecting. Engagement happens when a manager takes a personal interest in each person that reports to them. They help bridge the gap for each person, connecting their position, whatever it may be, to a larger sense of meaning and impact.

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