Are you operating in your strengths zone?

Posted by Michael Hyatt in January 2012:

One of the most important questions you can ever ask yourself is this, “What are my strengths?” Knowing the answer is the key to job satisfaction.

It will determine how fast you advance in your career and, more importantly, how happy you are in your job—and perhaps your life.

Unfortunately, most of us have been trained to think first about our weaknesses. For example,

  • Teachers pointed out our errors and marked them with a red pen.
  • Parents scanned our report cards and focused on those subjects where we needed to improve.
  • Employers have noted our weaknesses and discussed them at our annual performance review, often under the heading, “Opportunities for Improvement.”

I used to do the same thing with my direct reports. I thought I was being helpful. As a leader, I thought that this was my role.

Then I read, Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton’s bestseller, Now, Discover Your Strengths. At the time, both men worked for Gallup. The book was based on their research there.

They had a simple but powerful thesis. The best way to get ahead in your career and be satisfied in your job is to focus on developing your strengths. No matter how hard you try, you really can’t improve your weaknesses. You are wasting time and energy trying to do so. The best thing you can do is discover your strengths and then find a role that allows you to use them.

At the time I read this, it was revolutionary. It still is.

In their extensive research, Buckingham and Clifton identified 34 different strength themes. They also developed an online strengths assessment that identified your five top strengths.

Since the book originally came out, Buckingham left Gallup and went on to write several more bestsellers. Sadly, Clifton passed away.

However, Tom Rath, another Gallup employee, picked up the torch and refined the research. He used the results from the four million people who took the first test to develop an even more accurate, reliable, and faster assessment tool.

In 2007, he wrote a follow-up book called StrengthsFinder 2.0, documenting his research. Gallup then made the new assessment available online, renaming it “Clifton StrengthsFinder 2.0” in honor of Donald Clifton.

The last time I took the test was more than four years ago. However, I review the results annually to make sure that I am still operating in “my strengths zone.”

I was especially interested in doing it this year in light of my transition from CEO of Thomas Nelson to my new role as a full-time writer and speaker. My top five strengths, along with the descriptions I received in the customized report are:

  1. Achiever: People who are especially talented in the Achiever theme have a great deal of stamina and work hard. They take great satisfaction from being busy and productive.
  2. Intellection: People who are especially talented in the Intellection theme are characterized by their intellectual activity. They are introspective and appreciate intellectual discussions.
  3. Strategic: People who are especially talented in the Strategic theme create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.
  4. Futuristic: People who are especially talented in the Futuristic theme are inspired by the future and what could be. They inspire others with their visions of the future.
  5. Relator: People who are especially talented in the Relator theme enjoy close relationships with others. They find deep satisfaction in working hard with friends to achieve a goal.

This was a good reminder for me. My goal is to stay focused on my strengths and say “no” to everything else or delegate it to someone else who is better equipped to handle it. The more I do this, the more productive and satisfied I will be.

After reviewing the list, I think I have more alignment between my strengths and my role than ever before.

But what about you? Do you know what your strengths are? Does your current job give you an opportunity to express them? If not, could this be why you feel so little satisfaction in your career?

You can start operating in your strengths zone by taking these five steps:

  1. Buy the StrengthsFinder 2.0 book and take the test. Inside the book, you will find an “access key” that enables you to take the online assessment.
  2. Review your customized report and reflect on your strengths. Ask, “How well do these strengths describe me?” Now ask those who know you best the same question. What do they say?
  3. Evaluate your current job in light of your strengths. Objectively speaking, what strengths does your job require? Do you have these strengths? On a scale of 1-10, how satisfied are you in your role?
  4. Develop a strategy to align your strengths and your job. This will likely require you to start focusing on those aspects of your job where you can express your strengths and delegate, negotiate, or offload the rest. In some cases, it may mean looking for a new opportunity.
  5. Share your strengths with your colleagues. Tell them you want to focus on your strengths, so that you can make your greatest contribution to them and the team. If they know your strengths, they can help you find opportunities to express them.

If you really want to develop a strengths-based culture, have your entire team (even your family) take the test and then discuss how you can get everyone focused on their strengths. You can even use this as a basis for recruiting people with strengths you may be missing. In the end, you and your team will be more productive and more happy.




Advice to young leaders, Part 2

This is a continuation of the post from last week. You might want to read that before tackling what is below.

1. Don’t be a slave to your tech “toys”

You can tell the difference between the men and the boys by the price of their toys.  I saw a bumper sticker once that read, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” That pretty much summarizes the western culture’s view of “stuff.”

Watching leaders with their “devices” (jumping at each vibrate or ring tone) makes me wonder if the tail is now wagging the dog. What started as a helpful tool has now become our master and enslaved us.  Awhile back I was at lunch with a leader and, under the table, he was texting while nodding and pretending to pay attention to his guests who had traveled some distance to meet with him. 

In order to dethrone our love affair with “Our Toys,” how about creating finish lines at the end of a work day (5p or 6p) and turning off your cell phone and computer so you can focus on some replenishing time for yourself and time with your family? I have suggested this more than once to leaders I coach. For some, it can be like going cold turkey from a drug. Goes to show you how tied we are to our tech toys. Have your tech toys become an “idol?”

2. Don’t suffocate but delegate

Good leaders get others to help them, while other leaders try to do it all by themselves. We need to go back to the first piece of advice on delegation given in the Bible: Exodus 18 where Moses was instructed by his father-in-law to learn how to delegate.

I give an exercise to those I coach, asking them to write down everything they are doing, or think they should be doing, ministry-wise.  Then put a check next to everything on the list that only they can do.  It always surprises them that many of the items are not checked, which obviously means someone else could do some of these things.

Why, then, is someone else not doing it? It’s because they have never asked anyone to do it, nor have they trained anyone to do it. The rationale is often that “I can do it faster myself…that it will take too much time to train someone else….time I don’t have.” This might work in the short run; but, in the long run, it will “kill” you and truncate any growth your team, church or organization might experience. Check your ego at the door and learn how to delegate, before you fall victim to burn-out and/or a complete meltdown.

3. Don’t be a loner but choose genuine community and accountability

I understand that accountability is often seen as an idea with no teeth--a concept that is more bark than bite, but that doesn’t negate its essentiality and criticalness.

I know of a lot of young leaders who simply believe they don’t really need accountability and don’t want it either. This smacks of Proverbs-like “folly” with a good deal of pride mixed in. These young leaders want the freedom to do what they want, when they want--not having to answer to anybody. The potential thrill of skating close to the edge of the ice gives them an adrenaline rush that can be exciting, but can also be very dangerous.

There are leaders in the evangelical church who encourage church attenders to be in “small groups” but don’t regularly participate themselves; nor do they have a friend or friends to whom they give permission to ask the tough questions to which they fully intend to be brutally honest in answering.

I have been in vocational ministry for 43 years and have seen more than my share of fallen leaders who got into sexual or financial sin (two of the biggies), and there wasn’t a single person in their ministry circle or among their close friends who knew what was going on.  Everyone was blindsided by it!

I personally knew a lead pastor of a large church who literally scoffed and laughed at the idea of being accountable to anyone, but didn’t object if anyone on his staff wanted to pursue it. He saw no value in it and wanted no part of it. After a period of time, that pastor allowed himself to get into a compromising situation which eventually resulted in him stepping down and the church dealing with the fall-out of a sordid situation. It didn’t need to happen. He had no one walking closely with him. The devil had the last laugh.

To whom are you making yourself known?  Who are you allowing to ask you the questions you would rather not answer, but need to? You are not smart enough, godly enough, or strong enough to go it alone and it was never God’s intention for you to do so.




The Awesome Power Of Appreciation

Posted by Tracy Letzerich on  March 8, 2012

It doesn’t matter whether your office is a boardroom, classroom, or laundry room. There are people who do things for you every day. Employees, colleagues, and family are expected to do their part. Do they know that you appreciate them?

It was a typical Monday, and I was about to churn out a business-like email to my husband. Have you heard back from the tax guy? Don’t forget the teacher-parent conference on Thursday. Oh, and the neighbors are irritated because you put the recycle bin out on the wrong day.

In the middle of composing this gem of gentle reminders, a terrible realization came over me: I send a similar email to my husband every Monday. Imagine his excitement when my name appears in his inbox! I began to wonder. Does he know how much I appreciate him?

I deleted my nagging email and wrote this instead:

A few important things:

  1. Thank you for working hard each day for our family.
  2. Thank you for loving me even when I don’t deserve it.
  3. Thank you for folding laundry.
  4. Thank you for moving us back to Texas.
  5. Thank you for encouraging us to eat healthy in the New Year.
  6. Thank you for reading to the kids at night. You’re the best dad in the world.
  7. Thank you for cleaning out the garage last weekend.
  8. Thank you for making me laugh.
  9. Thank you for taking our son to school in the mornings. It helps me so much.
  10. Thank you for choosing the scary movie that gave me nightmares last weekend (had to sneak that one in there). Prepare for a chick flick.

No big deal, right? Wrong! The lasting effect this message had on my husband’s day was exponentially longer than the amount of time it took me to write it. He didn’t arrive home depleted and exhausted from the stress of the day. He had a spring in his step. He felt appreciated.

Appreciation is powerful. Apply it to your relationships in these practical ways:

  • Boost morale by celebrating success. In the mentoring I do, I often hear executives express frustration with their team’s performance and morale. My first question: “What is your team doing well?” Surely they’re good at something. It’s quite possible they don’t feel appreciated for the things they’re expected to do, so why should they go the extra mile? Acknowledge the work they put into the daily grind. Celebrate small victories.
  • Use appreciation as a motivational tool. When I taught middle school, I learned that acknowledging my students’ efforts, no matter how small, was a great motivator. This is especially effective with low performers. Johnny was a mess of a math student. He used pen. He rarely completed his homework. The correct answers eluded him. So when he started to meet two basic expectations, I jumped at the chance to write, “Thank you for using pencil! I also noticed that you attempted each problem. What a great way to learn!”
  • Publicly acknowledge individual contributors. At the beginning of class each day, we had a routine. My students were expected to work quietly on a warm-up problem. Sounds simple enough. But getting a room full of 13-year-olds to do this some days felt more like herding cats. “I see that Katie and Davis have their homework out and they’ve already completed the warm-up. We’re going to have a great class today!” Acknowledging people in front of their peers does two things. It gives recognition to those doing what’s expected and it nudges those needing to change their behavior.

Want to see ordinary people accomplish extraordinary things? Show appreciation for what they already do, and report back on the results. Imagine the impact you can have on someone simply by recognizing their value.




Advice to young leaders, Part 1

For the past seven years, I have had the joy and responsibility of professionally coaching (through Ministry Coaching International MCI website) lots of young leaders.  For the most part, they are full of joy, vitality, biblical ambition, and a strong desire to make a lasting contribution that would honor Jesus.

Some of them will unfortunately, over time, flame out, burn out or fall into major sin that could very well disqualify them. They are aware, and afraid of this, which is a good thing.  At times I’m asked what is involved in finishing well--being a “Leader Who Lasts,” which is the title of my first book?

Here is an initial list of “Advice to Young Leaders:”

Keep your knees on the floor: Be a leader who spends plenty of time alone with God in prayer. This demonstrates your dependence, trust and clearly acknowledges the fact that you can’t do it without the power of the Holy Spirit in your life. “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off yourself, every chance in the world if you trust God to do it.” Matthew 19:22 (The Message). Trust doesn’t mean less effort, but less dependence on yourself.

Keep your nose in The Book: Be a man/woman of the Book…not books, but the Book. It is tempting for young leaders to read, listen to, or watch other leaders preach and teach Scripture, as well as discovering what great minds think about various portions of scripture, and not get it first hand from spending personal time in God’s Word…reading, studying, memorizing, meditating and applying what you learn. Ezra 7:10 (ESV) is instructive on this issue, “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.” Passing it on was after study and obedience.

Keep your pants zipped: It has been my observation that leaders who crash and burn often do so over either sex or money. Something often happens to a young leader who experiences success early in his career. Arrogance and independence can set in and make them think they are “above the law.” This can open the door for some really stupid personal decisions and choices that can cause the curtain to close early on an otherwise promising future.

Keep your family as a top priority and don’t serve leftovers: If young leaders aren’t careful, most of their time will go toward other people and their personal life and family life will get the leftovers. Wives and children are not okay with this. It takes a good deal of intentionality and discipline to keep a healthy balance between one’s ministry life, family life and personal life.  It is a good idea to set boundaries and work a range of hours (50-60 suggested) per week so you and your family know when you are not working which is where all the non-work activities go-sleep, exercise, dates with wife and kids, fun and recreation. It is the non-work activities that lead to strength and health, which will result in longevity in ministry.

If you are not careful, the ministry can become like the crabgrass in the lawn of life.  Pretty soon you won't have a lawn…you won't have a life. Poor health, resentment toward those you lead, and burnout will not be far behind. Learn to say appropriate no’s to those you lead so you can say yes’s to those you love.




You Can't Go to the Next Level if... 

Perry Noble: Posted on his blog…Feb 9, 2012

One of the things I always hear in regards to leadership is that we should always desire to “go to the next level!”  However, there are things that will hold us back from doing this.  Reality is that you and I cannot go to the next level if…

  • You absolutely are in love with the way things are
  • You are increasingly obsessed with the people who hate and criticize you the most. 
  • You are not hungry for wisdom. (Proverbs 4:5-7)
  • You are not willing to make uncomfortable decisions. (Galatians 1:10)
  • You are a people pleaser. (Proverbs 29:25)
  • You are not willing to accept responsibility for where you are right now.  (The person who always has to blame is always lame!)
  • You are not willing to speak the truth in love. (Ephesians 4:25)
  • You are using people rather than valuing them.
  • You are more in love with comfort than carrying your cross. (Luke 9:23)
  • You never allow yourself to be exposed to new ideas and methods. (Isaiah 42:9, Isaiah 43:19, Isaiah 48:6)
  • You take shortcuts (see Exodus 13:17-18)
  • You expect people to read your mind and then hold them accountable for things you never actually said but rather just assumed they knew.  (Great leaders will leave you if you do this.)
  • You do not hold people accountable to what they have said they will do.
  • You are always looking for a fight instead of a solution. (2 Timothy 2:23)
  • You are not begging God to reveal more of Himself to you.