Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Strengths, Part Three - Freedom at Work

I woke up this morning and discovered that the blog post I finished writing last night had been deleted. Grrrr. I set the post to publish for this morning, went to relax in the living room, and had a thought that I wanted to record for my next blog post so I used the newly-downloaded Blogger app on my phone to record the thought. Apparently I also opened a version of my completed post and saved it as a blank post.


Now I will attempt to rewrite the post and hope that it will come out better than the first version so I can feel like something redemptive came from the accidental deletion.

In part one of this series I gave some background about the StrengthsFinder assessment and summarized my strengths. In part two I talked about how knowing my strengths allowed me to redefine failure and success, and completely shifted the paradigm for how I view myself. Now I want to share how this affected how I work.

My entire office took the StrengthsFinder assessment at the same time, and it was really enlightening to see our results laid out side-by-side. There is a chart that divides the 34 strengths into four main categories - executing, influencing, relationship building, and strategic thinking. Of the five people who worked in the office at the time (we now have six) everyone else had 2-4 strengths in the executing category. I had zero.


All of my strengths are in the relationship building and strategic thinking categories. This gave me some wonderful "Hallelujah!" and "Aha!" moments about the way that I work.

For a long time I had been comparing myself to people who were executors. I would go to staff meetings and hear everyone rattle off their list of completed tasks and inside I had this panic - what had I accomplished that week? I would see everyone in the office being productive and checking off projects left and right, while I felt like I was chasing my tail and had nothing to show for it.

I would go through periods of feeling motivated and productive - for several weeks in a row I might feel like I'd finally "made it" because I was crossing projects and tasks off the list - but inevitably I would hit a wall where I was sluggish, unproductive, and dreaded the simplest of tasks. In those moments I struggled with comparing myself and wondering what in the world was wrong with me? Why couldn't I keep pace? Did others struggle with this sustained sluggishness? I know that they had days where they felt unmotivated, but did they go through whole weeks or months of it?

When we discovered our strengths and I saw that three of my four coworkers have the Achiever strength - which means that (big surprise) they are highly driven to achieve things and accomplish a list of tasks - it brought me a whole new level of freedom!

I could finally stop comparing myself to them. In moments of feeling unmotivated and sluggish I began to ask new questions. Instead of wondering What is wrong with me? I asked these kinds of questions:

Is my lack of motivation a result of using all of my momentum in the past few weeks and now I need to allow myself time to recharge? 

Do I feel overwhelmed because I've committed to executing too many of my ideas?

Where am I holding unrealistic expectations of myself? What tasks can I let go of and what tasks are really the priority today?

It's amazing what happened when I stopped assuming that something was wrong with me; when I started seeing the circumstances as the problem instead of seeing my deficiency  as the problem. I now feel empowered instead of guilty.

One thing to note, and I hope to hit this in more detail in my next post, is that my lack of an executing strength doesn't let me off the hook from having to do stuff. We all have to face tedious tasks and just because I am not naturally motivated to tackle a to-do list doesn't mean that I can coast through life in my little idea bubble. Knowledge really is power, and knowing my strengths (and my non-strengths) has given me new power to address my weaknesses, especially at work.

Another area where knowing the strengths of everyone in my office has helped me to have a new perspective is when I'm collaborating with my coworkers. For example, I used to get annoyed when I would throw out a great idea and Matt would start asking questions, questions and more questions. He'd ask about goals and strategies and purpose and blah, blah, blah. Goals and strategies are nice, but wouldn't it be so much more fun to float off on a cloud of ideas??

But when I saw that his top strengths are Strategic and Focus, I could appreciate his questions. He wasn't trying to squash my ideas, he was trying to make them better. He was trying to help me filter out the bad ones and find the ones that were feasible. He was trying to focus our energy as an office on the things that would truly make a difference and provide the most value.

It's amazing what can happen when there is a work culture that celebrates strengths instead of trying to avoid weakness. When I am concerned about my weaknesses I 1) try to hide them and/or 2) exploit the weaknesses of others and/or 3) over-compensate by flaunting my successes and strengths.

However, when I can rest in the security that I have strengths that make me a valued part of the team, and when I value the strengths of others, I don't have to try and create smoke and mirrors to puff up my job performance. I don't have to compete with others and I don't have to compare with them. I can tell them that they do a great job, and I can mean it. And I can genuinely feel joy and pride (the good kind) when my boss or others on our staff compliment me on a job well-done.

Do you ever think about the strengths of your coworkers and how they affect the roles you play in the office? If you are a supervisor, do you take time to focus on (and celebrate) the strengths of those under you? How can we contribute to a culture at work (or at home, church, school, etc.) that celebrates and honors each person's strengths?

No comments: