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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Make It Quick; Make It Stick -- Strengths in 30 Seconds

By Maika Leibbrandt, Gallup Learning and Development Consultant

I am strangely entertained by reality television, specifically weight loss shows. Recently, I was comfortable on my couch, mindlessly downing an entire bag of nacho cheese tortilla chips, and rooting on my favourite contestants as they huffed and puffed their way through yet another ridiculous physical challenge. I was snuggled firmly into my corner of the sofa when something new happened:  Before the commercial break, one of the show’s trainers addressed the camera directly.  As if he was looking right at me, he said “Okay, now all of you on the couch, it’s your turn. Here are three exercises you can do in your living room during the next commercial break.”

Suddenly the experience was real for me. I no longer was a spectator in someone else’s journey -- I was now called to be a part of something -- and supposedly I could do it in just a few minutes.

Effective application of strengths is no spectator sport. If we are really going to connect beyond a feel-good initiative into the everyday lives of busy professionals, we must offer manageable ways of communicating our commitment to strengths. One way of offering this opportunity is to consider every leader’s interactions with other people as a chance to help them focus on their own talents. A formula I have challenged every individual to use is outlined as such:

What do you love?  
Using your Clifton StrengthsFinder profile as a guide, consider the activities that give you the most energy and excitement. Of your current key performance indicators, which is most meaningful to you? What part of your morning routine or afternoon checklist would you love to do all day long?

What can you give?
Clifton StrengthsFinder was not created to help human beings feel validated. It was created with engagement in mind, considering placement of people within a team where their talents are most perfectly aligned. This question gives the individual the opportunity to discuss his or her strengths in application. How do your talents play into what is needed by the group? Consider past excellence as well as future ambitions.

What do you need?
The best workout happens with the right shoes, appropriate timing, and at times the ideal coach.  Our obligation for applying our strengths affectively is to be honest about the situations that lead us to using our strongest talents.

A strengths-based road map to success is different than the map most of us use to get through school. Rather than filling in the gaps and focusing on what to improve, the ideal strengths-based approach is to identify our weaknesses and strive to make them irrelevant. The flip side of this approach requires individuals to consider situations where their strengths need to be in play. If we create more of these situations where our strengths can be utilized, we can avoid our weaknesses altogether. For example, my Adaptability feels like a wasted talent at times when I am required to plan six months in advance. My favourite teacher in high school called me “the girl who didn’t do anything until the last minute,” and I like to think he said this affectionately. One change I have made, based on the understanding of my needs, is to plan meetings a week ahead rather than months in advance. This gives others what they need and allows me to truly play to my strengths.

And now, the 30 seconds you’ve been waiting for…

“I’m Maika. I love interacting with people and throwing around new ideas. I offer new perspectives on current initiatives, and I react quickly in times of chaos. To be at my best, I need to know the absolute boundaries so I can be creative and respectful of others simultaneously. I thrive when given the opportunity to tell a story.”

These three simple questions, when added to our arsenal of human interaction, can lead to a more purposeful application of individual talent. Of course, in order to get to strengths optimization, it requires the dedication my favourite competitors display as they count calories and sweat it out in the gym week after week. Sometimes all we need to really make the difference is “a short word from our sponsors” during a commercial break.

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Maika Leibbrandt works to help leaders improve the engagement of their followers and customers all over the world, first in the United States and Canada, and now in the Middle East and Europe. Since joining Gallup, she has consulted in several industries, including education, finance, retail, automotive, healthcare, and government.

Leibbrandt earned her bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism with emphases in history, English, and Spanish from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

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