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Thursday, March 28, 2013

What the K-State Student Body Election Can Teach U.S. Politicians

By Tom Matson, Senior Director of Executive Leadership: Gallup

Last fall, I had the chance to watch the presidential debates with my two teenagers. The debates started cordially, but of course shifted very quickly to the negative. My son picked up on this and asked me, “Why are they only focused on what’s wrong rather than what’s right?” It was a great question and one we should all be asking.

Imagine what it would be like if our politicians focused more on their strengths rather than on attacking their opponents’ weaknesses.

Kansas State University recently put this concept into action in its own campus political debates. The university asked student body candidates to focus on their strengths -- not harp on each other’s weaknesses.

And by strengths, Kansas State means the specific unique talents each student possesses based on the Clifton StrengthsFinder. K-State is a strengths-based campus, meaning it partners with Gallup to give freshmen students the StrengthsFinder assessment, which identifies their top five talents and provides suggestions for how to capitalize on those talents to achieve personal, academic, and career improvement.

To that end, Kansas State incorporated strengths into its recent student body presidential and vice presidential debates. The debates were “a chance to give people an opportunity to look at the candidates through their strengths and help the candidates see their own strengths,” said K-State student Kristen Burton in The Collegian, K-State’s student newspaper.

The moderators asked questions that focused on the candidate’s strengths and how he or she would use the strength, if elected.

Here’s how The Collegian reported on what happened at the debate:

For presidential candidate Kyle Nuss, senior in architectural engineering, his strengths of achiever, competition, learner, focus and positivity were important.

“Achievers” are those who work hard to achieve a goal while “Focus” refers to the ability to keep a goal on task and follow through. Finally, those with “Positivity” are all about being upbeat and positive. 

Nuss’ vice presidential running mate Ariel Mendiola, junior in sociology, cites Nuss’ “Positivity” strength as his most important. “His positivity kept us going and would always keep us going,” Mendiola said. “He kept our eyes on the prize.”

Read what else candidates had to say about their strengths here.

The student body reacted very positively to the debates. “I think strengths are good indicators of people’s qualities, and students can see what they bring to the positions,” one student told The Collegian.

Focusing on candidates’ strengths shifts the political discourse from a negative battle over who is worse to a positive conversation about what each individual can achieve. Imagine how inspirational it would be if the next time you heard a local or federal politician talking about how he or she would use his or her strengths to grow the economy or increase productivity. This is the type of political conversation or debate I would be proud to watch with my children. One that would create a vision for what kind of leader they can be in the future.

Tom Matson is the Senior Director of Executive Leadership for the Gallup Education Practice. With a focus on executive coaching and more than 10 years of consulting experience, he is committed to challenging leaders to become authentic and fully live out their strengths each day in a healthy and productive way. Matson earned his bachelor’s degree in communications and master’s degree in organizational leadership.

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Monday, March 11, 2013

Ready, Fire, Aim: The Reformation of an Activator

By Brandon Miller, CEO 34 Strong, Inc. and Gallup Certified Strengths Coach

I love motion and movement. To me, there is no learning without doing, and once a decision to act has been made, there must be action. As an adolescent, this impulse led me to do some things that I am not prepared to write about, except to say that I’m glad I am still here and able to write this blog post. In the young adult years of my life, I was the guy who could turn thought into action. Give me the signal that we need to complete a project, move product, or get a group that was stuck in the planning process to produce results, and I was your guy. In this process I learned that, although I could make things happen, you could usually find some carnage left behind in my wake of motion. Yet, to my way of thinking, this was necessary collateral damage to accomplish a goal or complete a task.

When presented with the opportunity to take the Clifton StrengthsFinder (CSF), I was elated to find the theme Activator in my Signature Themes. Armed with this new term to describe my strength, I continued to push hard to be the person who could get things done. Over the course of time, the carnage caught up with me. My working relationships deteriorated as people began to lose confidence in my leadership abilities. Instead of being known as the hero who could produce the results, I was known as an impetuous person who was often impatient and hard to deal with. How could this be? Wasn’t I simply working out of my strength?

I’ve heard it said that most men get their brains when they turn 30. Apparently, I resemble this comment, as it took me about that long to come to the realization that I needed to reconsider my definition of the Activator theme and how it worked in my life. Perhaps if I had read the application section of the theme report provided by Gallup for each person who participates in the CSF, I would have learned this sooner. In this section, a person especially talented in the Activator theme is encouraged to partner with people who are strong in themes such as Analytical, so as to gain a different perspective before taking action on an initiative. As I grew older and wiser, thank God, this was the approach I took for my life and career. Instead of rushing into action, I learned to seek counsel from those who would take a different approach to the plan and actually listen to their advice before moving forward.

Each of us has within ourselves amazing talents that can be cultivated into strengths. The cultivation process requires training, knowledge, and intentional effort to transform latent or misused talent into strengths. In order to achieve success, tools such as the CSF can aid us in gaining greater self-awareness and increased knowledge on how to grow in our strengths. I still love motion. Action is my first thought when a decision has been made, and I can still be found to be impatient. Yet, armed with a new understanding of strengths, this Activator has gone through a reformation and now sees greater results, and much less carnage, as the strength is developed.

Brandon Miller is the Chief Executive Officer of 34 Strong, Inc. and is a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach. With over 15 years of experience in business development and ownership, Miller is an advocate for the strengths-based revolution as he works to help others discover their innate talents and develop them into strengths. Miller resides in Elk Grove, California, with his wife and their seven children.

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