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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Three Questions Every Leader Should Be Asking

By Stosh D. Walsh

This is the first in a three-part series of articles by Gallup Practice Consultant, Stosh Walsh. In this series, Stosh will offer insights on coaching leaders.

The question I hear more than any other from individuals I coach is, “Now what?” Whether the person is a recently promoted first-time manager, or a C-level executive, it seems this important question lingers in the minds of most leaders who encounter strengths. Yet, for all its popularity, it remains a difficult question to answer. StrengthsFinder resonates strongly with the overwhelming majority of people who experience it, yet the percentage of people in the U.S. who say they have the opportunity to do what they do best at work every day hovers around 20%.
So, what is the disconnect? And, more importantly, how do leaders and coaches who have the greatest opportunity to drive meaningful change remedy it?

They can begin by asking three questions:
  • How do these strengths enable success in this role?
  • How does the exercise of these strengths affect others?
  • What kinds of strengths are complementary?
The answer to each of these questions yields critical insights -- insights that must be discovered, internalized, and practiced in order for leaders to enjoy maximum effectiveness. Given their importance, I will address each item individually in separate posts. 

First, how do these strengths enable success in this role? When we consider our recent and long-term successes, we should also consider what contributed to them. Often, listing these accomplishments will help us see patterns that connect to our natural wiring -- things we might have taken for granted had we not looked at the continuum of a role or career-to-date. Every leader must know what makes him or her successful. It is not enough to attain meaningful accomplishments by chance. Rather, we must know what caused success so it can be replicated and surpassed -- intentionally.

Alternatively, we can start with our strengths. One of the advantages of StrengthsFinder is that it creates a vocabulary for performance in the workplace. Listing our successes is a great way to begin, but we can also look at the strengths themselves and consider how we have used them recently and examine results. One of the best ways to do this is to utilize the description of each strength. Rather than saying, “I used Responsibility when I served as chair of the fundraising committee, and we raised $250,000,” we can dig deeper and become more descriptive of behavior by finding specific aspects of Responsibility that contributed to that success. For example, “I took psychological ownership of the chair position, and that enabled me to devote time and energy to the fundraising committee, which yielded the best result in its history.”

Another option is to begin with the role’s functional demands. If the role of a leader has six to eight critical functions, we can map strengths to those functions. In doing this, it is important to remember that we are answering the question, “How?” for a particular individual, knowing that others with different strengths might achieve those critical outcomes in very different ways, yet still succeed in the role. This option gives us the chance to consider leveraging multiple strengths toward a given target. It can also help explain why some aspects of a person’s role are easier or more enjoyable than others, especially if more of that person’s strengths seem like a natural fit.

Any of these approaches used alone, or in combination with one another, can help leaders answer the first critical question of how strengths enable success in a role. Armed with this knowledge, they can become more effective and more certain that they are not only doing what they do best every day, but making measurable progress both individually and organizationally.

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Stosh D. Walsh is a writer, speaker, coach and consultant specializing in leadership, employee engagement, and talent management.  He spent nearly a decade with Gallup before joining Alliant Credit Union to direct its learning and organizational development efforts.  He is the author of “Along the Way: Leadership Stories from Everyday Life” (2012), “Leadership Is More Than the C-Suite” (Gallup Business Journal, 2013), and his article “Five Questions You Must Ask Your Team” was the most read Gallup Business Journal article of 2013. He earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Judson College and a master’s degree in leadership from Bellevue University.

Stosh's top five strengths: Responsibility | Belief | Achiever | Input | Learner

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