Day 1 of the Educause Institute for Learning Technology Leadership came to a close last night. For just a half-day session, I am truly exhausted. I am also excited that such a dynamic experience will span the next 3.5 days. I’m sure I’ll get a lot out of it.
We are asked to reflect upon a specific topic each day. Last night, we focused on the results of our StrengthsFinders surveys. This tool, which I’ve used a few times now and find quite useful, tries to identify 5 strengths based on a big, long series of survey questions. They are actually statements, and you have to choose which one better describes you. For the most part, they are not opposed, which means it’s not easy to decide which one fits you best. So you make a decision that is a combination of logic, thoughtfulness, and gut.
Below is a slightly-edited (just tightened up) version of what I wrote in our internal Yammer group.
Aside from the almost assured frustration at not knowing what one’s “6th” strength was (I’m sure I am in influencer, even though I didn’t have a strength in that column!), the StrengthFinders tool offers a duality of benefits. There are two sides to the coin, and it’s more than just strengths and weaknesses. In fact, there are layers even to each side of the coin. Understanding one’s strengths, the combinations thereof, and maximizing your contribution to a project is one part. On the other side, thinking about your weaknesses, identifying which ones are best addressed through picking the right colleagues, and tackling those that you feel you can overcome. These last ones can be resolved either through sheer force of will (I don’t like confrontation, but I’m going to stand up for myself no matter what!), or by making creative use of your strengths (I like learning, data, and being analytical. I will use these strengths to give me the backing needed to win the day).
It’s a two-sided coin with multiple layers and lots of dotted lines connecting everything. Perhaps my metaphor has proven inappropriate…
But looking at things from a somewhat superficial level, understanding one’s strengths can, unto itself, be a powerful tool to being a valuable and more effective contributor to any effort, whether as leader or motivated team member.
I have taken the survey three times now. Once for a work-related retreat, and now twice for Educause Institute programs (including LTL). Three of the 5 strengths have been consistent – Achiever, Input, and Learner. I also received Individualization, Analytical, Arranger, and Responsibility. These provide me with a language for articulating where I can be most effective. It gives me names for the otherwise subconscious traits I exhibit. Whether it’s ITIL, Six Sigma, or The Challenge to Lead, I have found the ability to articulate leadership and personality trait models to be freeing and energizing. But I can also then utilize my strengths to the maximum benefit of the larger group. As a leader, team member, or general contributor, I can make the most of myself.
It is the other aspect of learning one’s strengths, however, that I think is far more important. Learning one’s weaknesses so that one can do something about them.
It is important to note that one should not try to tackle all weaknesses on one’s own. They are our weaknesses, which means that at least some of them are beyond the reach of our accessible tools to resolve. Sometimes it’s best to find a colleague that can complement.
Personally, I spend a lot of time trying to address some of my weaknesses head on. In fact, I recall a number of survey questions to this effect, and answering them in line with this tendency to challenge myself.
I did not have a strength that the LTL faculty listed as “influencing.” These are the “take charge” and “make decisions” ones.
It is true, for instance, that I would prefer not to be in a situation when I must take “command” and make decisions on my own. To be the one that pounds the fist on the table and says “we will do this!.” I would rather gather information, build at least some support, and them come to a conclusion and action plan (consensus kills decision-making processes, in my opinion, but general agreement isn’t a bad thing). I am also certainly capable of “activating” an idea and turning it into a set of actions, in a relatively quick manner. But that isn’t my fundamental preference.
Yet, on a regular basis, despite my preference, I find myself doing these exact things. I make decisions on the spot. I take disparate bits of information, smash them together, and generate actions that I delegate to others. Sometimes these are, by nature, creative and different methods that throws the traditional on its head. I dig my heels in when another department seeks to delay IT projects in a way that I feel will be to the detriment of the college. I would say strengths 6, 7, 8 and perhaps beyond would be in the Influence column.
Reality is somewhere in between. As someone with strengths in Input and Learning, I like to gather data all the time. I am a talker, and I try my best to listen effectively, as well. As an Arranger, I am always thinking about how things fit together. I like to say that the final decision will be mine, but that it is always, always an informed decision. Informed by all the information I’ve been gather, all the discussions I’ve been having, and by the larger context and environment in which the situation resides.
Knowing my strengths helps me at least conceptualize my weaknesses, and I utilize that knowledge to put myself in a position where, should my preferences not lead to results, I can still get the work done