You’ve probably heard the phrase: “Lead by example,” but have you ever thought about how to lead through strength? Today, Jacob and I are talking with Lisa Cummings, the founder and CEO of the leadership strengths finding and consulting firm, Lead Through Strengths. Lisa has a wealth of knowledge and experience in helping business owners, professionals, and organizational leaders restructure their leadership teams, focusing on each individual strengths so they can be more productive throughout the work-day.
Lisa has presented at several speaking engagements around the world, including on the TedX stage. Her strategies to lead through strength have helped thousands of business owners and executives.
In this episode, Lisa shares how she has used her personal experiences from working in the corporate and entrepreneurial worlds to create her business and help her clients lead better, more intentional, and productive teams through strength-based leadership as well as how to utilize Gallup’s Strengths Finder Assessment.
“Notice what works and you’ll get more of what works.” – Lisa Cummings
In This Episode of the Aspiring New Leader:
- Lisa explains what the Strengths Finder Assessment is and how it helps leaders find and maximize their strengths, and those of their team, to become more effective and efficient in the workplace.
- She explains why she believes many leaders focus on peoples’ weaknesses instead of strengths and how it can create conflicts and problems within teams.
- She shares why she believes trying to change a person’s weakness is a “mostly futile” attempt.
- According to Gallup, the likelihood that an employee will become actively disengaged drops to 1% when their manager primarily focuses on their strengths.
- There are 34 different talent themes, divided into four leadership sub-domains.
- She explains how taking the Strengths Finder Assessment helps leaders rediscover what they have to offer and contribute to their team, company, and the world and how this discovery can positively impact their overall performance.
The 4 Key Leadership Domains:
- Leading through relationships.
- Leading through strategic thinking.
- Leading through execution.
- Leading through influence.
Lisa’s Steps for Aspiring New Leaders to Start Their Strength Finding Journey:
- Look at yourself.
- Look at each person on your team.
- Look at the team as a whole.
- Consciously shift your efforts to noticing what works about people.
- The Strengths Finder Assessment can help you identify your strengths, as well as your team’s strengths, improving the team’s effectiveness, efficiency, and overall performance.
Resources to Help You Lead Through Strength:
Reach Out to Lisa Cummings:
- Lead Through Strengths
- Lead Through Strengths Podcast
- Lisa’s TedX Talk Video
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Read Podcast Transcript
011 – Rocking Your Strengths with Lisa Cummings
DAN: Welcome to The Aspiring New Leader Podcast, a podcast focused solely on leadership, education and development for those of you new to leadership and those of you considering a leadership career. I am your host, Dan Perryman. And you have joined us for Episode 11. Today we have an exciting interview with Lisa Cummings. But before we introduce her, welcome, Jacob.
JACOB: Thank you, Dan. Happy to be here.
DAN: So we are one day before Christmas Eve, so in your world it’s the pre-Christmas Eve.
JACOB: Yes, everything is pre-, so if you have something before breakfast, it’s a pre-breakfast, which we talked about.
DAN: And if you’ve listened to other podcasts, then that’s funny. If not, just disregard. So are you all prepped for Christmas?
JACOB: I am. All the gifts are wrapped. Not under a tree yet. And speaking of trees, where is yours?
DAN: My tree is fully decorated, but I didn’t bring it up. It’s down in the utility room. So what I do is I go down there and sit around the Christmas tree in the utility room and sing myself Christmas songs.
JACOB: That’s a disturbing picture.
DAN: Since your daughter doesn’t listen to the podcast, since she’s only three, and you have a 10-month-old who doesn’t and your wife apparently doesn’t –
JACOB: Doesn’t, as well.
DAN: – does not, what are your gifts this year?
JACOB: For Isabella we got her a guitar.
DAN: The three-year-old.
JACOB: The three-year-old – a guitar, Hungry Hungry Hippos, the classic game and some clothes. She likes clothes. We got her a feather boa, too, so go ahead and have some interesting conversation about that. And then for Rachelle, my wife, we got – I got her a bracelet that has the children’s names on it, Isabella and Grace, along with their birth dates. And I also got her a hairdryer. She wanted that. And as you put it when we were talking about yesterday I can get away with that because I got a romantic gift and then a not so romantic gift.
DAN: Yeah, I don’t think you can get away with a hairdryer if there is no jewelry somewhere in a box, right?
JACOB: Yeah, it’s like handing a scale to somebody on Christmas probably.
DAN: Yeah, you can’t give her a hairdryer and complement it with a weight scale. Just saying.
JACOB: I’d get coal in my stocking then.
DAN: And what do you think you’re getting for Christmas?
JACOB: Probably dress shirts and socks. Gotta look sharp for work, so I’m sure that’s what I’ll be getting.
DAN: Awesome. So my kids are getting cash and gift cards. I did get my oldest daughter – all she wanted was that Nespresso machine. I don’t know if you’ve seen that.
JACOB: I did see that. I saw she posted a picture of it on Facebook.
DAN: That’s pretty cool. So now they’ve found a new way to charge you like $1.20 for each capsule.
JACOB: It gets good reviews, though, doesn’t it?
DAN: Oh yeah. She loves it, yeah. So that’s our Christmas. So we’re all excited. Again, we’re in the Midwest, and it’s actually pretty warm today. It’s probably up in the 20s or something. It’s been freezing here. We’ve been experiencing a lot of ice, and it’s been a pretty tough week in the Midwest, so we’re happy it’s warming up. And it’s supposed to be in the 50s but rainy on Christmas. So –
JACOB: I hate to break your weather conversation, but I feel like I need to bring this up because my birthday was earlier in the month, and on my birthday I got the banjo.
DAN: Oh yeah, so if you go back to the very first episode, I believe, Jacob was talking about how he was going to get a banjo. So how good are you right now?
JACOB: Terrible. I can’t play a lick, or a key, or a note or whatever it is you call it. I can strum it, and my three-year-old daughter, Isabella, thinks it’s wonderful, but –
DAN: But it’s a little awkward you keep bringing it to the podcast.
JACOB: I’m sitting here in the chair holding the banjo as I talk.
DAN: Yeah, it’s awesome. So we’ll give him six months, and then we’ll make him play something on the podcast.
JACOB: In six months you’ll probably get “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”
DAN: That’s awesome. All right, so we’re going to move into the podcast. This was a really good interview. This is one of my favorites so far. We interviewed Lisa Cummings, and she is CEO and Founder of Lead Through Strengths. It’s a company that focuses on strength finders and finding the strengths of leaders and workers. Lisa has delivered events to over 9000 people in 14 countries. In her signature program, Notice What Works, she helps leaders improve performance on their teams by tapping into each person’s strengths. If you look at her website, leadthroughstrengths.com, she has a podcast which is pretty awesome. I’ve listened to several episodes there. I would highly recommend that. And she has the YouTube link to her TEDx video, which she did, which was pretty awesome. And we talk about that in the interview.
JACOB: The interview with Lisa was great. I really enjoyed the part where she took our strengths and we had a little discussion about how we balance each other out. So that’s a nice little segment for folks to look forward to listening to during the interview.
DAN: Yeah, that was cool. We hope you enjoy the interview.
Welcome to the show, Lisa.
LISA: Thanks for having me. Excited to join you guys because I love talking about leadership.
DAN: Yeah, and Jacob, welcome.
JACOB: Happy to be here.
Lisa’s Hometown, Austin, TX
DAN: Lisa, you come from Austin, Texas, is that correct?
LISA: That’s the best place to be right now, Austin, Texas.
DAN: And why is that?
LISA: Most of all I think because of the people. It’s one of those come as you are towns. I’ve always felt like you can show up at a restaurant in your three-piece suit or in your flip-flops with your dog and it’s just sure, whatever you want to be is come in and be that. And then the welcoming feel; people are really friendly and make eye contact and smile when they don’t know you, and I’ve always found it just to be a really friendly town.
DAN: Yeah, I visited there a couple years ago with my son. It was a really friendly town, very cool and very modern, too. Everything seems to be kind of state-of-the-art there in Austin, which is cool. We were there when the bats were there, except we were on the bridge, and so for those that don’t know, there’s like – they’ve got like 1.5 million bats that migrate to Austin from Mexico, and they’re only there for a few months. But if I’m not telling the story right, Lisa, you can let me know, but the one night – every night they come out from under this bridge, and they fly around, like a million bats. And it was the one night there was like 1000 people on this bridge waiting, and it’s the one night the bats didn’t come out.
LISA: Oh no, they just didn’t show?
DAN: Yeah, they were under the bridge, and only one came out. I guess he was like the lookout.
LISA: Oh, that’s so weird.
DAN: It just went back in. Things aren’t safe.
LISA: He said oh, there’s that scary guy.
DAN: Yeah, something’s going on here.
LISA: Dan’s here. We better not come out tonight.
LISA: Yeah, the bats are really cool. People think it sounds creepy, but the swarm is amazing to watch, and living outside of Austin they’ll come when we’re swimming in the pool, and they will just make a zip down by your face, and you will think – until you get used to it – you’ll think that you’re going to get hit in the face by a bird or something. And then you realize it’s a bat, and they come and drink water. And they never touch you, but they look like they’re going to dive-bomb your face. So getting guests in from out of town, that’s a highlight, is watching that interaction.
JACOB: I’m having a hard time believing you would ever get used to a bat dive-bombing towards your face.
LISA: You totally do. I look forward to it. I actually get giddy when I see one coming because you think no, it’s never going to hit me, and it just goes whoop, gets the water and moves right along.
DAN: Yeah, and the crazy part is they somehow come back to the same exact spot every year from Mexico. It’s pretty crazy really the number of bats.
LISA: It is.
DAN: So Lisa, tell us how you ended up in Austin, and tell us about your career path and how you got to where you are now.
Lisa’s Career Path
LISA: Well, I actually have a little connection to you guys. I’m from the Midwest, as well, and I moved to Austin when it was time to go to school because my mom’s job transferred from San Antonio or from St. Louis, rather, to San Antonio. And I thought oh yeah, no more snow shovel, and I can move to somewhere where it’s warm. So I took that opportunity to come sort of nearby in a neighboring town, fell in love with Austin. And boy, well, career path, I’ve done a lot of stuff. I’ve had a windy one. It’s been sales; it’s been marketing; it’s been learning and development. I’ve had my own company a couple of times. I’ve been in corporate, kind of back-and-forth between those worlds and have really loved that.
And where I’ve settled in, in this company that I own and run now is called Lead Through Strengths, and I focus a lot on StrengthsFinder, and it’s a training and speaking kind of company. And having used that as a manager, once I finally got into managing people, I discovered some of those books and realized the power. And then I managed managers and realized, oh gosh, I have so much to learn. And there again, they came back and supported me, these concepts of strength. And then when I was an executive, the same thing. So it was that thread in my career, one of the only threads where it kept showing up, and I thought I need to do something with this because I believed in it for a long time. So it became my career path.
DAN: How did you make the leap to starting a new company around StrengthsFinder because that’s a pretty specific niche?
LISA: Isn’t it? You know, it’s funny that last time before that that I left corporate I left to start a learning and development company, and I started a company called Leader’s Lens, and I did leadership development, which I did in corporate as well. So it was a natural extension of what I did, and I used my network to build that business. But I felt like I was a little bit more of a freelancer than a business owner because I was just delivering training classes for people I already knew.
So this time around, when I started a training company again, I thought I’m going to try that thing that everyone says that you need to be narrowly focused. And I’ve got to tell you I was scared to death to be that narrowly focused because I thought it’s just, you know, I’m not going to find the customers. It’s too narrow. And the opposite has happened. It’s exactly what people say. There is something to be known for, and so now I’m the strengths gal, and not that that’s my specific brand, but when people think of me they think of strengths-based leadership or strengths-based teams, and it makes it easy for people to know what you do. And it’s made work come to me really easily. So it’s really cool how that worked out to get narrow instead of starting broad and saying leadership because that’s such a huge topic.
DAN: Right, so we’re going to talk more about StrengthsFinder later, but I’m going to jump to the TEDx talk. So how did that happen for you because – for the audience, she has completed a TEDx talk.st
The TEDx Talk Experience
LISA: You know, what was cool is that that actually was held at the University where I had earned my MBA years before, and so it was a really easy place to make connections and come through to get an audition. So it was one of those, yeah, have a professional network and keep in touch with people because then I used contacts and relationships that I already had, and that got me in the door to get an audition. And then from there, of course, it’s just on you to be on-topic and show up and do a great job and all of that. But that’s how it actually went down. They were my business school, and I stayed in touch, and that’s how I found that TEDx.
DAN: I’ve read that some people practice TEDx’s 200 times before they ever do it. How much did you practice and how nervous were you?
LISA: Holy moly. You know, I practiced a lot. I hired a coach about a month out so that I could rehearse. We did Skype rehearsals and got that worked out. So I did do a lot of rehearsing, and I’ll tell you; it’s funny now, and I probably shouldn’t admit this in public, but people can now know and see when I look at that now and I think, oh my gosh, if you look at my training and my speaking today it’s so different from that because I’m so much more me, and I’m so relaxed into what I do. That was a moment when I had just launched the business, when it got recorded. It got released way later, but when it got recorded, and I just made in my mind, I made it really high stakes. And so I was extremely nervous. I could hardly swallow. I don’t know if you watch it really carefully you can probably see me struggling to swallow because my mouth was so dry. I had – I am sweating. I felt – there were so many things about nervousness that I can, of course, see in me because I know what I’m like when I’m relaxed, and I know what I look like now when I’m really at my best. And that was me at super stressed, making it into this huge thing and not – it’s actually, when I look back at it I’m not proud of it now.
I look back and I’m like oh my gosh I look so uptight, and it was – and little decisions that I made, like I had dress rehearsal with my coach, but then before going out I realized they were talking about at TED they don’t want you to create a distance between you and your audience. They want you to dress down a little bit. Well I didn’t know that coming into it. I hadn’t really noticed that about TED videos. And part of my story is my blazer and my firing jacket. And so I had a business suit on, and then I knew I was going to take the firing jacket off during the talk, and then I was like oh, they want me to be informal, so I should untuck my shirt. And then I look back at the video, and I think I made this decision at the last minute, and I look – it looked sloppy. It didn’t come off well because it’s not a shirt that’s made to be untucked. So there are just a billion and one things, picking it apart coming through it later. But it was a great experience and a good start to all of this.
DAN: Yeah, that’s funny. But I can tell you it looked great. You presented well. The taking the jacket off was very impactful because it went right along with your story, and it looked like you could breathe. So yeah, great job on it. But yeah, congratulations on doing a TED. That’s very cool.
LISA: Thank you. It was a fun experience.
What is StrengthsFinder?
DAN: Okay, so StrengthsFinder. Give us the 30,000-foot look at what StrengthsFinder is.
LISA: Sure. So StrengthsFinder is an assessment, or you can call it a survey, to be a little less formal. And it’s a serving of 177 questions that are kind of like this-or-that questions that get to some talent themes. And when you take the assessment you come out with a top five set of talent themes if you take the basic survey. And the premise of it is that if you know what your talents are and you choose to lead through those, that using your strengths at work will make you a stronger performer at work. And it’s the opposite of this obsession we have with fixing what’s broken about you or fixing your weaknesses.
So in actually putting it to use you get these talent themes, and they tell you what, if invested in – because they’re just kind of neutral talents if you do nothing with them – but if you invest in them they turn into strengths, you at your near-perfect performance. So that’s what it looks like when you take the assessment. You make all of those this-or-that kind of answers, and then it tells you here are your natural patterns of how you think, and how you feel, and how you behave.
And when I show up in front of a crowd of people to do a training I always talk about how you already know your skills and your knowledge. That’s what you do. And then StrengthsFinder helps you understand how you show up at your best. So then it puts those two together and can really bring you your genius. It’s pretty fun, and it’s different from other assessments because instead of putting you into four narrow boxes, like many do, the chances that someone else would have the same top five talents in the same order is one in 33 million. So it makes people feel really honored as an individual, yet it’s really simple language to work with from there. So that’s the overview.
Your Differences are Your Strengths
DAN: Oh that’s cool. Before we talk about strength finders, why do you think we, as leaders, always focus on people’s weaknesses?
LISA: Well, I have a few theories, but I don’t know that any of these hypotheses are tested out. The result of them are tested out. I have lots of cool research on that, but the why, one is just habit. It’s how tradition has worked. One, I think about it would fit an industrial model a lot better because if you imagine, you know, if you were on an assembly line and you created a defective product because you did something that was different from everyone else, that would actually be a bad behavior, whereas now with so many knowledge workers your differences are yours differentiators. Instead of trying to make everybody the same, making people different and really live into who they are makes them better performers. So I think it’s a little bit of a leftover from the way the industrial world made us need to be compared with what we need to be today.
JACOB: You know, my other thought on that is it’s as we’re raised as children or we raise our children we always focus on their bad behavior when they act out as opposed to more praise than anything. So I think it kind of stems from that, as well.
DAN: And I think with children if you – I mean you can see them light up when you say something positive to them. They light up, and they’ll kind of do whatever you want them to do at that point as opposed to making them sit in the corner. But the question I have is even if you really want somebody to change their weaknesses, I don’t even know if that’s possible because I think about myself. I’m not that organized, and it’s just not in my DNA to be organized and structured. And no matter how hard I have tried to be that, I really can’t do it. And so I surround myself with people who are organized, which complement my strengths, but do you think you can actually change people’s weaknesses if you try really hard, or is that just kind of a futile exercise?
LISA: Mostly exercise in futility. I think it’s even difficult to change your own if you want to. So trying to change let’s say one of your direct reports, holy moly, let’s focus on something else because that’s going to be a real draining exercise trying to change their hardwiring. And then trying to change even your own is difficult for anyone listening. I know Dan’s top five, and I instantly saw adaptability. When you mentioned that I thought oh that’s interesting. I wonder if some of the acts of organization that would be calling on you would insult your adaptability because if somebody leads with adaptability it’s just the ultimate ability to be present in the moment, and create the change, and move with the flow and go with whatever needs to happen to make the moment successful. And if you were overly organized that might feel – that would cramp the style of someone who leads through adaptability because that’s too focused on the future, knowing that things are going to change. Not likely for you.
So a lot of times if you have the language of StrengthsFinder, as well, you can see the talent that that thing is insulting that you don’t want to do or you notice that you’re bad at, and you can go okay, well I get it. Then I can partner with people. You were mentioning one of the magic things, just partner with someone who is like that and does like that, and then the other is just be able to name it and know that yeah, it cramps my style. Here’s why. Here’s the one I can turn up to get through what I need and turn down that one when it’s showing up in a bad way, and otherwise partner with people who have that talent.
Identifying Your Talent through StrengthsFinder
DAN: Do you find when people take the StrengthsFinder test that it just confirms what they already know, or are a lot of them surprised at their strengths?
LISA: People love their results. They feel really affirmed by them. I recently had a guy tell me that his report was one of the nicest things anyone had said about him in a long time. So overwhelmingly I’d say 85%, 90% of the time people love what their reports say and feel like, hey, wow, I didn’t even think of these things as talents or strengths that would serve me at work. You do, though, get a few resistors. Normally that’s because either A, they can’t see it on them in a work context, and so they’ll say, oh yeah, I’m like that at home, but I’m not like that at work. And they’re trying to compartmentalize themselves. And so viewing them as kind of the whole person is a little more of a stretch.
Or the other one is once in a while people just can’t see talent as a talent because it comes so easily to them, it doesn’t seem like anything special. So I would use an example of let’s say Dan has ideation, and you can probably come up with a lot of ideas really quickly. And if somebody else tried to do that they might need a couple of days to come up with the same number of ideas that you do, and for you, you could look at the report and go yeah, of course I can. But that’s not a big thing. Yet it is a big thing. It just doesn’t feel like a talent. Or Jacob having responsibility might be the guy who always keeps commitment. His word is his honor. I’m just hypothesizing, but if that’s you, it might not be such a thing for other people. Their commitments may be a lot looser and a lot less meaningful. So bringing that quality to work can really show up as a differentiator. So if people resist a lot of times it’s just being able to see that those actually are special gifts, not just, oh yeah, everybody can do that.
DAN: What I like about it is it’s really positive. We did a podcast interview where we talk about the 360 assessment, and a lot of negativity can come back when you ask other people about your performance. But when you do the StrengthsFinder it really highlights everything positive. So I think people are less resistant to the StrengthsFinder findings because it just really highlights the good in everybody, which is a pretty unique approach, I think.
LISA: It is. You know, and that dynamic that you’re talking about, it is so cool when you walk into a training room of 50 people in a department who are a little bit annoyed with each other. Maybe that team over there, they don’t like how they interact, or this team over here, how they interact, or that person annoys you and gets on your nerves. And then you start to see those same behaviors reframed in a positive way, and all of a sudden it changes their relationship.
A couple of examples have happened recently that stand out. One is where there’s a guy who is high analytical, high deliberative. And both of those are truth [technical difficulty 0:22:26.5]. Deliberative is very much a risk mitigator and a person who wants to be careful and make sure things are done correctly. It’s one of those get it right the first time kind of people. So it’s driving crazy someone who is high in activator and high in futuristic and high in strategic because that person just wants to move. Let’s go right now. And they used to rub each other the wrong way. And then you go through this and they start to see oh, if we consciously partner up with each other where one person is the accelerator and one person is the break and we’re actually soliciting that kind of opinion from the other person, this could be a really good thing for the organization and for both of our job performance. So those are – I get insights like that a lot and also with managers and their direct reports. Those are some of the most insightful when the relationship suddenly takes a positive turn when it had been strained.
JACOB: We talked a little bit before the podcast started about our careers and leading direct reports and then leading other managers. And you had said, you know, you didn’t realize how difficult it was to lead people and to lead managers. And the thing I found is leading managers, if you lead with their strengths and you know their strengths it actually is easier.
LISA: Absolutely. And I could see – so Jacob, you having individualization. I just view that as such a gift to be a manager who can individualize to each person and what they need. And if people feel seen by you and appreciated by you they want to give you all they’ve got, and what they’ve got is not going to be the same way that you do it. But if you see them and show appreciation for it, it really does change the dynamic of how they show up at work and what they want to give.
One of the stats from Gallup that I think is so cool is that the likelihood an employee will be actively disengaged drops to 1% when their manager primarily focuses on their strengths. When managers focus on weaknesses it’s actually worse than when employees get totally ignored.
DAN: That’s an amazing statistic, that 1%.
LISA: Yeah, it’s just a testament to focusing on strengths and the difference it makes in people’s willingness to perform and produce. And it does. There are all sorts of studies in the Gallup database that gets at things like employees who are – who report working in the strengths every day are six times as engaged. They feel three times the well-being. They are 7.8% more productive at work. There are all sorts of, you know, real business metrics that are moved by just a different way of thinking and approaching the world. I just want to look at it and go man, as a manager what could be better? You get something that’s free to do, and all you have to do is consciously keep holding these conversations with your team.
DAN: Do you find that certain professions have the same strengths? Like, for example, in Myers-Briggs when you do it there’s – most of the CEOs are in certain categories because they kind of think the same way. Do you find that in StrengthsFinder that a CEO has common strengths and maybe an accountant has common strengths and a – is that a pattern that you see typically?
LISA: So it’s interesting. It’s yes and no. In some things I’ll say yes. So if I have a room full of accountants, yes, I’m going to see more executing talents and more thinking talents. If I have a room full of software developers, that’s going to look different from an ad agency. Yet on the flip side I work with a lot of marketing teams and CMO teams. And I expected, because I knew that would be a core part of my audience and I thought oh, well I’m going to see a lot of influencing talents. And it’s actually not how it turns out. It’s pretty well spread. And so I think one reason is that there are 34 potential talent themes versus four, and so the other element of it is that Gallup did some studies on these things that are called the leadership domain.
So the 34 talents are kind of subdivided into the leadership domains, and that study on leadership domains revealed that there really are four different key ways that people lead that can make them successful. So one is leading through relationships. One is leading through strategic thinking. One is through executing. And one is through – I forgot which one I didn’t mention. So you have relationships, influencing, strategic thinking and executing. I don’t know which one I left out the first time around, but that’s the cool thing when you asked the CEO question is that no, when I do executive teams I don’t see a common thread. Sure, maybe, you know, Jacob has command and that’s one of the two least commonly seen talents, so it’s more likely you’ll see command in a leadership team, yet it’s not like well if you don’t command you’re not going to be the CEO. So that’s been really fun to see surprising mixes of how they show up.
DAN: Are you saying there’s something wrong with Jacob?
LISA: I’m saying he has a special gift. I love it. Boy, it’s so much fun.
DAN: He is special.
JACOB: I am special.
DAN: He’s very special.
LISA: You are a special gift to the world.
JACOB: That made my day.
LISA: Hey, and competition, your number one, that’s also not that frequently seen. So between command and competition – and those are both influencing talents – you do. Maybe you have some really special superpowers that the world needs that you can put on display.
JACOB: I think I may be a unicorn, Dan.
DAN: I think you are.
LISA: All these years.
JACOB: All these years.
DAN: So Lisa, as a new leader what advice would you give to start your StrengthsFinder journey? What are the steps you would want to take? So maybe you’re a new leader and you want to do it for yourself or you want to do it for your team, or both.
Interpreting Your StrengthsFinder Assessment
LISA: I kind of look at the way you just framed that up as the steps where it’s 1, 2, 3. One is look at yourself. Two is look at each person on your team. And three is look at the team as a whole. So when you look at yourself it’s literally looking at your personal top five and think how is this going to influence the way I show up in the world? How is this going to influence the way I interact with other people? So in Jacob’s, when I see competition, and command, and relater, and individualization I see a person who is likely going to be really focused on the people and the relationships and then how people receive things, like being a spark and creating momentum and so, you know, the influencing element.
When I see – like when I see Dan’s where you get into activator and ideation, I imagine that you’re a really fast-moving person. I see connectedness and adaptability, and I think oh wow, you’re probably really present in the moment, and you’re able to make a lot of connections about what needs to happen among people at once.
So you two probably show up totally differently as leaders, and the first step is get to know you and what puts you at your best because if you’re not good with you, you’re not going to be good helping other people bring out their best. Step two then, look at the team and do the same thing, one-on-one, really getting to know each person’s talents, what they love about their work at their best, you know, how have they shown up at work?
I get people to do yucks and yays. I just make it really simple. It’s like what is – when you look at your calendar, your to-do list, what makes you say yuck, I could wish I could have less of that? And what makes you say yes, yay, I wish I could have more of that in my life? And just having ongoing conversations about those kind of topics. I have all sorts of questions that I offer managers that they can talk to their teams within one-on-ones.
And then the whole gets really cool because then as a team, that’s where you can become well-rounded. You can be sharp as an individual and then get well-rounded as a team. So that’s where all that stuff – you started talking about partnering with others and really knowing where something is needed in organization, yet you are not going to be the one to bring it. Then it’s okay, who is going to be the point on that? And who is the go-to on this kind of topic? Who’s the best with customer interface? Who’s the best with sparking momentum for a change? Who are the informal leaders on the team who can really make that happen? Who are the thinkers? Who are the data people? And really get well-rounded at a team level. That’s where the magic gets really cool. So those are the three steps, the way I look at it.
DAN: Then the idea is once you recognize everybody’s strengths you can kind of create this strategy around how you get everything done, and that’s actually kind of what we’ve done in the past, and I don’t think we did it with StrengthsFinder, but we know everybody’s strengths in the room. We probably should formally do the StrengthsFinder, but you can kind of divide up work based on who’s going to accomplish what, who enjoys it. That’s the other big thing. You know, there are certain things that some people enjoy. We have a performance improvement person that really enjoys all the details, and so we assign her the details, and she kind of thrives on that. And then that has really helped our team accomplish things because we’re no longer doing the tasks that we don’t like or that we’re not good at.
LISA: Yeah, you know, that phrase, “One person’s trash is another person’s treasure?” It’s the same with work. You would be amazed at how many things when people start swapping out tasks that oh wow, I really love that. And one of the clues to talent is your yearnings. What do you love doing? What would you do more of? What do you do in your spare time when it’s not even required of you at work? And start to find those things. It’s a pretty mature use of the tool, I will say, that you’re doing if you’re actually reallocating people’s job responsibilities and tasks. That’s a great place to be. A lot of people will just have to start with the thing where they go, okay, now we’re here. We’re getting started, and I can’t blow up everyone’s job. We don’t have a big enough team, or I don’t have enough money. I would have to open new requisitions to cover it. Then it’s just a matter of having conversation over time that people can then talk to their managers and say hey, next time a project comes up that allows this thing to be in play, I’d love for you to consider me for it. And it’s the small things, just changing three minutes a day how you’re framing up how you work that really make a difference. And you start to get to know each other well enough that over time the job shapes. So for you to be doing it out of the gates, that’s really cool. That’s a bold move and has big impact that a lot of people are scared of it when they first start.
DAN: You mentioned about the actual StrengthsFinder assessment. Can you talk a little bit about where you can find that?
LISA: StrengthsFinder has a regular and a premium, and the regular one that has the top five, you can get it by buying the book. That’s the easiest way to get it. So most people are you know, $20 in, $25 in, and they have –
DAN: Yeah, that’s how we did it actually.
LISA: – the book.
DAN: Yeah, we got the book.
LISA: Okay, right. So I guess some people look at it like oh, it’s free because it’s included in the book, but it’s there, and there’s a code in the back. And then you can get your top five. And then if you choose to unlock – it’s about $80 to unlock the full premium, or you can buy that out of the gate. And that gives you the full stack rank of all 34, and I like to do that with teams as a more advanced thing. So usually the first time through it’s a lot to digest, and it’s a lot to start spotting your talents in action for the first few months as it is. For me it took several years to really start to understand them. So with teams who come back and they’re saying okay, what’s next, what else can we do, where else can we take this conversation? Then I usually have them do the unlock where they get the full, and ooh, that’s where it gets really interesting.
So an example of that is I had a team recently where a manager had positivity, futuristic and woo in her top five, and [one of her 0:34:17.3] team members has analytical and intellection, so already just by listening to those words, even if you don’t know StrengthsFinder you might think okay those sound a little different from each other. One person is going to be very much on the fun-loving, optimistic, expressive kind of person, and the other person is going to be a lot more about data, and truth and deep thinking. But then when they unlocked the full, it got really interesting because their bottom fives were almost inverses where each person’s bottom five were the other person’s top five. And so you could see the potential there. They’re either going to be great partners for each other because the other one has their lesser talents, or they’re going to drive each other nuts. And it was a moment of oh, so the person who is high in analytical and intellection, she’s thinking man, my manager is Pollyanna. She’s just thinking yay, we’re going over here. And the manager’s thinking oh my gosh, this person is, you know, resisting me at every turn. And it was the insight of seeing oh, we think so opposite. It’s not because we don’t like each other or the other person doesn’t have a valid way of thinking. It’s not really until they had this language that they understood what it was about each other that made that work dynamic weird.
DAN: Yeah, that’s what I was just trying to think. Do you ever see the 34 strengths and line up a team and think oh boy, this is going to be a lot of work? Because I’m sure you can assess them and say this is – they either have to go into this very open about each other’s strengths or this could be a big problem because the strengths don’t match up that well?
LISA: Well, you know you could get from the same lineup, if they’re raw and they’re not really well-managed, and the team has bad dynamics it would give you the oh boy, this is not going to go well because you know they’re rubbing each other the wrong way. But the same lineup in a team that has been very self-aware and they’re really a little more evolved in their self-awareness and what they’re trying to do to develop themselves, and they’re more mature in the whole thing, the same line up they can be amazing partners, and they get along really great, and they’re so good for each other. So I usually will know in advance because part of the process I try to learn what’s going on in the team, the hot buttons, how long they’ve been together, what challenges they’re facing, that sort of thing. So I’ll know, oh, these people hate each other or, oh they’ve been together a really long time and they’re really functional. So I often will have a heads-up about what I’m running into.
But the same exact – I do this heat map kind of chart that shows the DNA of the team, and the same chart, boy, one team makes them look great, and the other team not using it well makes them look awful. So that is pretty interesting. The only one that I see where it’s kind of tough is if they’re really heavy in one spot. So like for example, if they are all strategic thinkers and they don’t have much to show for in the way of executing, or influencing, or relationships, it’s just going to be a lopsided view on the way they approach the world. So it makes it a little more of an effort to become well-rounded. But outside of that, yeah, there’s no telltale, oh this is going to be a doozy because it all depends on how they’re using it.
Assessing Dan and Jacob as Leaders
DAN: Speaking of doozy, let’s look at our strengths and you can assess me and Jacob and see if we can sit in the same room anymore.
LISA: That’s awesome.
DAN: So you know our strengths, so we’ll let you talk about them.
LISA: Yeah, well I should say them aloud just so that even though the people listening won’t know the talent definitions in an exact way, you’ll get an idea for what they are, and then I’ll ask you guys some questions. So Dan is our activator, likes to get things started. Ideation, connectedness, and let’s ask, are you connectedness more on, like, are you a all things and ideas, things happen for a reason? Is it more wanderlust? Is it more connecting people or things? What’s your angle on connectedness?
DAN: I think it’s more just connecting ideas, just, yeah, because I think sometimes I come across with these weird connections and the team looks at me like where did you come up with that one?
JACOB: Welcome to the room, hippie.
LISA: There you go. Okay. See, we’re starting to see some stuff come out. And then we have Dan also has learner and adaptability. And adaptability is one also – I’ll just give a short definition because most people like to think of themselves as adaptable, but if you have the adaptability talent in your top five it’s kind of like I need change; I yearn for change. They’re really – and it comes, and it’s no problem. It’s just go with the flow and do what happens in the moment. There’s not any kind of change management that needs to happen for someone who leads with adaptability because they’re right there ready to go to the next thing.
Then Jacob’s are competition, command, so I’ll ask you about that one as well because that can show up different. Usually I see it as a pretty much a concise, a person who can really command a room. It does in some ways come off like it sounds, but someone who can be really decisive and quick in that way, so how about for you? What do you think your command looks like?
JACOB: Decisive and quick.
LISA: Look, answered like someone with command. I love it. And then individualization is one that’s more like I can see what’s unique about each person and situation, and then responsibility often is my word is my honor, and you do what you say you’re going to do. You keep commitments. And then relator tends to be someone who likes to go really deep one-on-one with a small circle of people and relationships. So those are kind of the generic definitions. Now let’s get into okay, so Jacob, you said welcome to my world. Let’s start there. That’s such a good one. So I imagine with Dan ideation and connectedness. You probably have ideas flowing and coming from all over the place, so how has that aligned with your talents?
JACOB: Not too well.
DAN: Once he asked me what’s going on in there?
JACOB: Yeah, which is interesting. From the start I struggled with it. Now that we work together it’s something I understand from Dan, so I actually get people coming and asking me to interpret where he’s going.
LISA: Ooh, well, and this is kind of a fun one. So one thing I see with leaders who have ideation is sometimes people will struggle to know the difference between which idea is a directive and which idea is just an idea because you’re just thinking out loud with ideas. And I imagine it could support you well, Jacob, having command and working with someone who has ideation, and connectedness, and activator like a fast mover, fast thinker, for you to be able to, in a really clear way, get it straight and go you know, is that a request, or is that an idea? And help get to the clarity really quickly. How has that played out for you when you’re trying to make the distinction between what is an idea and what is really hey, let’s go execute on this?
JACOB: It’s played out in how you laid it out for us. Dan will talk about several ideas, and I’m actually able to pick out the one that really is what’s the focus and where we should achieve and go towards.
LISA: Yeah. Oh, that’s cool. So you’re like a translator on the team in that way.
JACOB: Yeah, I get that fun job.
LISA: Well, you’re the best at it. That should feed your competition. You’re number one at that. So Dan, you said you know the strengths of people on the team. What do you find yourself leaning on Jacob for?
DAN: I think it’s about the details. I mean, I look at my strengths, and that’s pretty much how I think. I mean it’s just a lot of ideas. You mentioned the change. You know, I like change. I get bored when there’s no change. But a lot of people on the team aren’t like that, so we’ve got some introverted people and they’re definitely the opposite. I’ll be curious when we get all the strengths, but you know, they have a hard time in translation sometimes because they need a couple days to process things, and the executive coach I work with is – she’s like, Dan, you got to slow down because you have all these ideas and by the time some of the team members have actually caught up with the first idea you’ve already moved on to, you know, you’re five ideas down the road. So I’ve tried to slow down, and that’s helped. We have a couple people on the team that kind of think the way I do, but it seems we have more Jacobs on the team who kind of need to look at the details and be analytical, and that’s kind of not the way I think. I think the team dynamics have worked pretty well because we do have that mix of strengths.
JACOB: It disgusts you to slow down for us, doesn’t it?
DAN: It does. It disgusts me.
LISA: That’s awesome. So this is a really interesting question that you’ve prompted now. So Jacob, when you think about why, when you’re slowing Dan down for a minute, what are you getting straight before a big project gets executed?
JACOB: The final result that he wants because that can change, too. So he’ll have six different ideas. We’ll get down to three. He’ll change to two overnight. But as long as we can get him still to where the result he had originally laid out and kind of the data he wants behind it, we’re all right.
LISA: Uh-huh. And then as far as the people go, because I’m sure you’re not the only person who is executing on the team, the other people who are doing the work to make these ideas turn into a real thing, how does that part play out so your relationship dynamic and choosing who does what and understanding how they are going to start executing on the project or the task?
JACOB: Most of the time it plays out that I’ve started, or a few of us have started the work, and then there’s a couple of us, a couple that come in and with the idea a couple days later.
LISA: So the team members come in a couple days later that they’re ready to go?
JACOB: Yeah, they’re ready to go. They’ve thought about it. They see where we’re going now, and they’re on board.
DAN: And I’ve realized even more recently is they’ll come in and clarify, and I think that’s a good thing. They’ll come in and say okay, just to make sure we’re on the same page this is what we want to accomplish. These are our three goals, and that really helps because it only takes a couple minutes to walk through and make sure we’re on the same page. And so that’s actually really helped.
JACOB: And there were a few stumbles from the beginning of where Dan had said something during a leadership meeting and people have taken it too literal and went out and started to do some work. Then he looks at them and is like, what are you doing? Why did we go that direction?
Lessons for Leaders
DAN: You know, Lisa, this is a tip I have for new leaders is that if you have that strength and you’re out in the – you’re in the hospital in our case, but in your business, and you just throw out ideas, what I’ve found is that we’ll have – we have about 1100 employees. And I’ll be out there just kind of thinking out loud or whatever, and so a couple days later we’ll be like I had five employees come and say that you’re changing the policies on all this stuff. And I’m like, what? I have no idea what you’re even talking about because I mentioned something. And so I think my advice is you’ve got to be really careful about what you say to the non-leaders, as well, because they’re going to take what you say as kind of gospel. And I’m just kind of making conversation. So I’ve really had to – I have to watch what I say now because people take it a lot more serious than I am at the time. So I’ve learned from that.
LISA: That’s such a good lesson for leaders. I mean, forget StrengthsFinder for a second. Just the messages that you put out, and the way that you show up, and whether you’re frantic or whether you’re calm, or whether you have a lot of ideas, or whether you talk aloud, or whether you think and act really carefully, all those things, they watch to you for those queues and those clues, and then you introduce something like StrengthsFinder and it gives you this tool. One manager who I worked with who had ideation said okay, so I have a team member who has activator, and he is usually very willing to get things started, and he’s kind of a catalyst to get the rest of the team on board to say it will be okay, guys. We’ll get this.
And he became that go-to guy where – if I gave you an imaginary partner, Dan, where that go-to guy then is the one who says, okay, are we out of idea phase and into execution phase? Can we get it started now? And it’s just making that really clear expectation-setting moment that says is this an idea? Are we just talking? Are we just spit-balling here? And no one was brave enough to say that until they did the StrengthsFinder and said let’s have somebody who gets the clarity so that people aren’t just running off in circles, or panicking, or thinking, oh, the policies have changed, and look, this has 70 downstream effects. I can’t believe him. Dan never considered this. What kind of leader is he? He’s going to affect all these other processes. And you’re back in your office thinking, I have no idea what they’re talking about.
DAN: That’s such a good point. I’m having a great time with this podcast. This is a great discussion, but we are running out of time, unfortunately. So Lisa, what would be your final tips, your final comments to the listeners?
LISA: How about this thought? There’s a concept that I like to share that is simply notice what works, and you’ll get more of what works. And so whether or not you even use the StrengthsFinder assessment, if you will consciously shift your efforts as a manager or as a wannabe manager, soon-to-be manager, start noticing what works about people. It’s a totally different mind frame. And the more you consciously keep yourself there, and if you see something say something. So you see that thing that’s working and tell that person I love how you do this, and just watch how people light up and respond to you because they’ve been seen and appreciated. And you’ll instantly know how it changes the dynamics of engagement on your team.
DAN: Yeah, that’s really cool. Jacob?
JACOB: I just want to add how easy this is, StrengthsFinder. I had this book that was sent to me probably two months ago and sat on my desk for that long, and I picked it up a couple weeks ago and thought I’m going to go through this now, and then realized that what you read is probably the first, what, 30 pages, and then you actually go and do the StrengthsFinder test. So what I thought was I’m going to need time to go through and look at is a lot more simple than that. So I want to encourage everybody to take a look at it, and you’ll learn a lot about yourself.
LISA: Thank you. Yeah, great point. It’s an easy read, and a lot of it is almost like a dictionary of the talents so the story itself is so fast to go through and so inspiring to think about that way of viewing the world.
DAN: Yeah, what I like about it is it’s so positive. Again, we talked about this earlier, but you just focus on people’s strengths, and it’s just a way to kind of lift everybody up. And you feel – you look at your strengths and you feel like you can contribute more; you’re more focused. But it has a really positive effect when you see your strengths because you look at them and you say oh yeah, I do have a lot to contribute in my own unique way. And I like that you shared it’s one in 34 million, so everybody is very unique in their style.
LISA: And it actually feels energizing and easy. That’s the cool part. It’s like yeah, you get all the words that feel good, and you see, oh yeah, I can contribute. And oh, by the way, the contributions make me feel alive. What a cool thing to uncover in yourself.
DAN: Yeah, that’s great. How do people get a hold of you? Tell us about yourself, your website, what services you offer.
LISA: Sure. Thanks. So the website is leadthroughstrengths. I also have a podcast by the same name. So if you’re a podcast listener, check out the show, Lead Through Strengths. I’m on Twitter as @LisaCummings, and yeah, service-wise I just do a lot of speaking and training on the concept of strengths-based development, strengths-based leadership, both in person and I also do a lot of virtual, so that’s been a fun way to reach people all over the world who used to not get professional development, and now being able to bring teams together to this concept. So all sorts of speaking and training on the topic.
DAN: And I’ve listened to a couple of your podcasts, and I’m looking forward to listening to the one about Grandma.
LISA: She is so adorable. Let me know what you think.
DAN: That is so cool. Yeah. And your TEDx talk is on your website, so people can go and watch that. And we’ll link your website and your TED talk and all that to our website in our show notes.
LISA: Email me at lisa@leadthroughstrengths if you end up listening to the show and you do StrengthsFinder and you have a creative way that you used it at work. Then all the three of us can get back together and excitedly share your new approaches.
DAN: Yeah, that’s a great idea. We’d love to have you back on the show in the future. And Jacob?
JACOB: Thank you, Lisa. Great hearing from you.
LISA: Thank you.
DAN: And thank you so much, Lisa. This has been an awesome show.
LISA: You’re welcome. It’s been a blast.
DAN: Well thank you for being on the show.
Well, thank you for joining us on the show today. We hope you enjoyed the interview with Lisa. We did. We hope you learned a lot from it. If you enjoyed the podcast, please subscribe on iTunes or Stitcher Radio, and that way the latest episode can be delivered directly to you as it becomes available. Also, visit us at thelowcarbleader.com. You’ll see on the website it’s starting to change. We’re hoping in the next two weeks it will be completely redesigned. So please send me your feedback at email@example.com if you have any comments about the new website. And on the website you can find links to our Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn page. Until next time, take care and keep learning.