Updated: Dec 18, 2021
Thanks for coming with us on this four-part series on how to make 2022 a more effective and a less-stressful year for you and your team. If you missed either of the first two articles, I’ve created a page on our website to house the entire video series – www.strengthsuniversity.org/2021wrapup
We started this series by talking about how most supervisors in higher ed simply don’t get the training and support they need to be effective. If that’s you, that means you’re wasting valuable energy each day frustrated at yourself and your team because you don’t know the best way to move forward and get the results you want. It’s not for lack of effort or because there’s something wrong with you, it’s because you haven’t gotten the right training to make sure you know what you need to know, develop the right skills, and implement what you’ve learned through effective systems. Most supervisors waste an entire day of their personal productivity each week. That’s because you don’t have the right systems in place. Your team is negatively impacted as well. When you don’t have the right systems, your team members are only productive about 90 minutes each day. That’s so much time, and more importantly energy, that’s being wasted.
Then we moved on to talk about how our brain actually works. We’ve been taught that if we read the right books, watch a great webinar, or maybe even take a class, we can be more productive. The truth is, that only connects with our conscious mind. That’s an important first step, but it’s the subconscious mind that is really driving our thoughts, feelings, and actions each day. Our subconscious mind is in charge of us 95-99% of the time, so if what you learned – no matter how amazing and potentially life changing it is – doesn’t make it to your subconscious, nothing is going to change. Things won’t get better. The subconscious learns through repetition, so once you know you need to improve and you get reliable, research-based information on how that should look, the next step is to develop the right habits and systems. When you do that, the right way of thinking, feeling, and acting become automatic. All of this means you’re no longer wasting energy. When your systems are aligned with your goals and objectives, you get there more effectively and efficiently. This actually means you and your team can do LESS work to get where you need to go. Can you imagine doing less work and being more effective? That can actually happen when you get the right training and support - one that works with your brain.
Now that you know a bit more about how energy, habits, and systems are connected to how your brain actually works, we can move into how you can make the transition to the authentic and effective leader you know is inside you.
We’ve already talked about why just taking a class, reading a book, or doing a training, doesn’t often manifest into change. One reason is you have to get that information from your conscious into your subconscious. The other reason we’re going to talk about today, is because most classes, books, and trainings don’t take into account your unique talents. I think many of us have attended or even provided our students with events like, How to Better Manage Your Time, Improving Your Study Skills, etc. The problem is most of the information presented is general advice. In other words, in general people have found _____ or _____ effective to improve _____. As well-meaning as this advice is, even if it’s based on more than opinions, it leaves you the impression that they should work for you too. The flip side of this is if they don’t work for you, then you’re the problem. I talked about this feeling in the first segment of the series. Supervisors often feel less-than or like imposters, because the things they are trying don’t work for them. “I tried _____ and it didn’t work, so there must be something wrong with me.” But again, there isn’t anything wrong with you.
The problem is everyone has different talents. Everyone. When you go to a training or read a book, whoever the presenter or author is will view the topic from their own talent set. They’ll frame their content as “this is how I found success” or “these are things that have worked for me or other people I know.” Yes, those things probably did work for other people. But that doesn’t mean they are the best way for YOU to do it. When we look at the literature around leadership, they often talk about different leadership styles or leader types. But that’s not the same thing as looking at someone’s talents and making a customized plan for that individual to implement better study skills, better time management, or how to supervise effectively. Now as I mentioned last time, I don’t really care about time management because the real issue is energy, but I’m using these as an example of things you may have tried at some point to try to be more productive and didn’t get the results you wanted.
One of the most powerful tools I’ve found to both identify people’s talents and give them a meaningful framework to think about themselves and those talents is CliftonStrengths from Gallup. My partner Alicia and I used CliftonStrengths with students, faculty, and staff at the last institution we worked at together and saw the impact it made on both individuals and teams. We were so impressed; we both became Gallup Certified Strengths Coaches.
Now people often use the words talents and strengths interchangeably, but we’re going to talk about them as distinct things. Gallup defines a talent as “a naturally recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied.” Note the “CAN be productively applied.” A strength on the other hand is “the ability to consistently produce a positive outcome through near-perfect performance in a specific task.” That’s where that productivity piece falls into place. When you’re using your talents in a productive way, they’re showing up as a strength. That seems simple enough, right?
Well even though we’ve just defined talents, most people don’t understand just how deep they go. By this point in our lives, our talents are running things from our subconscious. They show up on autopilot and color everything we do. The way you’re interpreting the information I’m sharing here, is absolutely colored by your talents. That means when someone presents something in a book, class, or training, it may be interpreted in a different way than the author or presenter intended. Even if the content is heavily based on research, what that research shows is going to be interpreted differently depending on how we see the world. It also means that one person’s best way to improve their productivity is going to vary greatly from other people. The same thing is true for leaders. Just looking at how other people successfully lead their team, is not going to give you what you need to lead your team successfully because there’s a very good chance you have different talents.
I want to go a bit deeper with this and talk about weaknesses. Since we’re talking about talents, you might be tempted to assume that weaknesses are the things you’re not talented at. Now that certainly can be true, but let’s do one more definition – “a weakness is a shortage or misapplication of talent, skill, or knowledge that causes problems for you or others.” So yes, a shortage of talent can be a weakness, what is more often the case is you’re misapplying your talent OR you don’t have the right combination of skills and knowledge to properly support the talents you have. Any of these things play out as weaknesses when they cause a problem for you or others. This may be that feeling of frustration you have with yourself when you do that thing again that you know causes you to procrastinate. Or maybe it's a weakness because it’s impacting your team’s ability to get their jobs done.
People often think the weakness of using a strengths-based approach is that it ignores people’s weaknesses. But if you’re doing it right, nothing could be further from the truth. You invest in your talents by learning what you need to know, developing the right skills, and using your talents in ways that help you be more productive. We’ve been talking about being effective for the last few days, and the productivity piece is just that. When you’re productive, you’re using your talents in an effective way that’s aligned with your goals and objectives.
This very neatly fits into our discussion about energy. When you’re using your talents productively, or as we Strengths Coaches like to say, you’re in your Strengths Zone, it’s the best possible use of your energy. You’re accomplishing things in a way that maximizes your energy. That means you’re using less of your energy to achieve more. But you’re not just doing more, you’re doing things that are aligned with your goals. Now if your talents are showing up as weaknesses, you may still be doing a lot of things, but those things aren’t helping you reach your objectives.
I’ve been talking about talents as a general concept, so let me give you some specific examples to really help you understand what I’m talking about. If you haven’t taken the CliftonStrengths assessment, no worries. I’ll walk you through these examples and the talents I mention.
Let’s start with Woo. “People exceptionally talented in the Woo theme love the challenge of meeting new people and winning them over. They derive satisfaction from breaking the ice and making a connection with someone.” Does that sound like you?
That all sounds good, right? Let’s think of some situations where this would be helpful. Maybe it’s the beginning of the academic year, so you’re out there connecting with parents, students, maybe new faculty members. Those connections are going to serve you well over the school year, because those folks will feel more comfortable coming to you for help.
Or if you have to do an open house to help admissions recruit students. Again, your ability to quickly connect and win people over is going to be an advantage. Those connections could very well mean higher enrollment.
So how could this possibly waste energy or be a weakness? Remember, these behaviors and thought processes are automatic. They’re housed in the subconscious, so your desire to meet and connect with people will just call to you. That means if you’re in your office trying to get Project A finished, but you hear folks talking in the hallway, you’ll instinctively go out and join in. Suddenly it’s an hour later and your project is an hour behind.
I’ve known many Woo’s who like to bait their offices with candy so more folks stop by to connect. This isn’t necessarily bad, but those are the same colleagues who often complain that they can’t get anything don’t because people are always in their office.
Remember how I talked about our systems need to be aligned with our goals or objectives? In this example, if your objective is to meet and connect with new students at the beginning of the year, then you nailed it! But if on another day your priority is getting a project done, then Woo is showing up as a weakness and your energy is being used on things what aren’t getting you anywhere near your goals.
Let’s do another one, Analytical. “People exceptionally talented in the Analytical theme search for reasons and causes. They have the ability to think about all of the factors that might affect a situation.” Does that sound like you?
Folks with Analytical are great if you want to assess a program or interpret a set of data. Let’s say you just did a student satisfaction survey and your team needs to know what’s working on your department and what isn’t so you can make decisions about what changes you need to make. Analytical folks can buckle down in their office with that data, analyze it, then present that information to the team in a way that facilitates necessary change. That’s important because when we ignore the data, we continue doing things that waste resources. How many surveys have you seen just get tossed aside because no one really knew what to do with it? Here that analytical talent is productive.
But Analytical folks can also fall into the trap of over-analyzing things. If you have a survey with a ton of questions, that’s a ton of data that could be interpreted in different ways. Or maybe you don’t have all the data you’d like to make a decision. Either way, it can lead to analysis paralysis. In other words, you get stuck going over and over the data instead of moving forward and making decisions. Most of us could use more data analysis before making decisions, but the flip side of that analyzing the data itself isn’t typically the end goal. The end goal is using that data to improve services or student success. All that energy you’re pouring into the analysis after a certain point, is wasted because it’s not actually getting you where you want to go. You’re no longer being productive and are often holding up other people from doing their jobs.
Let’s do one more, Harmony. “People exceptionally talented in the Harmony theme look for consensus. They don’t enjoy conflict; rather, they seek areas of agreement.” These are all defined by Gallup, so I want to clarify that it doesn’t mean you necessarily avoid conflict, but rather you want to get everyone on the same page and move forward. Does this sound like you?
If you’re using Harmony productively, it might look like this. You’re having a staff meeting and you’re discussing the plans for a new initiative. People have come with their ideas and you lead them through brainstorming and then outlining what seems to make the most sense. There are some disagreements about what would work best, but you don’t shy away from the conversation. You may even allow people to do a bit more research and come back in a few days before deciding which is the best way to go. You allow people to talk through their point of view, but then you tell your team that you need to move on. If they can’t come to a consensus themselves, you’re more than willing to make that decision yourself so you can get a plan implemented. You’ve allowed people to be heard, made strategic decisions based on the data and everyone’s opinions, and then set up a structure for everyone to move forward and make progress on the initiative.
Now the flip side of that is the same scenario, but because you don’t enjoy conflict and want consensus you either ignore any conflict or never make a decision because everyone hasn’t agreed. What does ignoring conflict look like? When someone has a worried look on their face, instead of asking if they see a problem, you just ignore. Or if someone raises a concern, you say something along the lines of “let’s cross that bridge when we get to it,” or “I don’t think that’s going to be a problem,” and move on. Basically, you’re trying to get consensus by ignoring potential conflict. The flip side is you allow your team to go on and on about why they think they’re right in the hopes that eventually everyone will agree. Since everyone doesn’t agree, you can’t move forward. Again, this is all automatic pilot stuff. You’re not consciously trying to do these things, but they happen none the less and you and your team either waste energy because people aren’t really on board or you didn’t address potential problems ahead of time. Or you’re wasting energy by going back and forth without ever making a decision and implementing the thing you needed to get done.
All of this goes back to that energy log we talked about in the first part of this series. You looked at what you were doing during the day, what time it happened, and how it impacted your energy. When you start factoring in how your talents are showing up as well, you start to get a really clear picture of where your energy is going every day. By looking at it through the lens of your talents, you also get a better idea of how your talents are helping you or getting in your way. In reality, your talents are just a system of habits that are aligned with doing ____ well. Like with our examples, if you have Woo, you have a bunch of habits – aka a system – that allow you to easily connecting with other people. If you have Analytical, you have an internal system that allow you easily analyze data. If you have Harmony, you have an internal system that allows you to get consensus and move forward. When those things show up as strengths, in other words productively, it’s the best use of your energy. But when those things show up as weaknesses, they waste you and your team’s energy.
But because this is all happening in the subconscious, the only way you’ll know what’s happening on a day-to-day basis, is by starting to make those things conscious. I love the quote by Carl Jung, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” You’re getting in your own way all of the time and just think that’s the way it is. But it’s only the way it is now. It doesn’t have to be that way. When you better understand your talents, how they show up for you, and the role they play in managing your energy, you’ll be able to make changes to your autopilot setting so you become more productive on a daily basis. It’s only by focusing on your talents, that you can truly become an authentic leader.
Like I mentioned last time, if you’re worried you don’t have enough time to start focusing on your energy, your systems, and your talents, you are thinking about this backwards. You don’t have enough time because you’re wasting your energy, have ineffective systems, and your talents are showing up as weaknesses. Yes, there are unreasonable external demands. Yes, the amount of work you’re being asked to do – probably the work from at least one other person who quit or who’s job doesn’t exist anymore – is excessive. Yes, maybe you don’t have the staff you need to get done what’s asked of your department. But if you keep focusing on external factors, you forget that you actually have the power to change your circumstances. When you learn what supervisors need to focus on to be effective from research-based sources, invest in your talents so they show up more often as strengths, and set up effective systems, you will move from overwhelmed supervisor to authentic leader.
As an authentic leader, you’ll be able to assess your talents, habits, and systems and make changes so you stop wasting energy. You’ll be able to help your team members do the same. You can do less and accomplish more. You’ll be able to cut out programs and tasks that waste you and your teams time and energy, so you can focus on the things that will get you directly your objectives. Finally, you’ll have the skills and confidence to advocate for your team and yourself. You need to make this change now, before 2022 turns out just like 2020 and 2021. Waiting for things to slow down or for some external miracle to save you from burnout leaves you stuck where you are – feeling overwhelmed and like a victim. You can make this change; you just need the right support.
Now in the last segment of our 2021 Wrap Up series, I’m going pull all of this together and give you a great resource to help you do exactly that – transform into a confident, empowered, and authentic leader. If you’re on our mailing list, be sure to check your email on Sunday. I’ll also post this to our Facebook page and my LinkedIn profile. Finally, if want to get the entire series in one place, you can go to www.strengthsuniversity.org/2021wrapup. The first three videos are already up and I’ll post the last one on Sunday. If you don’t want 2022 to be like 2021, you need to watch/listen/read this entire series. See you soon.
If you have any questions or comments about what we’ve covered, please write them below or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. And again, please share with your friends and colleagues.