Encourage Strengths to Shine

Most people don’t live in a world of perfect clarity. We don’t always have a yes or no answer, or a vivid picture of exactly where to go next. Everyone has a story, a reason, a background, a unique path that’s defined where they are today. There’s gray – lots of gray. Understanding where people are coming from and what they may be feeling in their own experience is so important when it comes to working effectively with others.

We have to be okay with the fact that very few things are going to be purely clear-cut, with razor-sharp definition. We have to listen, engage, and make an effort to grasp the human element of each individual’s past, present, and future. Particularly when we’re navigating toward change and aiming to bring a team along with us, we’re going to find ourselves playing in undefined space quite a bit. It’s how we handle the process of working through it with our teams that can make all the difference and positively drive us toward the desired result.

When we raise the expectations at work, ask our teams to do something new, or simply just change part of the day-to-day game, we’re likely going to encounter elements of resistance, or at the very least, emerging or intense feelings. When we do, it’s time to listen. It’s time to support our teams as a unit with a common goal but know that everyone might need to take their own path to arrive at the finish line. Being supportive, understanding, and willing to work with them in a way that reflects their strengths and inner drive is key.

When we actively work with our teams and embrace this spirit of empathy, we’ll likely find that we can produce something much greater than any of us could ever do on our own. When we allow natural talents to shine as we forge a path toward progress, the outcomes become stronger than ever. We just have to play to the strengths of our individual team members, so they can stay actively present and engaged. This is where we allow for, within reason, freedom within a framework to achieve the desired results. If we let reflections of our unique beings emerge in the process of reaching the end goal, we’ll get there together. We’ll very likely have team members who are more committed to the process and supportive of the final results, too.

As we learn from Tom Rath in the Strengths Finder 2.0, people are six times more likely to be engaged in their jobs when they are given the chance to utilize their strengths at work. That’s a big number, and one that we need to be aware of when aiming to truly drive genuine growth and progress. So, the next time we’re challenged with achieving a team goal, let’s think about the best way to arrive at the finish line. Let’s think about the human element that ensues along the way, and the power our teams have to be more productive and aligned when they’re free to let their natural talents emerge. It may not be a path of clearly black and white. There may be a little gray, but the final product will be brighter, shinier, and emit more clarity than ever.

Rath, Tom. StrengthsFinder 2.0. New York, NY: Gallup Press, 2007.

Leaders Are Learners First

Ironically, the best leaders don’t think of themselves as leaders; we’re just a member of the team. We’re one of the bunch, and we work as a cohesive unit with our colleagues, peers, partners, clients – whomever we interact with on a regular basis.

The best leaders also know that we will never truly reach our peak or feel like we’ve arrived, because we should all be engrossed in a lifelong process of learning. There’s always more information to soak up, ways to improve, and innovative ideas that are untouched and ready to embrace. Whether its books and articles to read, podcasts to listen to, or social media feeds and blogs to follow, learning is everywhere. In our technology-based world, there’s so much knowledge right at our fingertips, and we should be taking advantage of every opportunity to embrace it.

We will best support our organizations and our teams for future growth if we’re taking advantage of all types of learning, truly engaging in where we’re headed and layering it on top of where we’ve been. So, let’s dive in and be ready to breathe new life into all that we do, and then share it as we go. It’s that dynamic combination of passionate experience combined with an insatiable thirst for more information that will ultimately propel our teams forward to be the game-changers, so let’s play. Let’s play hard and have fun with it. It’s our own responsibility to act so we can be a key part in where we’re headed together.

Let’s be learners first. Let’s truly be in love with learning, growing, developing, and understanding more today than we did yesterday. Let’s ask questions, get feedback, find out something new, and be fully in the learning game. It’s so worth it and it’s so refreshing. So, let’s think about what we want to learn, and get on it! Time is on our side, and it’s never too late to begin.

Set Realistic Expectations

In the game we call life, it’s important to make sure we’re always working toward progress while also creating realistic expectations. Setting ourselves up to be true to our word and able to achieve what we say we will is what starts to build trust, alignment, agreement, and understanding. The moment we say we’re going to do something or make a far-fetched reality come true and we find we cannot get there, we’re likely going to let someone down. That’s a place we can easily avoid with a positive approach and the right communication.

I always come back to the idea of searching for what we can do, not what can’t get done, because it keeps us grounded while also allowing us to achieve what we may not have thought possible prior to a second look. It’s simply the strategy of saying yes, but setting realistic expectations around when it can get done, how it can get done, and maybe even re-evaluating the outcome to define a slightly different finished product.

What does this mean? It means looking for the possibility, but not over-committing. It’s finding a way to see things from a new angle and making something positive work without letting everyone down. When we partner together with our teams, collectively work through tough scenarios, and truly embrace the possibilities instead of the roadblocks, we can get there.

If we’re setting clear expectations from the start and not over-committing ourselves, we’re on the right track, and even setting ourselves up to exceed expectations. That might mean empowering our teammates to take on more responsibilities, or phasing our way into new plans and projects, but with the right people, clear communication, and realistic expectations set from the start, we can make it work.

The funny thing is, it always works out. I use that phrase all the time when seemingly impossible stuff hits us. If we step back, evaluate the bigger picture, think clearly, work together, and define realistic expectations with a dash of patience along the way, we can always get pretty remarkable things done.

Be Grateful and Appreciative

Being grateful and appreciative is never overrated. When people go out of their way to do something for you, you cannot say thank you enough. The appreciation we show for each other helps us strengthen and develop the bonds of teamwork that move us forward every day. The more we say thank you for the positives we encounter, the more we see them multiply in effect. That’s when good things really get done. Teams succeed by helping each other out, so show a little love and give thanks for all of that hard work.

Working together to drive progress takes effort, and that usually means supporting each other out quite a bit. There’s very little we can achieve alone in business or in life, so when you see or feel a good deed in your presence, acknowledge it. When you notice your teammates going out of their way for each other, call it out and make it known. Let your entire team see their support is recognized and appreciated all the time. It’s worth it to no end, and they’ll be more likely to continue paying it forward and giving it back.

Believe it or not, the handwritten note never goes out of style either. It may sound like an outdated way to show your gratitude, but it is still by far one of the best ways to say thank you. Since they’re used so rarely today, notes might be even more valuable than ever. Taking the time to put your words of thanks on paper is truly a way to go above and beyond the expected in a world driven by fast-paced digital communication.

So, the next time you want to say thank you, I challenge you to write it down, pass it along, and send some happiness to someone who deserves to know you care and you’ve noticed their good deed. It’s the right thing (or should I say the write thing?) to do.

Leading Doesn’t Mean Being the Boss

One of the hardest positions to embrace is being the person who needs to drive change or lead a team when you’re not the boss. That’s where true leaders and team players have their skills put to the ultimate test. It can be pretty tough, and it’s that moment when you might realize that relationships really do matter – a lot.

Managers have it easy: when your boss asks you to do something, you kinda gotta to do it. It’s part of your job and they’re the ones at the end of the day either signing your check or sending you on your way. Everyone wants to please their bosses. Hopefully, said bosses don’t actually approach their teams with a stick and a demand, but truly lead by gaining alignment, trust, and buy-in, but that’s a conversation for another day, and one we’ll certainly spend some time on later.

For now, think about what happens when you’re not the boss. What happens when you’re tasked with implementing a program or a strategy for a group that falls outside of your chain of command? Your leadership skills need to kick in more than ever, and you’ll have to rely on the relationships you’ve built along the way to make it happen.

Your professional reputation precedes you in so many ways, and to align any key group, you’ll need to make sure you’ve stayed true to who you are and built a strong foundation of character, success, and teamwork. They may not trust you because they haven’t had a chance to work with you yet, and that’s okay. It’s your job to earn their trust and make sure it’s abundantly clear that you’re truly in this game for the right reasons – for their reasons, not yours. When you lead with integrity and genuinely believe in what the team is after, it will all come together.

Let’s be honest…deep down, I hope that’s how you operate every day, regardless of any org chart or reporting structure. When you’re a leader, you inspire people, help them succeed, listen to their needs, and embrace their growth and best interests every day. You don’t have to be the boss to make good things happen. Who you should be is the trusted professional who brings a positive outlook, a can-do approach, a willingness to learn, and a sense of partnership. Good things happen when we work with good people; we get it done together. That’s teamwork and true leadership.