Managing Strengths in a Matrixed World

I’ve posted about my CliftonStrengths before. I do believe firmly that understanding and working from your strengths allows you to be more fulfilled in life and work.

What I have learned and continue to learn (yep, Learner is my #1 strength) is working from your strengths allows you to better see your potential blind spots and how to overcome your weaknesses.

3 of my top 5 strengths – Learner, Responsibility and Context – are an interesting combination of strategic thinking and execution mixed with an excitement and eagerness to use those strategic insights to further learn and improve.

I love to – quickly – connect insights to strategy and actions, measure it, improve it and do it all over again.

But not everybody loves to do that. Or not everybody loves to do that quickly. And that is not their fault.

If you move too fast, you don’t always give your team, colleagues and collaborators you need to truly be successful the opportunity to understand your insight and urgency.

While I do prefer to move quickly and tend to operate with an urgency (mainly because I have usually learned something about marketplace factors that is best exploited if acted on quickly), I have learned to allow my other 2 strengths – Relator and Individualization – to play a role.

And they don’t really slow me down. If anything, it allows all boats to rise.

Relator means I get satisfaction from close relationships and working hard with others to achieve goals.

Individualization means I am intrigued with the unique qualities of each person and able to figure out how different people can work together productively.

As work I’ve been involved with – and work in general – has become more matrixed, cross-functional and reliant on influence vs. inside a hierarchy, having Relator and Individualization as Top 5 Strengths have been valuable.

I’ve recently completed Amy Edmondson’s brilliant book, The Fearless Organization. For someone like me with a bias for action, Chapter 7 of the book provides a concrete model to allow the Relator and Individualization strengths to come out.

I won’t dive into all the detail here because I would encourage you to read the book, but there are 3 pillars to follow.

First, Set the Stage. Frame the work and emphasize the purpose to ensure all involved are grounded in what we are trying to do and why we are trying to do it.

Second, Invite Participation. Make sure all know that you do not believe you have all the answers and that we can always learn more. Be proactive with inquiry – ask questions that will open minds and encourage engagement, going broad and deep. Ensure a system and structure is in place to elicit, capture and build on ideas.

Third, Respond Productively. Express appreciation when thoughts are shared. Destigmatize failure so reaching for more can be seen as a learning experience. Sanction clear violations of the systems and structures that are set in place.

As I said, this model does not just hold when it comes to a team that reports to you. It works in matrixed, cross-functional, influence based situations as well.

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Wanders with Rusty

Today I walked down the street I used to wander

Yeah, shook my head and made myself a bet

There were all these things I don’t think I remember

How lucky can one dog get

Lyrics from John Prine’s “How Lucky” (with one minor change).

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Active Open Mindedness: It’s Not What You Think, but How You Think It

As a life-long Learner with a high level of curiosity, recently reading David Epstein’s book, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, has been incredibly enlightening to me.

In a chapter called Fooled by Expertise, the concept of “active open mindedness” is introduced and explored. A quote from the book:

“The best forecasters view their own ideas as hypotheses in need of testing. Their aim is not to convince their teammates of their own expertise, but to encourage their teammates to help them falsify their own notions. In the sweep of humanity, that is not normal…it is not what they think (that allows them to do well), it is how they think.”

I hope you are blessed to work in an environment where this approach can be taken. How fulfilling it is to not need to always be “right”, but rather work inside of a productive collaboration to build on ideas and thinking of those around you. That is a gold standard.

About half way through Range, I selected my next book to read. It is by Amy Edmondson, The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth. The crux of it is the gold standard I mention above. In a nutshell, how do you build a culture and teams to support the notion of Active Open Mindedness.

As I read The Fearless Organization I am seeing a number of parallels to concepts in Range. In fact, I’m already working on a post connecting learning from both. There are a couple of chapters that if cobbled together I’m feeling like make a great recipe for developing, executing, measuring and optimizing strategy. More to come on that!

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Interpreting Where is My Mind by Pixies

I do some really good thinking when I take my dog, Rusty, for walks. It’s usually when I get the most focused listening of podcasts or music done.

A few days ago I was listening to my Covers playlist on a walk with Rusty when Trampled by Turtles cover of Pixies Where is My Mind began to play. I can’t count the times I’ve listened to Surfer Rosa and that song in particular, let alone the cover. But for some reason I was much more dialed in to it. Perhaps a cover version that includes mandolin and accordion drew me in more.

The scribbles above came to my, um, mind as I listened, then re-listened on the walk. And then I started to consider Black Francis’, or Frank Black’s if you like, sparse lyrics.

“With your feet in the air and your head on the ground.” This is about changing or having a different perspective. Seeing things differently.

“Try this trick and spin it. Yeah!” And don’t just have a different perspective. Take some action with it and further the perspective change, learn how to do something new.

“Your head will collapse. There’s nothing in it. And you’ll ask yourself. Where is my mind?” Now here is where I started thinking a bit more deeply about this. The “mind” is a concept, the bringing together of a person’s beliefs, faith, intellect, ideas, opinions. Why would a head collapse without a “mind”?

It is because the mind is what defines who we are. It provides the strength for the brain to truly support our head. Think of the mind as providing the steel girders to support the surrounding structure of the brain (and the head in these lyrics). Without the mind, we all just have some gray matter between our ears.

So if you attempt to change your perspective without having an open mind, your head will collapse because there is no support to consider and try to understand what it is that you’re seeing and hearing. You can’t learn new things.

“Way out in the water. See it swimming?” And not having a mind to support new perspectives puts you out to sea, leads to confusion, or maybe even anger. And as the mind is a concept it can’t be seen, swimming or otherwise. And, thus, more confusion. And, further, it becomes easier to not change perspectives and learn.

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5 Key Investments Leaders Need to Make

I’m feeling especially inspired after a great sermon this morning at church. It focused on five investments in our personal relationships that unconditional love leads people to make. In and of itself, it was a powerful message for application in my personal life.

On the drive home, in a moment of lateral thinking, it struck me that these five things are applicable when it comes to professional relationships. And especially relevant when it comes to Leaders investing time and energy into the individuals on their team.

First, give instruction. But not just any instruction. Make sure you take the time to show how to do things correctly. To make sure it’s understood the instruction given is to provide the most benefit to your customers. And that those on your team are capable of giving and staying true to that instruction.

Second, give encouragement. The top pitfall that can bring people down is being discouraged. Ultimately, it can lead to apathy. That is not to say you should puff someone up if it’s not deserved, but seek to be consistent in your encouragement and keep it focused on the instructions to do things correctly. Be aware of when someone is moving into a part of their role that is challenging, or a time of year that is tougher than others. Lift people up.

Third, give affirmation. When you see someone doing something well, tell them right then. If you hear about someone doing something well, make sure they know that you know. We have so many tools to communicate with our teams these days that finding ways to give affirmation – and encouragement for that matter – should be easy. Try to do it in as real time as possible.

Fourth, give example(s). Now, this is mainly focused on the example of how you as a Leader behave, engage and go about your work. Demonstrate how your team should act by showing them in everything that you do – including and especially in how you work with them.

But I’ll extend it. Give specific examples whenever you can of your expectations. This can be scenarios provided of how to manage certain situations. This can be learning opportunities of situations that did not go well and how it could have gone better. Concrete examples are effective when it comes to instruction, encouragement and affirmation as well.

Fifth, give them a vision. I’m reinterpreting this point a bit from the sermon, but I believe it fits. As a Leader, you need to show your team that they have the opportunity to grow, to one day being not just someone who works for you, but a colleague. Help them understand what that path looks like and what it takes to be successful on it. They may want something else – which you should seek to understand – but you – and they – won’t know until the vision is given.

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Work from Your Strengths and Your Strengths Will Work for You

Yep, that’s the title I’m going with. So on with it then.

Several years ago, my wife, LeAnn, and I were members of a church that was just getting started. The pastor was looking for people who were wiling to volunteer for many different roles, and LeAnn and I were more than happy to do so. To his credit, the pastor wanted to ensure he placed volunteers into the right sort of opportunity to have the best shot at success – for the fledgling church’s growth and for the volunteers to feel they were contributing to that growth. The tool he used was StrengthsFinder.

StrengthsFinder is now known as CliftonStrengths. While there is a deep body of work around this, the basic thesis is understanding and using your strengths in life is more fulfilling and productive than focusing on fixing your weaknesses.

That most certainly is not to say we don’t all have weaknesses and blind spots we need to address. That is, also, not to say we don’t all need some input on what we do wrong. Further, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to learn new things. But, by and large, if we operate from our strengths, we can have a clearer understanding of our weaknesses, why they are our weaknesses, and a better chance of learning how to improve ourselves.

When LeAnn and I originally went through the process, we purchased a book which included a URL with a code to take the survey. Now, the CliftonStrengths team at Gallup has a fantastic online experience complete with dashboards and opportunities to go as deep as one wants in learning how to leverage and build upon their strengths.

Here’s a photo of my copy of the StrengthsFinder book. I’ve busted this thing out more times than I care to admit over the years in times where things didn’t make sense, I was having a bad day, or I just needed a reminder I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.

Jerry’s beat up copy of StrengthsFinder 2.0, the original companion to the survey.

Not only is the idea of focusing on strengths a (cough cough) strong one, the model focuses on a person’s Top 5 (even though there are 34 strengths on the survey that are ranked top to bottom). As you can see, when I originally went through this process in 2009, my Top 5 Strengths in order were Context, Learner, Responsibility, Relator and Ideation.

Some 12 years later, 4 of those 5 remain with one new entrant – Individualization. While that may sound like I want to work alone, it is the exact opposite. This is a strength focused on understanding the value each individual brings to a team or organization and figuring out how to put them in a place to succeed.

Digging into it, while Ideation dropped from my Top 5, the combination of my other strengths and my Strengths Themes actually speak to my not being less interested in ideas. Rather as I lead with Strategic Thinking followed by Execution and Relationship Building, I am able to absorb and translate a large amount of disparate information, working with others to make sense and further build ideas, prioritize and then execute and pivot as new information comes in.

I could have grabbed a shot of my dashboard from Gallup and placed it here, but as I say about this blog, this is all pre-PowerPoint and Keynote stuff. And I think and absorb information best when I sketch on blank pieces of paper. So, behold, Jerry Courtney’s Top 5 Strengths and Strengths Themes.

Jerry’s Strengths and Strengths Themes

As you can probably guess, I am a very big believer in CliftonStrengths. I have seen it work in my life, in good times and in bad (especially helpful when going through a rough spot). I have used it informally over and over again in working with people who worked for and with me (whether they knew it or not:), and I have seen people exceed even their own expectations when they began to focus at what they are best.

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Solutions | Positive | Transparent

Seeing my resolution…Every. Darn. Day.

I began 2021 and have been adhering to a three part approach to life and work.

First, I will be Solutions-Oriented. There is not a problem without a solution. Further, there are usually more than two options to go with. Don’t assume the first or most obvious solution is the right answer.

Second, I will be Positive. There is enough negativity and derision in this world. There is always something to be thankful for. Find it and stay positive.

Third, I will be Transparent. This works in two ways. First, if I don’t understand, I will seek to do so. Second, I will ensure I am understood.

I’ve never made resolutions before, but this one has been easy to stick to. And, ultimately, pretty darn obvious. To the point that it seems it has always been there in how I approach life and work, but just needed to be said out loud to keep myself honest and committed. Oh, yeah…that’s why you make resolutions!

Kidding aside, if you are thinking there is something complex to setting and sticking to an approach – a resolution if you like – to life and work, take it from this former skeptic that some time of contemplation and a focus on what values you hold closest is all that is required.

And then write it down someplace that you see everyday, preferably multiple times per day.

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The Line

Here’s a concept I’ve been thinking about for some time.

I have a hypothesis. It seems at many organizations there is quite often a void or a disconnect between Vision and Values and Policy and Process. That’s not judgement. It is something I’ve seen over the years in places I’ve worked and clients with whom I’ve worked.

I’m not sure just yet if that is good or bad when it comes to attracting talent. Some of us are drawn to organizations that define and demonstrate their Vision and/or Values well. Others of us are drawn to the more practical nature of well defined Policy and Process to guide an organization. And still others of us like the challenge of being part of an organization where we’ll be creating Vision and/or Values or Policy and Process (or all four…).

Where I think the disconnect hinders an organization is when it comes to retention of talent. There will come a point where a line must be crossed, regardless of how someone enters an organization, that demonstrates they are committed to all aspects of what the organization believes and what the organization actually is. I am calling this The Line.

I represent this concept as:


The Line is not culture. I see Culture as the system – implicit and explicit, formal and informal – that ties VV and PP together. Without defining The Line, Culture cannot come to life. It’s like a house divided. An organization cannot stand on Vision and Values alone without being able to execute via Policy and Process. Nor can Policy and Process dominate to the point where it’s not clear what the organization stands for via it’s Vision and Values. Culture has to allow for these things to be in harmony.

Regardless, the idea is employees may enter an organization for their own reasons, but if they are going to be committed to that organization, they’ve got to cross The Line. They have to embrace Vision, Values, Policy and Process. Which, of course, means the organization has to clearly define and effectively – and consistently – communicate all of these things.

The Line needs to be:

  • Common sense
  • Easily understood
  • Visible in action
  • Second nature
  • Permeable

And here’s a mind map where I’m playing with this concept some more. I have a feeling I’ll be coming back to this one.

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Baseball Photos with a Bit of Context


I’m missing baseball. Part of the renewal of Spring, for me anyway, is the thought that hope springs eternal, that I no longer have to wait until next year because it is next year, and that the ivy in Wrigley Field will soon be green.

I’ve found many socially distant’d folks are feeling similarly to me as I see on social media the request to post a baseball photo with no explanation. But as happened with the list of bands you’ve seen from A-Z post, this is leading me to another writing prompt. So how about some pictures of some personal baseball artifacts with some explanation.

I think I’ll stick to “first gloves” here, though I could provide you the lineage of my fielding and catcher’s gloves, as well as my bats, from my first to my last if needed. Unfortunately with the bats, there were some wooden ones that did not make it, and some old aluminum ones that I would bet are still in my parent’s garage (or may have been sold in garage sales some time ago).

As I’ve been casting my thoughts back, I’m pleasantly surprised at how many happy memories I have related to baseball in general and these things in particular. I was blessed to have a Dad who played uncountable, endless games of catch with me, as well as threw uncountable, endless batting practice to me – just as often out of baseball season as in baseball season. That said, I’ll do my best to keep this from getting sappy. Onward, then.



My real first glove was most likely one of my Dad’s or my older brother’s hand-me-downs. I remember it being a light tan Rawlings, and I’m pretty sure it was not an autographed model. I didn’t like how it was broken in, and it was stiff. I’m guessing we weren’t yet familiar with glove oil and/or the use of shaving cream to soften up and condition a glove at that point in time.

I remember my Dad had this great Mizuno glove he used when he played in a softball league that was soft, flexible and broken in perfectly at the hinge. It was almost evenly balanced from one side to the other, right down the middle of the palm, which made it great for softball (or the outfield). I wanted something like that. I guess I had no intention of playing middle infield from the start.

Did I mention I was 7 when I got my first glove? Yes, I was 7, which means the above emanates from pre-7 year old memories. Baseball is a powerful thing, and one’s preferences for how a glove should be broken in were set in place very early on.

The first glove that was specifically mine was a Wilson Ron Guidry model. I’m right handed, so why Wilson made this model with the left handed Louisiana Lightning’s name in it, I’m not sure. I got this glove for Christmas when I was 7 years old. It was the Christmas before my first season of organized baseball, what was called Pee Wee League in my hometown of Robinson, IL. I did my best to break it in like Dad’s glove.

I used it until I was 12 I think, my last year of Little League. By the time I got a new glove, my Ron Guidry Wilson had one thin strip of leather covering my palm. I had literally worn a hole on the inside of the glove.

As I said, I won’t go into details on the full lineage of my glove’s, but you should know the next fielder’s glove I got was a bust, don’t even want to discuss it. But then I found a black Franklin glove at McMillan’s Sporting Goods in Terre Haute, IN. I think I was 14. You will be happy to know I was able to break that one in almost exactly like my Dad’s Mizuno.



In Robinson, IL where I grew up, “back in my day” organized baseball started at the age of 7. Right from the start, I knew I wanted to be a catcher. This was 1982, a year before Johnny Bench retired. I thought Johnny Bench was THE best catcher ever (I would still start him on my all-time team, and most likely hit him in the 4 or 5 hole – a topic for another day), so I wanted to wear #5 and be Johnny Bench (In later years and due to liking Mike Singletary in football, I preferred #50 as it nodded to Johnny Bench as well).

A short aside to ensure it is clear that my Cubs’ roots run deep. That is meant as no disrespect to Jody Davis. While I do firmly believe Harry Caray was right, that Jody Davis was, indeed, “Catcher without a fear”, he was no Johnny Bench. And I never came across a signed Jody Davis model catcher’s glove. At least not in Tresslers department store in Robinson, IL in the early ’80s. Back to the nub of it.

I got this beauty – a Rawlings Johnny Bench model – for Christmas. It traveled with me through two years of pre-Little League, Little League, Babe Ruth, JV and varsity high school baseball. All told, I think it was a good 10 years. The two piece pocket proved a challenge as I got older and guys I caught could bring some good heat. I can’t count the times it was broken or stretched to the point of a ball coming through and hitting me in the mask. I bought another catcher’s glove when I was 15 or 16 because of this (it was a Mizuno as I always wanted one since my Dad had that one I mentioned before), but the Johnny Bench model stayed in my bag and would often make appearances in game play until my last game as a high school senior.


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My Favorite Live Shows Seen with My Son

I’ve completed the social media challenge to name bands from A-Z whose concerts I’ve attended. I was a bit weak toward the end of the alphabet and didn’t double (or triple or quadruple) up on any particular letter. I enjoyed it, as I have a few of the other shelter-in-place/quarantine social media challenges. But it got me thinking.

Since my now 19 year old son was 10 years old, when I think of going to see a show, I always think of going with him first. At the age of 9, my son became very interested in music. It was an assignment in 3rd grade that started it all – write an essay about a famous American. He chose Elvis. So starting with that essay, he began working his way backwards and forwards through blues, jazz, folk, bluegrass, rock and roll, classical, true country and western and pretty much every genre in between. (At the end of his 3rd grade school year, we moved back to Austin, TX. He asked, “Since we’re moving back to Austin, can I learn to play the guitar?”) It has been a joy to see him grow in his passion, and he is now majoring in Classical Guitar and Music Composition in college.

We have talked of music and experienced music a lot over the past 10 years. He has, probably unbeknownst to him, taught me a great deal about artists and genres I had a passing preference for that he has made me appreciate much more deeply.

So when I think of going to see a show or hear about a new record or someone touring, he is the first person I text or call about it. We’ve been able to see some great shows together, and, thus, the A-Z bands you’ve seen live challenge has led to this. Here we go – some of the best shows I’ve seen with my son.

ACL 2010

His first real “show”, and as we lived in Austin, what better way to start. I think it was while watching The Black Keys or maybe Spoon when I got the question from my then 10 year old son, “What’s that smell?” And he never had to ask at any subsequent show…


This was either for his 11th or 12th birthday. He got interested in the blues very early on. I think Buddy was 75 years old at the time, but still was walking through the crowd and had a ton of energy.


I think he was 12 or 13. What a band BB had supporting him. This was definitely an Austin performance as Jimmy Vaughn came out and played a couple songs with him. Also the first show where he saw a fight (at a BB King show!) – people began pushing and shoving at the end of the show because BB stayed on stage throwing out guitar picks.

PIXIES – THE AUSTIN MUSIC HALL (may it rest in peace)

I think he was 12 or 13. Right before this show, he had played a show at Darwin’s Pub on 6th Street through a program called Garage Band. This may be one that I forced on him. We missed the original lineup. As I recall, Kim had just left (again?) to re-start up the Breeders. Was still a good show…


I think he was 15 or 16. While he has many, many favorites, I think if he could have seen all of the iterations of Miles Davis’ bands, he would have. So this show he was very excited about. And they did not disappoint.


This was our most recent show together this past 4th of July. We got there early, and we stayed for the whole thing – from David Allan Coe at 1130a until Willie shut it down a bit after midnight. For a dad about to have his son go away to school, it was an amazing time. And to make it a true, late night Texas experience, we hit Whataburger at around 130a.


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