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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