One Simple Tool that Helped Me Find My Top 3 Strengths

Benjamin Franklin is right. His insights into these very words has resonated profoundly with me in the last twenty five years of my life. In fact, for most of the my life, I truly felt that I was bereft of talent. I believed I represented quintessential mediocrity, if not an inferior superiority. Tough decisions, changing environments, and, insurmountable pressure debilitated my emotional and mental health in my early adolescence . 

However, the year of 2001 has been a turning point in my life. This is when I made the decision to study abroad in North America at the age 14. Since then, I have been blessed by the grace of God to be surrounded me with numerous people who have been a constant source of inspiration, encouragement, faith, and hope in my life. 

It is with this purposely long-winded introduction that I write the main crux of my thoughts. Leadership is all about influence. In order to have influence, one must have a solid understanding of the subject one is leading. This can be achieved only if the leader understands himself/herself – what motivates himself, temper, pressure, personality etc. In the past three month, I have stumbled across a Harvard Business Review article, “Making Yourself Indispensable” by Zenger and Folkman which ignited me to embark on this project. Below is a brief idea behind this project:

With Good leaders can become exceptional by developing just a few of their strengths to the highest level—but not by merely doing more of the same. Instead, they need to engage in the business equivalent of cross-training—that is, to enhance complementary skills that will enable them to make fuller use of their strengths. For example, technical skills can become more effective when communication skills improve, making a leader’s expertise more apparent and more accessible. Once a few of their strengths have reached the level of outstanding, leaders become indispensable to their organizations despite the weaknesses they may have.

Step 1: Identify my strengths & weaknesses

Strengths and weaknesses can be interpreted in various ways, but in the context of effective leadership, your view of your own is less important than other people’s, because leadership is simply all about your effect on others. That’s why I started to conduct a 360 feedback. I have selected 17 key people who have been an influential part of my life in many facets of my life including personal, social, work, and leadership life. I have asked these individuals to identify top five strengths and three weaknesses according to Zenger and Folkman’s 16 Leadership Competencies Framework. See the two graphs below for the 16 leadership competencies and complementary behaviors for each strength.

Step 2: Choose a strength to focus on

It’s important to identify competencies that matter most to the organization and about which you feel some passion, because a strength you feel passionate about that is not important to your organization is essentially a hobby, and a strength the organization needs you don’t feel passionate is just a chore. In order to identify your passions, Zenger and Folkman suggests asking the following questions:
–  Do I look for ways to enhance this skill?
–  Do I look for new ways to use it?
–  Am I energized, not exhausted, when I use it?
–  Do I pursue projects in which I can apply this strength?
–  Can I imagine devoting time to improving it?
–  Would I enjoy getting better at this skill?

If you have answered “yes” to these questions, this was a solid way to quantify your passions. For me, I have identified five passions, including self-development, problem solving, communicate powerfully and broadly, inspires and motivates others, relationship building.
I consequently created a simple spreadsheet with the collective feedback from the 17 contributors. Overall, there were three pronounced strengths.  Please see below for the top five strengths that each contributor ranked me on.

The worksheet below summarizes the collective responses outlined as three categories: My Competencies (which are gleaned from the top 5 strengths from 17 contributors), My Passions (through asking questions through the evaluative framework), and Organizational Needs (which in this context is consulting which is where I eventually want to be in).

Step 3: Select a complementary behavior

People who excel at motivating others are good at persuading them to take action and to go the extra mile. So I scanned the list of competency companions for my top strengths (in this case, let’s say self-development)
–  Listens
–  Is open to others’ ideas
–  Respects others
–  Displays honesty and integrity
–  Inspires and motivates others
–  Provides effective feedback and development
–  Takes initiative
–  Is willing to take risks and challenge the status quo

It’s important to choose a companion behavior that like a good strength is important to the organization and makes you feel enthusiastic about tackling it. However, at this point, it’s constructive to consider your lower scores as well.

Step 4: Develop it in a linear way.

After identifying the key strengths, I have identified direct ways to improves these skill sets. Here is an example of how I plan to improve my communication skills.
– Find ways inside and outside of work to improve communication skills (volunteer to make presentations to senior management, ask colleagues to critique e-mails, speech)
– Practice talking about a random topic at mirror twice a week for 30 minutes. Record myself and correct errors
– Listen and observe great communicators and learn their techniques.
– Customize my communication styles to different audience (avoid the tendency to impress with sophisticated words – be direct, engaging, and simple)
– Read books out loud. Engage all five senses.

I know that in all this effort the make-or-break factor hinges on the willingness and  persistence to push myself to the envelope. I hope my unquenchable thirst for learning and growth coupled with strength in self-development will propel me push myself beyond mediocrity. I am truly indebted to all my friends and family who have been a constant source of inspiration, encouragement, and hope in my life. I thoroughly enjoyed reading each candid feedback which has vastly helped me in my leadership journey.