Resolving Strengths - Top 5 StrenghtsFinder traits
Nov 8, 2018
A couple years ago, Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted that if the Earth were shrunk to the size of a billiard ball, it would feel just as smooth (source; originally discussed on Discover Magazine). There are a few naysayers about this who also use good math in retort, but for the sake of argument I’ll stick to NDT. I can see many 14k+ feet peaks from my rooftop or as I walk down a westbound street. I’ve walked up the side of some much smaller than those that had me gulping down what thin air there was before I even got halfway to the top. Yet in perspective, when shrunken down to size in proportion, the Earth’s pretty darn smooth.
Perspective is key. In time we all find our mountains to climb, either literally or figuratively. Or both. In business, uphill battles are all around you. It’s what we go into the (sometimes proverbial) office to do – to discover challenges and take them head on. Your yearly quota has increased by 15%. This might mean lead generation has to increase by 30% and quality of conversions must also in turn go up. Costs have to be cut due to budget constraints, so travel or training is impacted. Go find an old monitor to replace that one where half the screen is a tinge of blue. A feature that was promised to our largest clients is now in jeopardy of being delayed once again, how does this impact customer retention, or product engineer morale? Or all of the above?
As humans, our ability to be sucked into negative thoughts with insurmountable tasks ahead of us is unique in the animal kingdom. Some studies suggest it is a required trait that allowed our early ancestors to survive, and thrive in dire situations. We are programmed to identify and get out of harm’s way, yet we seek out ways to dive back in and overcome challenges. This can be exhausting. How many times have you worked on a strategic project, pumping hours of your life into it, only to have priorities be shifted at the last moment? Or the use cases that were so brilliant through the course of 15 meetings that your acceptance testing didn’t pass with flying colors in the end? I have. Many times.
Yet here I am, looking to dive back into something that needs a strategic mind to guide a business through a transformational period. The tasks loom large in these situations. Not in the “I really should avoid that bear” kind of way our incredible forebearers did (though sometimes that’s the case in the hills out here), but you might need to take a deep breath to steady yourself upon hearing that X is no good anymore, Y is the way to go. Stop X. Go Y. Why?! You then pick your battle and try to win what you can from the task you were already on, or salvage it in whole. It is a constant balance, one that we often come out on the other side victorious. If we do not, we come out on the other side with lessons learned that we can apply next quarter. Each time we have a choice to get mired in the negative thoughts our brains relish in (which we’ve fabricated ourselves, but that’s another story), or we can resolve to utilize our strengths and forge forward.
In 2009, I took a Strengths Finder test. We all understand that personality or trait tests like this are not the end-all-be-all of what or who you are as an individual. Still, there’s some fun in dissecting a person when they say they’re an ENTJ or INTP (I am an INFP if you were wondering). I remember in vivid detail the great waste of time I thought this was going to be, and hopped into a private meeting room to take it without distraction. Question after question appeared and I tried to answer each one with honesty and lack of bias, even though I assured myself it was a waste of time. By the time I was finished, curiosity took hold of me and I was filled with an eagerness to see what the results were. Just to roll my eyes and laugh at them of course.
The output report was pretty spot on. In fact, it struck such a chord with me that I immediately emailed the Cliff’s Notes to myself and printed a copy to read the rest of when I got home. This could very well be confirmation bias, as we all want to believe that there are particular strengths within each of us that is unique to our being. Still, I dug into them. And today, as I go up my own mountain, their qualities of relevance help get me through the fog and realize on the other side there are strengths I can rely on.
“People who are especially talented in the Ideation theme are fascinated by ideas. They are able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.”
Those who have worked with me and get close as peers know my penchant for sarcasm. I think in some ways that demeanor might get in the way when my ideation trait kicks in during a meeting about overcoming the challenge at hand. It is in these moments, at the drop of a word or phrase, my brain jolts into hyperdrive and the disparate ideas lock in together. Early in my career, I would just blurt out what I thought the solution would be and I would get a confused look or halted stare. I could see it, why couldn’t you? It’s simple! So simple I… can’t really explain it. Move on as I think some more. I had lost them.
I learned to contain and construct this energy into positive discussions and fueled many successes. I became a key contributor on many projects, speaking the languages of IT folks to finance people to sales teams and everyone else in between. Having the ability to have constructive conversations with each team, while trying to get to the same goal, while using different terms or ideas, was something that I had to work on. I had to be coached to it. Connecting the dots was a favorite pastime of mine in my youth, and now I had to apply those connections in my career projects. Step by step, connect the whys and hows. This is something that still plagues teams. A person or two might be so deep in their tunnel that it takes effort to bring to light the cracks coming through at the sides. Being able to bridge these gaps and connect ideas is what drives me to success in the operations world. I love ideas, and always try to nurture them in people. Then we can connect them and bring them to life.
“People who are especially talented in the Context theme enjoy thinking about the past. They understand the present by researching its history.”
If you don’t learn from your past mistakes then you are doomed to repeat them. And in our businesses, this can be crippling. When I first read this I thought “How is this a strength? I thought we were supposed to move passed our past, not dwell on it.” Then in context (heh…) it all came together. During my time as a BA I worked on projects that impacted the lives of thousands of frontline employees. When you’re tinkering with money that goes towards feeding a family or paying for a house, you better be right. This was during a time of high employee satisfaction in the company, but much poorer responses toward our automated systems that had just launched.
As the new person to the team, understanding the history of the project and seeing what worked before, what made people happy (not just correct payments), and what wasn’t solved just yet was key to our stream of updates. We had to listen. Why didn’t you like the interface? What do you feel isn’t captured correctly? The prior way was way slower and more manual, but there was comfort. We had turned on something awesome, but forgot to include the people it impacted most. So we asked. We dug into past conceptions, and made strides to correct things. There was an aura of inaccuracy we had to dispose of with hard data and proofs, and through training we showed people what was happening, and how they could help things with processes on their end. We updated reports because they were just migrated over as the same old ones and the project team hadn’t listened. We listened, and we made things better. This term of context does not only help in figuring out ways to right your wrongs in projects or procedures, but also in creating connections with people. Where are you from? What have you worked on? What do you do for fun? These all help create a picture of a person beyond who is in the office with you, and can connect you to their own strengths which you’ll have to lean on.
“People who are especially talented in the Empathy theme can sense the feelings of other people by imagining themselves in others’ lives or others’ situations.”
Just to clarify, this doesn’t mean I’m pitying you for being in this meeting with me. Though I will be able to sense your discomfort being here. Or your exuberance and desire to really get a chance to show everyone your new idea.
Empathy is an often desired yet difficult to balance strength in many fast-paced businesses. There are plenty of times where an emotional wave is ridden in a decision, and a gung-ho attitude gets adopted before others can really get a word in. Knowing how to put yourself in someone else’s situation pays dividends in understanding what questions to ask, and how to coax out a response that might not be what you really want to hear. In sales ops, being the mediator between a leader and their rep is a difficult line to walk. With empathy, trust building comes easy as the other person begins to understand what you’re doing and asking is often times in the best interests of a positive outcome, and not one to shift blame back and forth. Some might call this political, but it’s important to understand the difference in trying to report on your lack of pipeline and how we can get you back on track vs. a scheme to use your fears against you. In my career, this has helped me build relationships across many functions, and create solutions for overlooked pain points because someone got used to doing things one way and didn’t feel a need to speak up. Once I learn it’s a pain point, I can get to work fixing it. If empathy is something you feel you’re lacking, lean on someone with it. They, too, will appreciate your outreach.
“People who are especially talented in the Deliberative theme are best described by the serious care they take in making decisions or choices. They anticipate the obstacles.”
Remember that whirlwind of emotion you sometimes ride getting to work on a project? This trait becomes my check to feel if we have really tackled the issue at hand with few blind spots. Of course, this trait is best used in conjunction with the prior three – experience comes into play, and the only way I think one can truly be deliberative in their methods is due to mistakes learned from past results.
Being deliberative doesn’t mean being slow. It just means taking care in considering outcomes and points of view. Some things have few risks and are easy to tear apart afterward. As a private person, some things once out in the open can never be contained again. Deliberation is required to ensure this is in the best interests of what we’re doing. This can also mean not providing too much praise, or knowing how to receive it. It’s strange, but there is a certain care that one must take before patting oneself on the back. There is a confidence to being deliberative, as identifying risks might put you in the crosshairs of those with more urgent traits. Here, I just have to keep diligence in knowing, and explaining, that this is the right way.
“People who are especially talented in the Competition theme measure their progress against the performance of others. They strive to win first place and revel in contests.”
Winning takes many shapes and forms for me. It can mean hitting our number for the quarter. I do whatever I can to help support, correct trends, and shine a light on issues but at the end of the day I am not “carrying the bag.” Still, I get a burning sensation inside when I see it’s not going to happen. We lost. We might still be successful and making money and fine at the end of the day, but 99% isn’t 100%.
Being competitive in sales operations often brings transformation. Bit by bit we get better. More efficient. This is done by: providing content quicker, making templates available to everyone, having dashboards that tell a story you can follow, removing ad-hoc requests by enabling information gathering, converting sales faster by removing barriers, getting legal processes in place and having contracts easier to produce. While I am busy creating and curating KPIs and OKRs, I am always measuring myself at the same time. This may seem like undue pressure, but I revel in it. If I am not getting better, or helping you understand how we can sell more, I am not doing my job. Bring it on.