Limitless: The Strengths perspective

Last week I had the honor of speaking to a “Leadership Academy” class at work. I was speaking as an alumnus of the program, a program I am quite enthusiastic about. It’s a partnership with U.C. Davis Extension, where we send our “best of the best” and they make them even better (yeah, I took that from Top Gun….what can I say, I loved the film). Aside from the tremendous opportunity to obtain some “outside the box” education on leadership, it was, in fact, my first introduction to Strengths Finder!

I had been a “leader” for a very long time when I walked into that academy. I had been trained as a leader. I was trained on effective communication, team building, emotional intelligence, project management, supervision, and a host of other tools required to do my job.

You see, I was under the impression that all those tools were leadership skills. I was under the impression that I was a leader because I had leadership skills. I was under the impression that I was a boss, ergo, I was a leader.
What I learned however, was that being a boss and a being a leader are two very different things. Please understand that every ounce of training, every one of those tools was critical, they just weren’t what made me a leader. There was just something missing.

I gave the newest class some advice – reminding them to appreciate every minute of the experience. Reminding them that this wasn’t “training” (in the classic sense of the term) – that this was education. That “leadership” isn’t a formula, it’s not a list of “do this” and “don’t do that” bullet points…leadership is about commitment, and courage, and seizing every opportunity available to grow…and what an incredible opportunity they had in this academy!
Hmm…probably sounded better in person. My hope is that I was able to convey just how much they would get out of this opportunity to learn!

I learned SO much in the academy!

I learned that leadership is about creating trust and confidence in your staff. It’s about mentoring and bringing out the best in others. It’s about taking what we learn and sharing that knowledge as mentors. I learned that leadership is not about bullying, it’s about believing: believing in yourself, believing in your team, believing in your goals, and most of all, believing that every tool you need to lead well is already residing within you – your strengths.

When I went through the academy a few years ago, one of first topics we dug into was strengths. We went through the Amazon bestselling StrengthsFinder 2.0 book. It was the first time it hit me, just how much time I was wasting attempting to improve upon areas that were clearly not in my top 30, let alone top five or ten. While I was doing pretty well mitigating the damage, it was frankly exhausting. I never understood why I was so bad at certain things! I felt like I was a fairly sharp cookie, it drove me nuts…why couldn’t I finish projects with the same fervor I had when I started them? Why was I so easily distracted when it came to certain tasks? Why did I spend so much time concerning myself with why I was even concerned about it in the first place? Why was I wasting time surfing the net trying to figure out why I couldn’t finish strong instead of actually finishing projects strong?

Why? Because a few of my top strengths are Connectedness, Intellection and Input…researching and understanding “why” seemed more critical to me than actually addressing the concerns at hand. You see, the opposite end of my strengths spectrum are a couple little gems like “Focus” and “Discipline”…LOL…yes, I am easily distracted by shiny objects!

However, I am just as easily committed to knowing why I am distracted!

Alas, the understanding I sought was found in the midst of this academy…

Why? Because my talents, which became strengths over the years, are all about theories, information, and putting the pieces together. Those “shiny objects” that were “distracting” me were actually my strengths – like big neon signs – only I was too busy trying to stop the bleeding, if you will, to see it. I was beating my head against the wall trying to improve strengths that simply weren’t my “strong” suit.

Back to my “speech” for the newest class (see how easily distracted I can get?) As I thought about what I would say (yes, about three minutes before I got up there), I remembered what one of the instructors in my academy said that resonated so deeply…he said that while one can improve “weaknesses”, there is a limit, a ceiling if you will…you can only improve upon them so much. Our strengths, however, have no limits….NO LIMITS! NO CEILING!
Our strengths are limitless!

I looked around at this class of peers, and it struck me that they walked into this academy as very good leaders, yet they will walk out as very great leaders. They may have walked in assuming that a boss being “bossy” was the same thing as a leader “leading”, they are in for some incredible “ah ha” moments.

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Shelley Hom is a technology manager with the State of California who was introduced to Strengths Finder through a leadership academy at work. Using what she has learned both in her work and personal life, she mentors colleagues, family and friends on using ones’ strengths to get them where they want to go! When she isn’t working, she loves hanging out with people and enjoying the simple things life has to offer; laughing, chatting, reading, and let’s not forget writing – all usually done with a really good cup of coffee close at hand! Outside of blogging for 34strong Shelley’s own blog can be found at: www.myhomworld.com

Photo credits: stockphotosecrets.com