What Should You Do When Your Talents Cause Trouble?

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Austin, TX StrengthsFinder Training for Leaders

Strengths Focus For This Episode

In this episode Lisa answers the question, "Should you stop using natural talents that cause you trouble at work?" The short answer is no. The talent, or combination of talents, that's causing you trouble is your natural talent. No matter what you do to squash it, it will pop out somehow and scare people. It's much better to work to find other ways to utilize that troublesome talent. Lisa provides two different exercises for you: one for you as an individual, and one for your team.

Resources of the Episode

You'll find lots of StrengthsFinder, leadership, and team tools on our Strengths Resources page.

If you or your team hasn't completed the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment, you will find the list of adjectives on our website useful for the exercises in this episode.

Strengths Tools

One of the best ways leaders can build a strengths based culture is to offer appreciation of strengths in action. If you'll notice what works, you'll get more of what works because people can replicate what they've already done well. On our home page, you can download this awesome tool that offers you 127 easy ideas for recognizing your team. Scroll down and look for the box that says "Great Managers Notice What Works".

Here's a Full Transcript of The Show

You’re listening to Lead Through Strengths, where you'll learn to apply your greatest strengths at work. I'm your host, Lisa Cummings, and I gotta tell ya, using your strengths is one of the most energizing things you can do on the job. Today's question and topic is about what to do when your strengths are making trouble for you. I know it sounds completely backwards, but there's this concept I call troublemaker talents. What happens is that sometimes your greatest strengths, your talent themes, if you will, (if you're doing this from a strengths finder lens), they can sometimes be overused, underused, misapplied. They can be unrefined if you've been ignoring them, or squashing them down. Let me give you an example. You have someone with the Includer talent and he says, “You know, I don't like my Includer. When I saw that on the list, I wanted to give it back because it makes me too slow.”

It makes me miss deadlines because I'm always getting everyone's opinion and I put the word out. I ask the question, I go one on one. People ask me for more time, and by the time I get everyone's input on something, I'm already behind schedule. Another one I've heard recently in a big corporate training was a woman with the Communication talent who said, “you know, I don't see this one as a strength at all. I get told I talk too much.” I can also give you my personal example. It's my Maximizer and Strategic. They come in together like a one-two troublemaking punch, and it's me always tweaking things. I'm always trying to make them better, but this concept of me never being done, also sometimes means me never sleeping. On the surface, all of those things I just mentioned, yes, they are real troubles.

The thing is though, you can't just get the effect you're having on the surface and decide to squash it down, and stamp it out and say, “Oh, that one's not serving me. I don't want it anymore,” because remember, your natural talents are patterns in you. They’re how you think, feel, behave at your natural default so they're gonna come out. It's like the jack in the box. Do you remember that toy that you might have had when you were a little kid, and you push this toy down into the box, close the lid, and you start turning the crank and you hear that “Du, De, Du, Du, Du, Du, Du, Du, Du, Du Du Du Du Du Du to BAM! Then that thing jumps out and scares you when you least expect it. Your talents are really just like that. If you squash them down because you think, “ah, my boss doesn't seem to like that one.”

“Ooh, I got bad feedback on that one once, so I don't want that one. I'll just put that one away.” Or you stamp it down, because you don't perceive that the culture you work in is appreciative of that talent, so you decide, “I'll just use that one at home. I’ll use that one at work.” These are all things I hear in training constantly, but the thing is it's kinda like the jack in the box. If you try to squash out those talents, they are going to jump out and scare people, because they're your natural default ways of thinking and feeling and acting, so they're going to come out. Since they're going to come out, what you want to do is spend more time refining it, nurturing it, putting it to work, send it to the gym, get others aware. Think about how that talent shows up on other people.

It really will help you invest in it, in a targeted way. For example, you take that person who mentioned that about the Communication talent. Imagine how refined it would be, if she knows who is willing to talk it out loud. She likes to talk it out. She knows the audience of people who love to talk it out with her. She can do that. But she also needs to be aware of those peers who perceive it like a waste of time because they don't like ideas that aren't well thought out. So part of it is knowing your audience. Another thing she could do is really think about different modes where she could practice her Communications talent - email, spoken word, written word. Maybe she's getting this feedback because she was taking over in meetings, and not letting anyone else have a voice. So we're taking one situation (meetings) and one mode of communication (the spoken word) and she just decided, oh, I don't want this talent at all. It’s not serving me.

Actually, she has all these other ways of applying it and refining it. You take the other example that I brought up with a guy who has the Includer talent. It was making him slow; it was making him miss deadlines,because in his way of applying it naturally, he was asking people for their opinion, but he wasn't giving them any time binding around his question. He would throw something out there in person or in an email and tell them he wanted to hear their voice, but he didn't give them a deadline. Something really specific here when he asks, now that he's refining it, he's still noticing people. He's still getting the unheard voices to be heard. He's still making people feel seen and heard and appreciated, but now he gives them deadlines, so he can also meet his commitments.

The other thing that he's been doing is running experiments for in-the-moment Includer. When he's in a meeting and he notices, everyone's spoken up except these two people, now he can say, “you know, John, we haven't heard from you, what do you think?” He started to give himself some script items that we haven't heard from you. What do you think? It's a great way to be able to feed the talent, without discarding it altogether. Don't squash them; refine them. Action item for you to apply. Now you're listening. You of course have your own personal set of talent themes, or natural strengths, that you bring to this world.

StrengthsFinder Activity: Experiment With New Ways To Use Your Talents

What's your troublemaker talent, or what is your combination of talents that kind of team up to create trouble, like I mentioned, my Maximizer and Strategic? Then, once you think of your personal answer, what experiments can you run to try them on in new ways? Remember, it's not an either/or. It's not that your strengths, or your talents, need to be turned on or off. Keep giving them new environments to play in, because the more you nurture them and experiment with them, and try them on and aim them to specific performance, the more refined they're going to be.

StrengthsFinder Activity: Work As A Team To Use Talents

Now, if you want to apply this at a team level because you're a strengths champion or you're a people manager who is awesome, here's an activity that you can do with the team.

Give everyone around the table a blank sheet of paper and then write down their troublemaker talent on that piece of paper at the top, like a title. If you've done StrengthsFinder, that would be one of your StrengthsFinder talent themes. If you haven't done StrengthsFinder then one resource on our website, you could use LeadThroughStrengths.com/adjectives, and that page gives you a bunch of words that might describe you as a person, and you can have people go through an additional exercise before you come to the meeting, where they get two or three words that define them most strongly, and usually each of those words, even though there are positively framed, they're going to have the great side of them, and they also might bring a shadow side with them.

It'll take a little extra work if you haven't done StrengthsFinder, but you can get there by reframing it into the troublemaker, out of that adjective list. Back to the sheet of paper, where you have your thing written at the top. For example, it might say Responsibility is the troublemaker talent for this person on your team. Then, they write one sentence about the trouble it's causing them; what is the pain? For example, if you had the responsibility talent, it might say, “I can't say no.” If you're leading this exercise, be sure you've thought of your own in advance so that you can model for them what yours sounds like. You can use the example I just used, and then you give your own as well, and then they'll see how to make a nice crisp problem statement.

Then what you do, just pass it to the right one time. Of course they know who it came from, because it came from the person sitting right next to them, and as it gets passed you asked for the person who receives it to come up with one way you could address the situation while still honoring the talent That part, while still honoring the talent, is important because if you pass the Responsibility paper over and the person writes, “just say the word NO,” that's not going to work for someone with the Responsibility talent, but maybe the person next to them writes something like “next time you feel yourself needing to set a boundary and having a tough time with it, imagine the other commitments this will put at risk if you say YES.”

That's more of a thinking exercise. The next person might give a different tip, but it still honors the Responsibility talent and they give them a script, some words that they might use, that would feel comfortable for someone with the Responsibility talent. So they might say something like, “next time you feel like you want to say no, but you can't find the words. Tell them, ‘Ooh, that project sounds really valuable. Let me look at my calendar and review all of my commitments and I'll get back to you by tomorrow.’” Essentially they're offering a stalling tactic, so that they can get their head together and find the right words and the right approach instead of just saying yes in the moment, so you get where I'm going here. The idea is to give the person ideas that can solve this challenge while still honoring the talent.

If you know all of your talent themes, what can be really cool with StrengthsFinder, to make this even more layered and get people learning the StrengthsFinder talent themes and get them to really honor the person, is to write all five of their talent themes in a corner and then do the same thing I already mentioned, so that when you see the person with Responsibility also has Command, also has Includer, also has Connectedness, also has Individualization. Then, you can give an answer that is, Ooh, look, this person has Individualization, so in this way the person with Responsibility would probably find it important to give a custom answer to every person who asks for something from them, so you could give them something like a formula for finding the words we're saying no, but that also allows it to be customized to the person who's receiving it, so that's the exercise. I like passing it to the right three times because you get three different layers of answers and then you send it back to the original person, and it just gives them a way of thinking about the world that isn't in their typical mind-frame. It's a nice way to help them brainstorm some potential solutions and see how other people view the same situation at work.

A final thought on troublemaker talents is to remember there's not an on and off switch as the right answer here because something's not serving you today. Don't shut it off, squash it down, stamp it out. The idea is to refine what you have. It's gonna come out anyway, like a jack in the box. It will jump out and scare people if you choose to not invest in it. So with that, I'll see you next time and I can't wait to hear how you've claimed that talent invested in it and shared it with the world.

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