Increasingly being an effective manager is about helping others to be their best. People’s natural strengths are at the heart of great performance. While there are great psychometrics around to assess people’s strengths they aren’t always available, suitable, or affordable. A pack of strengths cards is portable, re-useable and infinitely applicable. Below are eight ways managers can use a pack of strengths card to enhance their effectiveness.
Ideas For Using Your Strengths Cards
1. Coaching: Creating confidence, resilience, motivation and performance
Coaching for performance is an important part of any manager’s role. Bringing strengths cards into the coaching conversation can help create a positive focus and stimulate a conversation about an individual’s particular strengths. By exploring past successes and helping an individual recognise the particular personal strengths that consistently underlie their successes, you enhance their self-confidence and resilience as they recognise and own their own particular performance assets. By focussing on how these assets can be realised in future performance, you both create motivation for the challenge and enhance their likelihood of succeeding.
For example: Ask someone to share their greatest achievement or success in the area under discussion then spread the cards out on the table and together identify the strengths that allowed them to achieve that success and then identify with them the ones that really resonate with them as being an essential contributor of their successes. The strengths they are happy to own.
2. Coaching: For personal and career development
Managers are increasingly responsible not just for an individual’s ‘in-role’ performance, but also for their career development. An exploration of an individual’s real highlight moments in their career so far, and an analysis of the strengths at play in those moments, can help someone understand what they need to develop a satisfying career: ever more opportunity to play to, and utilise, their strengths in the service of personally important goals. Assessed from this perspective, different future paths can open up, and existing ones become more or less attractive.
For example: Invite the person to talk to you about their career highlights, spend some time identifying the strengths that contributed to these highlights then imagine what their future career will look like if they can use these strengths to achieve things that are important to them. Ask them to imagine what will they be doing, where will they be working and who with, how they will be spending their time. Then together you can identify a possible future career goal and how to get there.
3. Team Development: Creating an economy of strengths, increasing capability
Team members can find themselves restricted in using their strengths by the division of work by role. In the worst case scenario a particular task falls to someone because it’s ‘in their remit’ despite the fact that they have no natural talent (or strengths) to support them in this task. Usually the result is that the task is done very slowly (or rushed) using tremendous energy and effort (or none) to at best a mediocre standard. Once a team understands all its members natural strengths, they can operate as an economy of strengths, meaning it can allocate and share tasks according to the strengths-fit increasing both the effectiveness and efficiency of the team and the productivity of individual members.
For example: Help each team member to identify their strengths using questions like 'When have you felt most alive at work?' Then follow the processes as above. Once everyone has identified their strength, create a map of the strengths of the members of the team. There will be overlap. Then they can then analyse the tasks the tea has to perform against what strengths are needed for each task and allocate them accordingly.
4. Performance Appraisal: Motivating people to be their best
Performance appraisals are meant to be motivating. Too often they are the exact opposite. This is partly due to an over-emphasis on analysing problems and failures in the past, and partly due to an emphasis on creating a list of future tasks. Shifting the focus to helping people identify the best of the past, and the strengths they display in achieving those successes, and then constructing a vision of the future based on how they could access and utilise those strengths even more in the future will help switch the conversation from de-motivating and de-energising to motivating and energising. This is because people find using (and the anticipation of using) their strengths motivating and energising. Use the cards to help someone explore, name and own their particular strengths that allow them to succeed.
For example: Invite the person to share when they have been most excited about their work or what they are working on (not whether it succeeded or not). Spread the cards out and together identify the strengths that underpin these most motivated moments. Help them identify future goals, targets or projects that create the same sense of excitement because they will call on the same strengths. Help align these to organisational priorities - so everyone wins.
5. Motivating Mirco-moments
Effective managers know that every interaction with someone acts to motivate or de-motivate them, to encourage change or to support the status quo. By increasing your strengths spotting skills, and your appreciative ear, you can increase the motivational encounters your staff experience with you. By understanding your people as a profile of strengths (rather than as their job profile) you can notice when they are using their strengths, or help them access them when they aren’t. With an appreciative ear you can help them notice what they did right, or what went well, even in difficult situations.
For example: Spread the cards out and think about one of your staff and about the most clear memory you have of being impressed with something they did at work. Look at the cards, and think about what strengths the staff member was using when they did this. They will have been motivated both by their success and the very process of using their strengths so if you spot the next time they are using these strengths and mention it, they will be motivated by the fact that you can see when they're at their best. Practice ‘spotting’ the different strengths as you encounter your staff at work, you’ll soon get the hang of it!
6. Elevate mood to elevate performance
As a generalisation people perform better when they feel better. This isn’t about job satisfaction, this is about momentary states of wellbeing. When people feel good they are more curious, more tenacious, more sociable, and better able to cope with complexity. They have more energy, they are more generous with others. Having a conversation with an individual or a team that is focused on past or present successes is likely to elevate mood in the moment. By going a step further and identifying the strengths at the core of the success you are increasing the likelihood of a replication of these success, as people understand better what made them possible. This is also likely to elevate mood.
For example: Have a session where members of a team are asked to recount a time when another team member made a big contribution towards the success of the team. Use the cards to help people offer feedback to each other about the strengths they were struck by in this person's account. Take it from there.
7. Leadership: Know thyself
It is well known that effective leaders recognise their own shortcomings, and work to limit the damage they can cause. It is less appreciated that great leaders also know their strengths, and how to use them well. When a leader knows, and owns, their strengths they are more able to work to use them wisely and judiciously. They also better understand that other people don’t have this strength: that what is easy for them can be harder for others. They can become more forgiving of others. They can gather people around them that can help them exercise their strengths appropriately, and ameliorate their weaknesses. Use strengths cards to help leaders understand their own strengths and develop control and skill in using them, and to understand that other people are blessed differently.
For example: Sit down with the leader of one of your teams and explore with them which of their strengths contributed to a recent success of the team (see point 1). Then go a step further and ask them to name someone who also contributed to this success and explore their strengths. It should dawn on the leader that the reason they were both instrumental in this success wasn't just that they had some of the same strengths, which were suited to the job at hand, but also that they had some different but, in this context, complimentary strengths and so each to some degree offset the weaknesses of the other.
8. Recasting Problematic Behaviour: Strengths in overdrive
Sometimes difficult behaviour is caused by an out of control strength. The person who never gets their own work done because they are too busy helping others: empathy in overdrive. The person who seems to want to have a say in every issue whether it concerns them or not: leadership in overdrive. Understanding that sometimes people aren’t in control of their strengths, that their very strengths are the things that leads them into trouble gives us a different place to go with the conversation. We can recognise the strength as a general asset, then focus on how to use it wisely. Strength plus skill in using the strength is key to great performance.
For example: This is a damage limitation exercise - someone has caused problems and needs to be told that they need to modify their behaviour. What you can do is start the conversation not with the problems they've caused but by investigating their strengths (see point 1.) and then have a look at the cards and see if the behaviour in question can be recast as a strength in overdrive, then you have somewhere different to take the conversation and should have a better chance of getting an actual genuine attempt to modify behaviour and not just sullen temporary withdrawal.
Sarah Lewis is the owner and principal psychologist of Appreciating Change. She is author of ‘Positive Psychology at Work’ and ‘Positive Psychology for Change’ both published by Wiley. She is also the lead author of Appreciative Inquiry for Change Management, by Kogan Page, the second edition is out in September.
Much more about strengths and managerial techniques such as the ones mentioned here can be found in Sarah’s new book Positive Psychology and Change
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