Tim Hebert
December 14, 2016

Leadership: How to Build a Great Team By Focusing on Strengths

My dreams of being a rock star started in third grade. There was the opportunity to join the school band, and I seized it—and so began my journey to rock stardom!

What makes a great leader? Operational Excellence Insights

I started with the saxophone and played until I graduated high school. Though I was persistent in my quest to stardom, I was never good at playing. I lacked something… some may call it rhythm (you should watch me try to dance!). And so, my dreams of becoming a rock star started slipping away.

One day, after a particularly difficult band practice, I was extremely frustrated. My mother tried to ease my agitation and took my saxophone to demonstrate how hard it was to play. But, after 10 minutes, she was playing “America the Beautiful” flawlessly—something I had failed to master over the past four weeks. My mother had an innate musical ability, something I would never possess even with 10,000 hours of perfect practice. 

An Awakening

My journey to rock star status was my first introduction to the notion of positive-strength philosophy, whereby your strengths are identified by the ability to provide near-perfect performance in a specific activity consistently. Though I was not destined to be a rock star, I did discover that I could easily understand the mathematical construct of music. The key to pinpointing a strength is to identify your dominant talents, then complement them by acquiring knowledge and skills pertinent to the activity.

Needless to say, I survived the high school band, joined the Air Force and subsequently sold my saxophone.

What Are Strengths?

My band experience taught me several lessons about strengths. First, every person possesses a number of universal personal-character attributes, or “talent themes,” that when combined with intentional focus, practice and investment result in an individual’s tendency to develop certain skills more quickly. For me, music was never my thing, but I found my love for mathematics which led me down a path of engineering, software development and eventually, information technology.

Also, I came to realize that great bands play to the strengths of their bandmates with perfect balance. A few years ago, I found myself on my first visit to New Orleans, sitting at Preservation Hall listening to few musicians play some Delta Blues and Dixieland jazz. As the night wore on, more players made their way into the hall—instruments in tow—jumping in and out of the performance. Each musician had a role to play to contribute to the overall strength of the band.

In the business world, great teams are like a great orchestra. When every member plays to his or her unique strengths, a beautiful harmony is created.

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What Are Strengths Domains?

I would like to bring up the concept of the Clifton Strengths Finder assessment, and how it helps people understand their inherent strengths (click here for more). The test posits that there are 34 core strengths any individual can possess and that by answering a series of questions you can uncover your top five.

According to the latest research, the 34 StrengthsFinder themes fall into one of four domains: Execution, Influence, Relationship Building, and Strategic Thinking. Some people will find their top five falls all in one zone, while others span across the four domains. And true business outcomes can be derived when you understand not only where your strengths lie from a domain standpoint, but where the strengths of your team reside.

Let’s dig into the four domains a bit deeper…

The four domains all leaders should know

To better understand and explain the four domains of strength, here is a brief rundown of each…

  • Executing: Often known as the “get ‘er done” individuals, these folks are inherently strong in execution. They tend to get things done with speed, precision, and accuracy and put in the hard work now, so that when it’s time to move, they are ready.
  • Influencing: This is the group that makes things happen. They can take charge, speak up and, most importantly, be heard. These are the folks you want in the room when you need to reach a broader audience or meet a bigger goal as they can influence others to act.
  • Relationship Building: Those strong in the relationship building themes have an innate ability to take the human component into the equation. They look at how individuals fit into the bigger pictures and can create pathways for them to thrive. They make strong relational connections that bind a group together around a cause, idea or each other.
  • Strategic Thinking: When a plan needs to be made, or a new idea created for solving a problem, those strong in strategic thinking can help accomplish that. Whether it’s solving a current problem, or dreaming about how to overcome tomorrow’s challenge, the strategic thinking themes can take a thought or idea and look for the best way to move forward.

(To figure out the domains in which your strengths fall, I encourage you to take the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment)

Being a great leader means building great teams based on strengthsWhen you understand your strength domains, you have a better understanding as to how you can contribute meaningfully to your organization. What’s more, successful teams also comprehend the strengths of their peers and how to harness those strengths collectively.

In my experience, I’ve found that effective teams have a blend among the four domains, thereby possessing a diverse array of strengths. It’s true that I have people on my team that have strengths in a single domain like strategic thinking. These individuals have been of great help in charting Atrion’s future, solving critical business challenges and creating new and innovative initiatives. But boy do they suck at execution! Therefore, it’s important that we have others in leadership that are strongest in execution. This is how we achieve a balance between vision and outcomes.

Optimizing Operational Leadership Teams- Strategies for building a strong team

Building Your Team

As you look to build your team—or evolve your existing one—it’s important to understand the strengths of your team members and their correlating domains. Armed with this knowledge, we as leaders can know when to tap into the strengths of others, when to push for empowerment and how to keep our teams in their natural zones to produce the best possible outcomes.

My top five strengths (Maximizer, Individualization, Strategic, Learner and Achiever) fall among several of the domains. But with Strategic and Learner both resting in the Strategic Thinking domain, I tend to over-utilize my strengths in this area at the expense of executing. So, when I am building a team, I need to create more balance around the Execution domain. I may not be a rock star, but I have learned to be a great conductor in bringing my teams together to focus on our strengths and create balance. As a result, for over 31 years, we have created the most amazing music.

What about you… what music do you hope to create? Are you aware of your team’s strengths and their connecting domains? I’d love to hear from you. You can reach out to me directly at thebert@atrion.com.

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