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Tim Hebert
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January 27, 2017

Understanding Your Strengths – Balconies vs Basements

Screenshot 2017-01-27 16.37.05.pngMy good friend, Jorge Garcia, and I have been students of strengths-based psychology for many years. This type of psychology suggests that when people understand their inherent strengths, they can focus on what they do best and thereby enjoy greater success.

We—perhaps you as well—rely on the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment to uncover our core strengths, as well as the strengths of our colleagues. We have learned how to use this knowledge to improve our performance, become better leaders and build more effective and productive teams. For all you current and aspiring leaders out there, the concept of strengths-based psychology is one you might want to explore in the New Year.

 

In fact, Jorge and I enjoy strengths-based psychology so much that this year we embarked upon a journey to become Certified Strength Coaches. During the process, we found that in addition to embodying a love of strengths coaching, we are avid Star Wars fans.

So, “May the Force Be With You…”

For all you Star Wars aficionados out there, December not only represents the peak of the holiday season and the ushering in of a New Year, but also the release of the newest Star Wars movie, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” 

Though it may not seem obvious, there is an uncanny similarity between the notion of strengths—or inherent talents—and the Force that exists within the Star Wars universe. And, in honor of our passion, and oh yes, the new Star Wars movie, it seems like a fitting analogy to explore.

Download: Surviving the IT Talent Deficit: How to Come Out on Top 

The Force

For those unfamiliar with the Star Wars mythology, the Force is an energy field created by all living beings, and it binds everything together, and certain individuals can tap in to the Force and use it for positive or negative gain. Some characters have raw talent in using the Force—like Luke, Finn and Rey—and need to be trained in how to use the force more successfully. Other characters—think Obi Wan and Yoda—are more experienced and can leverage it to do some pretty incredible things. They have mature talent when it comes to the Force.

The strengths that we leverage in our professional and personal lives are much the same: they can be raw talents that are unrefined and remain dormant, or they can become mature talents that you can use to your competitive advantage. Let’s explore further…

Raw Versus Mature Talents

Consider Michael Jordan for a moment, arguably one of the greatest basketball players of all time. From the time he was young, Michael Jordan possessed innate basketball skills. But in his early years, he couldn’t pull his raw talent together. In fact, he got cut from his high school basketball team because he lacked the ability to execute against his raw talent! It wasn’t until he went to college—and focused on training and development—that he became one of the top 10 basketball players of all time. In other words, he matured his talent.

As we develop a greater understanding of our strengths, we carry a responsibility to mature our talents to foster the growth of our inherent strengths.

Raw talent is talent that is free-flowing, young and inexperienced and, therefore, does not drive the highest levels of productivity. This type of talent may cause you to constantly question your decisions and seldom feel resolute; or it may cause you to not recognize the lessons that can be learned amidst failure.

Conversely, mature talent is talent that is practiced, experienced and allows you to enjoy near-perfect execution. Those that are so in tune to their strengths can use them in the perfect way to get the perfect outcome consistently.

Basements and Balconies

As you look to mature your strengths, you also want to be mindful of over- or under-using your talents. Gallup contends that each one of the StrengthsFinder themes has 

  • Balconies: These are the positive characteristics of a theme that an individual tends to think about
  • Basements: These are the vulnerabilities of a strength that can manifest when a strength is misused or mismanaged

When you mature your strengths, and focus on the maximizing the use of that strength, you spend more time in the balcony – the sweet spot. It is then that you get the best possible outcomes and achieve the best performance. Consequently, when you have not developed your strengths, and rely on the undisciplined application of your strengths, you find yourself in basement and often your overall performance suffers.

Related: Five Killers of Corporate Culture

As Jorge and I developed this blog, we shared moments in our careers when our strengths were a liability instead of an asset. We discovered that several of our core strengths were being over or underutilized, thus resulting in our basement performance. We both found that in the heat of the moment we thought that we were working to our strengths but upon close inspection (when failure or less than ideal performance set in), we were dwelling in the basement attributes of our strength.

One of my core strength theme is Maximizer, or the talent of transforming something strong into something superb. I am on the never-ending quest from good to great, believing that even if someone does something superhuman, there are ways to improve upon that. I push myself and those around me to strive for excellence – for perfection. On this surface this sounds great and just what the doctor ordered.

Consider for a moment, that my team just did the impossible and rose to the occasion solving a major client problem. And as accolades are being dole out, I say “That was great, but how could we have done a better job?”; “How could we have done the faster?”; or “There was a more efficient way to get this job done.” To me, this is just a natural part of the conversation.

But consider the employee or employees involved. Is this what they want to hear from their leader at this moment? I think not. Instead of keeping the employee(s) who just accomplished amazing feats inspired and motivated, I can take away from his or her experience.

Likewise, Jorge has experienced similar challenges falling into the basement when using his strengths throughout his career. The Includer theme is one of his most dominate strengths which makes him naturally adept at including people and making them feel part of the group. But in the whirlwind, he can easily forget to bring the right stakeholders into the situation at the right time. His focus is on moving fast, getting to the finish line and overcoming significant obstacles—at times at the expense of missing an important stakeholder in the process.

As we spoke, Jorge and I realized that I tend to over use or rely too heavily on my strengths, whereas Jorge tends under use his.

If you think of your strengths as a dial on a radio, you can completely control the volume, and depending to what you are listening to, you can find the perfect setting. If you turn the dial all the way down, you can no longer hear the music. That is an example of underutilizing a strength, which is the situation Jorge described. Conversely, if you turn the dial all the way up, the music becomes distorted and loses its quality—much as I was describing earlier. It’s only when you become sophisticated in understanding how to utilize your strengths, and practice that art, that you arrive at the perfect cacophony.

Bringing Strengths to Your Team

For the past few months, Jorge and I have been spending a great deal of time working on rolling out StrengthsFinders to both Atrion and Carousel. When I think of the greater impact our teams can have once understanding their strengths (the Force is strong in them), I am exhilarated.

Like in the Star Wars movies, there are so many “everyday characters,” the Luke Skywalkers of our organizations, who don’t realize they have the Force within them. Rather, it takes other people to recognize their innate strengths so that they can develop them into mature talents.

Stay tuned as in the coming weeks we will dive deeper into how to stay on the balcony, recognize the raw and mature talents of those on your team, and build teams that play off each other’s strengths.

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