“You cannot be anything you want to be - but you can be a whole lot more of who you already are.”
Like many companies, we spend a lot of time thinking about how to cultivate and practice leadership. We have retreats and meetings, but hands-down the biggest influence on our leadership approach is to encourage everyone, at every level, to lead from their strengths.
Strengths-based leadership is a concept you might have heard before. It’s gained momentum over the last few years as companies began embracing StrengthsFinder, an assessment and guide that helps identify a team member’s top strengths, allowing management to tap into the natural talents of its employees. Individual team members take the test, share results with managers and peers, spend some time reflecting, and then dig back into pressing deadlines and business of the day without making any substantial adjustments. If this has been your experience or if this mentality sounds familiar to other HR exercises you’ve participated in, you aren’t alone. It was my experience at earlier gigs, too. Sure, it’s helpful in the moment, but it ultimately falls short of its potential -- and then, inevitably, so do the team members.
Because of this, Torrent set out to bake the strength-based approach into our culture at a foundational level. We wanted to align people’s talents and passions with the right projects and teams because we believe it increases employee satisfaction and leads to better work. Most importantly, we know our customers can feel that Torrent Guides love what they do, helping us build meaningful relationships and trust.
Fake It Until You Make It Actually, Please Don’t
I was the third employee at Torrent Consulting and today lead the Springfield, Missouri hub. When I think about my contributions to Torrent, our team, and our clients, I know I’m responsible to lead effectively. According to StrengthsFinder, these are my strengths:
Notice that woo (winning others over) isn’t on the list. As much as I would love to possess the power to woo people, it just - quite literally - isn’t my strength. I’m never going to have a reputation for being a social butterfly or delivering a Braveheart-level inspirational speech. I certainly won’t be especially good at flattering a prospect into buying something. And that’s okay.
Instead of force-fitting myself into the idea of a leader that naturally woos, I play to my strengths. Because I’m naturally competitive, I want to win. Because I’m a Maximizer, I want to figure out how to take work from good to great. Because I’m Futuristic and Strategic, I like to think ahead and paint a vision of a better future. Because I’m a Relator, I like to foster a few deep relationships. Together, these strengths help me to find genuine connection with teams, clients and partners, lay out a clear vision and path to meet it, then drive us toward being the best at what we do.
(A little more like it.)
Creating a Strength-Based Company Culture
So how has Torrent made strengths-based leadership our M.O.? Here are a few examples how:
Hiring Process - Many people can be very successful on a project or in a company by operating from different strengths, so we don’t hire based on strengths alone. That would be a bit misguided. Instead, we talk to people about the strengths they possess (and quite early in the interview process we have candidates take StrengthsFinder 2.0). We listen for whether they are self-aware enough to understand what they are good at, how to bring their talents to bear in the role, and how to keep improving.
Coaching Sessions - Performance reviews are an important element of helping an organization’s talent blossom. At Torrent, we have coaching sessions (our lingo for ‘performance reviews’) quarterly, but also on a project-basis so that teams can reflect and share feedback at the midpoint and end of a project. Strengths are a central element of these sessions. Every Torrent Guide rates themselves and receives feedback on how well they’re operating from their strengths.
Shared Language - We can’t make it very far together if we don’t understand what the other person means. By embedding StrengthsFinder into our everyday approach, our entire team develops a common language and a shared understanding to draw on. For example, take the often dreaded task of cleaning up Salesforce data. This came up awhile back and a team member said, “Allison is an Arranger and great at sorting things out. Do you think she’d give this a try?” She did and, lo and behold, not only was she good at it but she enjoyed doing it. The power of a shared language is that it leads to faster problem solving.
We found that “fake it until you make it” is just bad advice. Instead, we encourage people to be real with themselves and with others. Know your strengths, lean into them, and share them. This approach has many benefits:
- It gives people freedom to not be good at everything. Recognizing there are things you’re good at and things you aren’t good at does not kill your potential, it channels it.
- It gives people freedom to talk about what they are good at without seeming arrogant. Sometimes we want to have a false humility to seem polite. When there’s trust and a shared language it’s nice (and efficient) to be able to say, “I’m good at ___. I’ll take it on.”
- It gives people opportunity to succeed and build confidence. Tackling challenges with the style and strength that’s yours means you aren’t trying to fit a mold. You’re making the mold and building cred along the way.
- It makes for more complementary teams. Building and blending strengths into a multi-talented team means everyone has an important role to play. This, in turn, fosters respect and admiration for their contributions.
- It helps you win. The biggest opportunities for success come from focusing on and building on your strengths rather than trying to correct your weaknesses.
If you don’t know your strengths, find out. You can stop at your local bookstore or hop over to Amazon to get a copy of StrengthsFinder 2.0. Each book comes with a unique access code to take the online test.
Have you gone through the StrengthsFinder process? What are your strengths? How are you applying them to your organization? Drop us a line or comment below.
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