The Strength to Lead!

Traits that define a good leader are numerous.  Even the definition of leadership has been debated for decades.  Successful leaders have been described as people that show confidence, that have a positive attitude, that are good listeners and insist on excellence.  Good leaders realize that accountability and responsibility are essential to success and developing others is as important as developing yourself. Making decisions is one of the most important functions performed by leaders.  Many of the activities of managers and administrators involve making and implementing decisions, including planning the work, solving technical and operational problems and creating job assignments. 

Over the years and through my experience I have come to believe that at its core, true leadership is doing the right thing and making the right decision at the right time.  Earlier this year, the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history occurred at an Orlando nightclub.  During this catastrophic event, Chief Medical Examiner Joshua Stephany had been filling in as medical examiner for Orange and Osceola counties in Florida for about a year, when he was faced with addressing the aftermath.  Dr. Stephany made the decision to separate the bodies of the 49 victims from the body of their executioner.  “There was no legal reason, no protocol” for separating the gunman, Stephany said in an interview.  “It’s just what I felt was right”. 

While everyone may not desire to take on a leadership role in an organization, it is now becoming more imperative that people within organizations be able to step up and adopt a more hands on approach to problem solving.  Twentyfirst century organizations need to be nimble and respond to challenges quickly and effectively to be successful.  In order to do so, they will need their team members to take on leadership roles to be responsive to the challenges presented. 

 In today’s work world, it is more important than ever to develop leaders within your organizations.  The increasing rate of change in the external environment of organizations and the many challenges facing leaders suggest that successful leaders will require a higher level of skill and some new competencies as well. As the need for leadership competencies increases, new techniques for developing them are being invented and old techniques are being refined.  A systems approach to leadership development will become more common as more organizations realized that this activity is strategically important for longterm organizational effectiveness. 

There has been extensive research on the effects of professional development training in organizations.  The research suggest that this usually increases job satisfaction and performance.   After decades of studying some of the most successful employees, leaders and enterprises in the world, Gallup Inc. has found that organizations achieve the highest levels of success by investing in their strongest asset – their people. 

Developing leaders in an organization offers a variety of potential benefits for the manager, the subordinate and the organization.  One benefit is to foster mutually cooperative relationships.  Potential benefits for subordinates include better job adjustment, more skill learning, greater self-confidence and faster career advancement.  The leader can gain a sense of satisfaction from helping others grow and develop.  Potential benefits for the organization include higher employee commitment, higher performance employees who are better prepared to fill positions of greater responsibility in the organization as openings occur. 

Successful organizations beyond the 21st century will be defined by how well they develop leaders within their ranks.  Employees need to collaborate across the organization to achieve organizational goals and objectives.  This often requires people to step into leadership positions to head teams and coordinate projects.  Developing leaders provides for successful succession planning, highly performing teams and successful project implementation. Organizations that develop internal leaders are better able to adapt and implement changes in the organization. 

When developing leaders, in any organization I have worked with, my successes and most effective outcomes have been when the focus is placed on employee’s strengths.  Using a strengths based approach to leadership development is the best way to instill confidence, develop leadership skills and to build a collaborative culture that supports emerging leaders in an organization. Many organizations are under using the strengths of their employees partially because they have not identified what strengths they have individually or collectively. Bringing these out in your team will be a tremendous benefit to the organization. 

Gallup’s research has shown that organizations that develop their teams around strengths see increases in employee engagement and results including 14.9% lower turnover and 12.5% greater productivity.  A strengths-based approach incorporates identifying the ways in which employees most naturally think, feel and behave and building on those talents to create strengths – the ability to consistently provide near perfect performance in a specific task. A strengths-based approach combines the requirements of the job and performance capabilities (or competencies) demanded by the organization with individuals’ strengths to optimize performance. 

Using a strengths-based approach to develop leaders in the organization is key to maximizing the potential for successful integration and the embodiment of a leadership culture.  It capitalizes on the positive outcomes that a strengths-based approach provides, such as, making progress, employees enjoying what they do and them having a high interest in their work.  By positioning employees in ways that allow them to use their strengths every day and integrating strengths into key processes and systems organizationwide will yield a multitude of benefits for the organization, including increased engagement and retention.  A strengths-based approach aligns an organizations’ policies and practices and anchors them in a common philosophy. 

As we talk about developing leaders, what it really comes down to is outcomes.  When the circumstances arise or as in the crisis in Orlando, will the people in your organization stand up in leadership roles to do the right thing and make a positive difference?  Will they use their strengths to act with confidence and resolve to advance the organization’s goals and vision?  When Dr. Stephany made the decision that he did he didn’t do it for notoriety; he didn’t do it because he had to; he did it because it was the right thing to do and he was truly serving the people that he was hired to serve.  Dr. Stephany used his strengths to lead with dignity and conviction.  

Larry Hammond, Sr. – Certified StrengthsFinder Coach and Principal with V1H Consulting. 

The Simple Engagement Tool You Can’t Ignore!


An overall look at employee engagement:

A new 2016 Gallup Report, “State of Local and State Government Workers’ Engagement” shows current employee engagement and disengagement figures in 43 states. The findings illustrate the need for these governments to find strategies to help curb disengagement.

Engagement is one of the key areas that local and state government leaders can invest in and according to Gallup can’t afford not to. They found that employee disengagement costs the U.S. economy roughly half a trillion dollars a year.

Although these numbers are overwhelming on one level, let us take a look at one organization that I can personally attest to in my previous work. As a manager in local government, my personal goal was the importance of dispelling the notion that public employees are less productive. Striving to change the way people view service delivery in the public sector.  One of the most effective ways that I found to accomplish this was by working to find the best in people by accentuating their unique qualities. 

Engagement in government is critical

Engagement in government is critical

It’s no secret that managing in the public sector is different from managing in the world of business.  When determining the best approach to improve staff engagement and motivation, the culture in the organization is a critical element in how improvements are made.  This is especially important in the public sector environment.  State, county and local government organizations have the special responsibilities of providing unique services to their respective communities. Governmental entities tend to have a monopoly on the services they provide, such as, police, fire and transportation, which often negates the competitive element and serves as a disincentive to innovate and to be creative. According to Gallup’s report 29% of full-time state and local government employees are engaged at work and this includes police, firefighters, teachers and city and state officials, but 71% of all employees are not in these kinds of jobs. 

When compared to the private sector, public sector entities often lack the kinds of incentives and opportunities that would allow for potential monetary impetus to motivate employees, as well as, other potential benefits.  Many join the private sector with the expectation of earning significant amounts of money while many enter public service to serve others – managing the two are quite different.  It is certainly true that many public sector employees are driven by the desire to serve their communities or that they are inspired by a yearning to help others.

This begs the question as to how public employees stay engaged and stay motivated.  Realizing that monetary incentives are not always the answer, they can be somewhat limited in the public arena.  With these financial constraints – pay raises, stock options, bonuses and other perks, government managers have fewer options to motivate and keep employees engaged.  Faced with this reality, government managers need to focus on agency missions and impact while finding other nonfinancial means to reward employees.  Managers must motivate staff by involving them in the decision making process and helping them to see and appreciate their individual contributions within the organization.

Great management always begins with understanding the unique characteristics of the workforce, figuring out what makes employees tick and creating an environment in which they can and want to do their best work.  Despite prevailing negative attitudes about government workers – that they are overpaid and underworked - many public sector employees find their careers rewarding.  A Harvard Business Review study reported that public sector employees are more motivated by job content, self-development, recognition, autonomy, interesting work, and the chance to learn new things.  Research has shown that public servants find meaning in their work by making a positive difference in the lives of the citizens that they serve.

That being said, government tends to have fewer ways to measure progress and success.  Since there are no profits to count and measuring spending does not necessarily equal success, progress is calibrated by using various performance measures. While, at times, in the public sector it is hard to measure achievement, seeing that progress is made is crucial to operational efficiency.  There are few things that are more engaging than making important progress towards stated goals and objectives.  I would argue that, in the public sector, it is the most important thing.

In many cases, in the public sector, there is an effort to make employees well rounded to give them the ability to work in multiple areas.  These employees are also subjected to managers that focus on fixing weaknesses as opposed to developing their strengths.  This is self-evident in the performance appraisal process were employees are told that in order to advance their career that they must broaden their skill set.  Many appraisals include words of congratulation for a year of excellent performance, but later, the conversation changes to how to improve in areas where the employee struggles. 

A case for making a change:

Focusing on Strengths equals more engagement. 

Focusing on Strengths equals more engagement. 

In the work that I do now, I help people find their strengths.  I have learned that individuals, teams and organizations function better when each person is working in their strength zones while avoiding areas of weakness.  Doing this also plays a major role in the success or failure of an individual, team or organization.  According to a previous Gallup report, employees who receive strengths feedback have turnover rates that are 14.9% less than employees that receive no feedback or negative feedback.  I believe that it is a leader’s responsibility to facilitate a strengths based approach to management.  Using this approach, people are more fulfilled, confident, productive, focused and engaged.  The most effective managers invest in their employees’ strengths.

When managers focus on strengths:

  1. They increase awareness of the collective and individual strengths of members of their staff
  2. They increase the application of strengths and track performance through this application
  3. They create partnerships that allow for gaps in strengths by paring staff with varying talents

In order to be effective in the public sector teams need to be highly collaborative and have a number of complementary partnerships.  Having effective collaborative teams is imperative to ensuring that these organizations are successful.

Strengths-based teams:

  1. Are able to collaborate more effectively while achieving greater performance
  2. Have clear and compelling goals and outcomes and are more productive, creative and adaptive

  3. Create sustained growth and success by continuously investing in each other’s strengths

Using a strengths-based approach in the public sector is the best solution because, as mentioned, the reasons that people work in public service can be quite different than the reasons they work in private industry.  In Simon Sinek’s book, “Start with Why”, Sinek asserts that understanding the purpose of what you do (“the why”) is key to achieving excellence in any organization.  He points out that making money is a result and is not “the why”.   The public sector can often have a hard time identifying its “why” or how to sustain its purpose.  Public servants need to be clear as to who they serve, why they do what they do and why people should care.  This means that public servants need to clearly understand that what they bring to the organization matters and that they are empowered to make appropriate decisions.  They need to be emotionally and psychologically engaged at work to be truly successful and effective.

A cost effective, viable solution:

In government, there is not much room for error.  The things that you do are often viewed through the lenses of an inquiring public that wants to know how their hard earned tax dollars are being spent.  Leaders who run these programs must use whatever is at their disposal to be successful.  Then I pose the question, what if they could leverage more of who they already are in order to accomplish their missions?  In a recent research study, the Gallup organization found that employees and leaders were 6 times more likely to be engaged and productive by understanding their strengths, applying their strengths and being provided opportunities to practice their strengths.  Also, teams that are actively engaged in intentional strengths based experiences see overall performance improve up to 30% (Wagner & Harter, 2006).

In today’s demanding workplace, people not only need to work hard but they need to bring creativity and insight into their efforts. (Peter Drucker says that is what a knowledge economy is all about).  Creativity and insight requires hearts and minds commitment.  Therefore, innovative solutions to problems calls for people to be fully engaged and to care about their purpose.  This requires a spur beyond the merely monetary.

Using a Strength based approach is making the potential a reality.

Using a Strength based approach is making the potential a reality.

Real engagement, doesn’t flow from trying to convince yourself that what you are doing will change the world for the better.  True empowerment must be sought in how the scope of your work allows you to reach your highest potential.  Meaning in work isn’t vested in the product or outcome, but rather in how the daily experience of doing your work helps you to develop as a human being.  By exercising autonomy and allowing people to work in their strengths, is the key to topnotch engagement and employee motivation.  Having the confidence that is garnered by working in your strengths is paramount to successful execution.  Honing and developing what is best in employees is the right formula for sustained excellence.  In as much as people need to see value in what they do, they also need to see themselves as better people for having done the work that they do.  Incorporating a strengths based approach into employee development programs in the public sector gets at the heart of creating engaged teams and workers that are committed to organizational excellence and achieving progress.

Larry Hammond, Sr. – Certified StrengthsFinder Coach and Principal with V1H Consulting.

Find out more about strengths based workshops and training in our services area.



Write here...

StrengthsFinder® - A Language to Excel

In a time when technology, through Twitter™, Snapchat™ and Facebook™, has broadened channels of communication, it seems that direct communication between individuals has been stifled.  Not too long ago, my daughter, who is a student at Loyola Marymount University (LMU), in Los Angeles, California, came into my home office, saw the StrengthsFinder 2.0 book, by Tom Rath, on my desk and she said, “we are using that same book at school”.  To my surprise, this began a long discussion about the book, how she was using it in class and her strengths.  We laughed and joked about how her strengths had manifested over the years and how her top strengths are instrumental in helping her thrive at the film school at LMU.  This encounter raised my curiosity about what they were doing at the university as it relates to StrengthsFinder®.  To learn more, I contacted Mr. Anthony J. Garrison-Engbrecht, the Director of Leadership Programs & LGBT Student Services to set up an interview.  Mr. Garrison-Engbrecht and his team administer the Ignatian Leadership Institute within the department of Student Leadership & Development at the university.  The students enrolled in the leadership program are all young leaders (about 300 in total each semester).  They are members of a variety of student organizations including the student government associations (ASLMU), greek life and other campus affiliations.

Mr. Garrison-Engbrecht begins the interview by explaining that the StrengthsFinder® methodology came highly recommended by the university’s business department.  He says that their team looked at several personality assessment programs, such as, Myers Briggs®, DISC® and others and after an extensive review they determined that StrengthsFinder® was the best tool to augment their leadership curriculum.  At the beginning of the semester, each student in the program takes the Gallup StrengthsFinder® assessment.  After identifying their strength talents, he says that the students’ conversations opened up dramatically, especially when they discuss how their strengths relate to their particular life circumstances. The leadership team recognizes the importance of each student’s participation in the development of his or her own leadership skills.  Mr. Garrison-Engbrecht tells his students, “these classes are about you; you should all get A’s because you are an expert on you”.  Students come to LMU with unlimited possibilities and abound in gifts and tools which will allow them to grow into the leaders of tomorrow.  The Ignatian Leadership Institute helps these young people unwrap their gifts and sharpen their tools so that they will succeed in their endeavors and that StrengthsFinder® has been a key ingredient in this formula.

With a desired goal of helping students live with a positive purpose, Mr. Garrison-Engbrecht and his team see their role as guiding students on their respective paths in life - “like bumpers in a bowling alley”.  Mr. Garrison-Engbrecht, is inspired by a passion for cultivating and grounding his students in a philosophy that their “lived experiences” are just as important as their formal educational.  He believes that by linking the two will help students to become effective leaders in the community and find their respective callings to effect positive social change.

Mr. Garrison-Engbrecht asserts that we often hear about how “Jane” is a great soccer player or that “John” is a fantastic office worker but that these interpretations don’t give you a deeper knowledge about the person.  StrengthsFinder® helps students to get past these nonspecific descriptions and move to definitions that talk about how “Jane”, who has a strength of “maximizer”, helps bring out the best in her teammates and how “John”, who has a strength of “harmony”, helps to bring consensus within group settings.  Conversations that emphasize strengths help the students to see the possibilities that they bring within themselves.  By using their strengths and the strengths of others, they can find new and creative ways to solve problems and to tackle adversities.

In this age of computers and cell phones, it’s gratifying to have opportunities to engage in real conversations.  A discussion with my daughter about our strengths and what makes us the best of who we are turned out to be an inspiring engagement.  At LMU, Mr. Garrison-Engbrecht says that StrengthsFinder® gives students a language to better describe what makes them special.  He talks about how the leadership program helps these future leaders, through StrengthsFinder®, discover a “language” that allows them to express their “best selves” in their conversations.  He believes that by emphasizing their strengths and then by linking them to solid positive core values and beliefs, that he is truly giving them “A Language to Excel”.

By Larry Hammond Sr...2016 V1H Consulting®