Margaret Greenberg, MAPP '06, founded The Greenberg Group, an organizational effectiveness consulting practice, in 1997. Margaret specializes in coaching executives and their teams using a strengths-based approach. Full bio. Her solo articles are here.
Senia Maymin, MAPP '06 is an executive coach to entrepreneurs and CEOs. Her PhD is in organizational behavior from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Full bio. Her solo articles are here, and her articles with Kathryn Britton are here.
Changing the Questions
Since this month’s topic is on change, we thought about how business leaders can change the questions they ask. Here are some ways business leaders can bring a more positive, strengths-focus to their organization.
Do We Reflect the Questions We See Around Us?
“Had we just started with a workshop on strengths, it would have failed miserably. Instead we realized we had to explain what we expected of our managers and then let them decide if they wanted to play this role. Many opted out – they were technical leaders, and managing others just wasn’t in their DNA.”
~ Business Division Leader
Becoming a strength-based organization isn’t about implementing some program du jour. It’s a way of being – a way of leading. Leaders must first acknowledge and model their own strengths. Only then can a leader truly appreciate and leverage the strengths of others. But why is this so difficult for some of us?
Because many of us view the world through a deficit lens and are constantly asking questions like: What’s missing? What isn’t right? What needs fixing? Some of us spend way more attention and energy on the negative (as opposed to focusing on growth). We are keen at finding fault. Think about this:
- What do people (or you for that matter) focus on when they get their 360 Feedback Results? They skim over their strengths and obsess over their weaknesses or development opportunities.
- What do people focus on when they get Employee Survey results? The bottom 10%.
- What do parents of school-aged children focus on when report cards come home? On the four A’s or the one C?
How Can We Change Our Questions?
“Working hard to manage weaknesses, while sometimes necessary, will only help us prevent failure. It will not help us reach excellence.” ~ Dr. Martin Seligman, the University of Pennsylvania
Becoming a strengths-based organization is a journey of self-exploration. Many of us may already lead from a place of strengths, are reaping the benefits, and want to learn more from the latest research. Great! For others, approaching work with a focus on strengths may be a real stretch.
Here are some questions strength-based organizations focus on daily:
- How can we capitalize on strengths? Where are people’s natural talents and proclivities? Where can people get excited about their job AND be most productive?
- How can we manage around weaknesses? Weaknesses are not ignored, rather they are understood and as best-selling author Marcus Buckingham says “neutralized.”
- How can we align work with people’s passions? When people are allowed to do what they do best both the employee and the company win!
- How do we share what’s working? We all talk about sharing “best practices”, but we rarely do it. In strength-based organizations success stories are broadly shared and there are structures, both informal and formal, to do so.
- How do we recognize accomplishments? Both big and small. Giving rewards for results and outcomes is only natural, and tying strengths-based performance to the bottom line excites the team while building the company.
- How do we encourage building positive relationships? What Professor Jane Dutton at the University of Michigan calls “high quality connections.” In strength-based organization HOW you do your work is as important as WHAT you do.
- How can we encourage viewing the future optimistically? Numerous studies link optimism to higher productivity, more personal success, and even better health. Strength-based organizations are hopeful of their future and take actions to ensure that it is. Without an optimistic view there is no hope, no reason to stretch, and no belief that the organization can rally to achieve its vision.
“I Buy Into All This”
Suppose you buy into all this, and you want to start implementing. As coaches, we have seen a few caveats along the way. In the comments section, we would love to hear what you would do first. Suppose you’re ready to move strengths to the forefront of your team at work, and suppose you’re ready to change the questions, what would you do first? What steps would you take first?
At the same time that you’re moving forward, you might want to keep your eyes open to potential alerts. We have noticed that when an initiative is activated half-heartedly, employees can see right through that. The above suggestions are not meant as a fix-it, but as an open way of approaching work situations.
Similarly, you may not want to promise that changing the questions a) means you change EVERYTHING, or that b) you don’t need to continue doing what you have been doing. Changing the questions you ask doesn’t mean you ignore ways to improve your processes. And focusing on strengths is not carte blanche to ignore performance problems or let a team do whatever they want to do. Rather, the above questions are a change in focus. You can add these questions and keep the best of what has been working before. Each day there is work to be done: customers to be served, deadlines to be met, work to be processed. As a leader you’re responsible for getting results.
This article is part of the message of the book by the authors:
Greenberg, M. & Maymin, S. (2013). Profit from the Positive: Proven Leadership Strategies to Boost Productivity and Transform Your Business. McGraw Hill.