A Manager’s Guide: Using StrengthsFinder in Personal Development

Managers Using StrengthsFinder for Personal Development Singapore Gallup Coach Victor Seet

In 2016, Gallup scientists found that managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement across business units. This simply means that managers have a lot of influence on an employee’s performance and engagement level. Gallup also reports that strengths-based interventions can result in a 9-15% increase in employee engagement.

In short: empowering managers to focus on their strengths and the strengths of their teams is key in increasing employee engagement.

As a Gallup-Certified StrengthsFinder Coach and manager myself, this is my mandate. I need to:

(1) know and understand my own dominant StrengthsFinder themes,
(2) have ownership of them, and
(3) intentionally aim my strengths towards my goals as a manager.

My leadership belief is to lead by example, and I strongly believe that all influence flows first out of our own personal growth and transformation. I know I’ve made an impact when the team members around me are influenced by the way I choose to lead. This article was written to share about part of the personal journey I have taken to grow myself as a Strengths-Based Manager.

How can a manager use StrengthsFinder to develop himself?

Step One: Understand Your Dominant StrengthsFinder Themes as a Manager

I started digging into all the resources I could get my hands on to learn more about my dominant StrengthsFinder themes. I did what the Gallup Strengths Action Report advised me to do: I took a pen and underlined everything that resonated with me in the Gallup StrengthsFinder reports. I watched all the different videos I could find to get a greater understanding of my talent themes. I also scoured the Internet for articles that I felt would aid me in my understanding.

But I have to admit: that whole process was somewhat tedious and challenging for me. Resources were scarce back then. This experience led me to create a bank of resources for managers like myself, who desire to learn and understand more. My hope is that these resources will accelerate the learning process for others.

@@The first step to understanding our talents themes is to reflect on our behaviors, habits and past experiences.@@

For example: 

Activator: I realized my Activator gives me the desire to always be on the move and to do things fast. Because of this need for speed and sense of urgency, I am easily upset when my family takes their own sweet time to get ready whenever we’re going for a family outing. I also realized that I enjoy going on drives with my two sons. One of my favorite ways to spend some quality time with them is to take them on bus and train rides, even if there’s no particular destination we have in mind.

Communication: I realized that I am a lot more productive when I can air out my thought processes and share them with others. The process of sharing my ideas sharpens my thoughts. I have often improved on many of my ideas in the midst of sharing them with others (without them giving any input). I now understand how verbal processing works in reality!

Maximizer: I realized that I really struggle a lot when I’m tasked to create something from scratch. That’s because of my Maximizer theme. In contrast, I’m extremely efficient when I’m given a template or something to work with: I can turn the existing materials into a brilliant piece of work. 

Strategic: I realized that I inherently enjoy options. I intuitively look for other alternatives and I often refrain from making any decisions when I do not have any alternatives to make comparisons. I enjoy browsing many different websites to compare prices while doing online shopping. I’ll also walk around an entire shopping mall looking for good eateries and comparing options when I’m deciding on where to have a meal. 

@@To connect our StrengthsFinder themes to our past experiences is to bring the knowledge from our heads into our hearts.@@  As I reflect on my own life more and more, I begin the journey of claiming and owning my StrengthsFinder themes in greater measure.

Action Step: Can you connect your StrengthsFinder talent themes to your past experiences, patterns of thought, or habits? Try doing this for each of your top 5 talent themes.

Step Two: Own Your Dominant StrengthsFinder Themes As a Manager

Taking complete ownership of your StrengthsFinder themes is by no means an easy feat. Ownership comes when we start to accept and view our StrengthsFinder lenses in a positive way. @@Ownership drives us to action.@@  If we dislike our StrengthsFinder themes or are skeptical about them, we won’t be able to aim them toward specific goals we have our work and personal lives. 

I’d like to recommend one step that I have personally found helpful in building greater ownership of my strengths: @@Link your StrengthsFinder themes to an identity that you could assume at work.@@

For example, as a person with Activator as my number one StrengthsFinder theme, I see myself as a “Catalyst”. As I read the description of the Activator theme, this idea stands out for me and I know I enjoy working on great ideas by kicking-off projects. For example, one of the projects I started at work was the StrengthsFinder workshops for Couples. The idea came out of a brainstorming session we had in Strengths School. In my mind, the workshop would be short so as to cater to busy couples in Singapore. Since I had personally experienced a powerful transformation in my own marriage in employing the StrengthsFinder tool, I thought this idea was brilliant. So after the brainstorming session, I immediately set a date for the workshop to happen, booked a venue, and within a month, the first StrengthsFinder couple workshop was birthed. It went very well and we have been running these workshops regularly ever since.

Being a Catalyst is an identity that I took ownership of, not just in my professional life but also in my personal life. In church, I saw the benefits of joining a men’s group for mentorship and accountability. Immediately, I rang up a couple of close male friends and we joined the men’s retreat and got connected to other men in church. That allowed us a place to share our career journeys and individual struggles. The support we received was helpful and immediately felt. 

This identity of a Catalyst helps me to own my StrengthsFinder Activator theme in a greater measure.

I have also observed how my other colleagues took on different identities that helped them to own certain kinds of work tasks, which in turn helped the team become more productive. On our team, we have a Creative Designer (Ideation), Researcher (Input), Fashion Consultant (Individualization), Data Analyst (Analytical), Welfare IC (Developer), and so on. 

Action Step: Based on your StrengthsFinder themes, what identity can you assume and build greater ownership of in your work role as a Manager?   

Step Three: Aim Your Dominant StrengthsFinder Themes as a Manager

Aiming our StrengthsFinder themes consists of two aspects. The first is understanding the negative impact that our strengths can have on our team members at work. The other is about intentionally connecting our StrengthsFinder themes with specific, actionable goals tied to broader work outcomes. 

Aspect 1: Understanding Our Impact on Others as Managers
As I reflected on the way I’ve led my team in the past, I had a realization: We see the world through our StrengthsFinder lenses. As a manager, I’ve learned that:

  • I must be aware of the areas I tend to impose my thoughts and decisions on my team. For example, I have a tendency to drive the team to act quickly because I believe that business opportunities are lost when one fails to move quickly. This is linked to my Activator lens. Knowing this at the back of my head empowers me to be patient with others in the team who prefer to think through risks and challenges (such as the Deliberative or Intellection themes). This knowledge pushes me to look for common ground rather than imposing my beliefs on them.
  • I must be aware of what my natural behaviours are, particularly in times of stress. For example, as someone with Activator, Communication and Command, I know I am prone to immediately responding with raw and emotionally-charged words, usually without thinking. This is especially so when I perceive some kind of aggression coming from another person. Being aware of this tendency empowers me to do two things: firstly, I now have a greater ability to catch myself exhibiting this behaviour, especially when I notice the body language and response of my colleagues. This allows me to effectively reduce the damage done as a manager by quickly pulling back this destructive behaviour. Secondly, I am now able to explain my tendencies to my team and colleagues and empower them to help me. They know that they can call for a time-out when they sense that the discussion has reached an agitated state. They can also find different ways to calm me down and find out why I feel agitated. 
  • I must be aware of my leadership style and how that relates to my strengths. For example, I am a high risk-taker and I have the propensity to take on projects that bring the team into unchartered territory. Understandably, that often causes a lot of stress on the team. This tendency comes from my Self-Assurance theme. Knowing this helps me to make more effort in explaining the background and reasons on embarking on specific projects as well as hearing the feedback from the team.

Aspect 2: Connecting Our Strengths towards Goals
Aiming our strengths is about intentionally connecting our StrengthsFinder themes with specific, actionable goals tied to work outcomes. Employing the use of SMART goals in aiming our strengths is highly recommended. Careful consideration has to be given when setting these goals. Personal discipline also has to be exercised to stay focused on working out these actionable goals. This is where accountability partners can be of great help. We need reminders and help to stay on track.

Some personal examples of goals I’ve set in the past:

Activator: Connect with 50 new organizations within a year and convert 20% of them into clients

Communication: Share with and influence 2000 people in Singapore and Asia to do the StrengthsFinder profiling assessment through Strengths School within a year

Strategic: Get recurring business from 80% of our existing clients within a year

Self-Assurance: Facilitate one StrengthsFinder workshop in a language other than English, and do it proficiently within a year (I measured this by making sure I scored at least 4 out of 5 in my overall trainer evaluation)

Command: Employ a staff member for each of the 3 key roles we have identified in Strengths School that year

A word of caution here: Ever since I started to aim my strengths towards my work goals, I have been met with much resistance. A few of these challenges were external: for example, a sudden surge in urgent matters demanding my attention. These can easily distract me from focusing on my key goals. Other challenges were internal. Often, a sense of fear and doubt in my personal ability (which can be completely irrational in nature) de-motivates me and cause me to procrastinate. Sometimes, the fear can push me towards shifting the goalpost and to rationalize why it is ok that I do not meet these goals that I have set. Working on our strengths is not as easy as some might imagine to be but it will be rewarding!

Concluding Thoughts: When I made a decision to focus on being Strengths-based, I intentionally share with my team about how I use my StrengthsFinder themes at work. I share about the things that make me tick as a manager and how that relates to my talent themes. I share about my decision-making processes and how my different talent themes inform my decisions. I share my personal reflections on what I feel about my strengths and how I can develop myself. I conduct debriefs to get feedback on how my talent themes value-add to the different projects. I try to get 360-degree feedback to understand which of my strengths hinder me in being a successful manager. I believe firmly that our daily actions, conversations, and lifestyle must show others that we are Strengths-Based Managers.

@@A Strengths-Based Manager leading by example will have taken the vital first step in engaging his or her team members.@@