In Strengths School™, one of the key areas of influence that we seek to impact is the education sector. We believe in helping not just students but also educators live out their full potential. As we coach educators and students, one of the most common questions that we received is "How can I apply my strengths to improve my performance at work?" This article is part of a series I've written on "Using StrengthsFinder for Work". It is an interview I've done with one of the teachers in Singapore, whom I have the privilege to coach in a 1 on 1 setting. We had some very fruitful conversations regarding her strengths and I had the opportunity to hear her story.
Charmain Han is an English teacher in one of the Primary schools in Singapore. She is an outgoing individual, passionate about influencing the lives of the future generation. She desires to see more and more people engage their strengths meaningfully and shares some of her own reflections on applying her strengths as a teacher. As a Head of Department in her school, Charmain also reflects about her style of leadership and how her strengths play a huge part of her leadership growth and journey. Charmain's top 5 Strengthsfinder themes are Harmony, Communication, Restorative, Developer and Responsibility.
An Interview with Charmain Han:
1) How do you feel when you first saw your top 5 StrengthsFinder results?
To be perfectly honest, I was a little sad because I didn't have any strengths in the Strategic Thinking domain. I tend to always look at things from a 'What's the Areas of Improvement' point of view, so my initial response was to focus on what I didn't have. I went to check out on the Strategic Thinking domain strengths and thought about why I didn't have any in my top 5.
I was also a little doubtful that my Harmony theme could be considered a strength. I remember telling my friend that I felt like a Carebear – “Gee, I’m the Harmony bear…” I think I had a pretty narrow definition of what strengths were and my top 5 results didn't fit in this definition, so there was quite a bit of dissonance at the start.
2) How do you feel you use your talents as a teacher? Share some examples.
Well, now that I have come to embrace it, I see my Harmony theme being activated every single day. In class, I'm always teaching my kids how to deal with differences and how to "live, learn and play with people who are different from you”. Outside of class, in meetings for example, I’m always looking for that win-win solution that will help everyone to be on the same page and move an otherwise hopeless discussion forward.
My Communication theme also enables me to turn dense and boring content into effective and engaging stories. I generally enjoy explaining, talking, telling stories and I'm always trying to think of the best way to teach something. I’m also rather dramatic. I think the kids like that. After a while, they all seem to reflect who I am. They also start being very communicative and the classroom is filled with productive noise. I like that. I thrive on that buzz of energy.
3) How do you think Strengthsfinder can benefit the group of people you work closely with?
I guess knowing how we’re all wired differently will help bring about greater understanding amidst the people in my department. So, instead of always saying that “people are the problem”, we’ll instead see how people are the solution. (This probably is my Restorative theme speaking.) And instead of all of us force-fitting ourselves into these moulds that are created based on narrow perspectives (and feeling really depressed if we cannot assimilate the expected competencies), we’ll be looking at how we are each gifted in different ways.
I think just having a common language to talk about who we are, and how we function is really powerful. I personally found the language of Strengthsfinder really empowering because it’s not about chasing after what you do not have, but fully utilizing what you do have. I imagine the workplace being organized around employee’s talents and staff development that is targeted at growing our talents to strengths. What a dynamic and positive workplace that will be! (I think my Developer theme will love that!) And people will be able to confidently say how they’re good at this or that and I think that will generate greater ownership and engagement in the staff. Maybe teachers will start volunteering to take on projects instead of feeling like everything is handed to them in a top-down fashion.
4) How will you describe your leadership style and how do you see them related to your talents?
I’ll describe my leadership style as consultative. I like being close to the ground and talking to my team members. I frequently ask them, “What do you think?” As a person with the communication theme, it’s extremely important for me to be able to express my thoughts and feelings and as a leader, it’s important for my members to have views and express them. I don’t really like it if people come to me expecting me to have all the answers. Even if I did have the answer, I would rather guide people to arrive at that conclusion than to just tell them. Sometimes, this slows things down but the process of talking through things is just as important to me as the outcome.
To me, leadership is about growing the people around you. I think that’s due to my Developer theme. I am very happy whenever I am able to help someone improve on something, even if it’s something small like tweaking an activity within a lesson. When I am able to support my teachers to achieve something and to witness that moment, or when they come back and tell me how well a lesson that we co-planned went, I find that very satisfying.
5) How has this unique combination of your top 5 talents help you achieve something you were proud of?
Hmm… perhaps, during the Parent-Teacher Conference sessions? I think there had been a few instances where I really had to depend on all 5 talents to work together to steer one of those ‘hard conversations’ into meaningful discussions. It's hard to describe those in details. I think I had fond memories of the times when I used all my 5 talents to overcome some of my challenges at work. It will be great if I have more of those moments.
6) You have invested in your own development and have unlocked your full 34. How has that decision helped you?
It was more for my own learning that I chose to unlock the full 34. I wanted to get acquainted to the Strengthsfinder language first for my own benefit – I wanted to get a fuller picture of my Strengthsfinder results and see how my strengths interact with each other, which domain do my top strengths belong in. Secondly, I also wanted to better appreciate the similarities and differences that exist between my friends and me. It’s quite fun to see how many of our top 10 were similar/different.
7) What did you discover about yourself after taking the Strengthsfinder assessment that you did not previously know?
Mmmm, I think it’s not so much as a fresh new discovery as it is a new perspective that I now have. Intuitively, I know how I’m like but now I have a language to describe these traits, habits and behaviors of mine, and of course thinking about them in a more positive way. So the Strengthsfinder tool has heightened whatever self-awareness I had and really helped me to appreciate how I am different from others and why I should leverage my uniqueness.
8) How do you feel my Strengths Coaching session has helped you?
The session helped to clarify some things for me and encouraged me to appreciate myself more. I had the coaching session at the beginning of my leadership journey. I had a bagful of self doubt and cynicism about being able to fill the shoes of my predecessor who was someone whom I greatly admire. Back then, I was operating from the mindset that good leaders all have a certain profile or certain talents. We always talk about the importance of having strategic, visionary leaders like Mr Lee Kuan Yew. So I went into the session thinking that it would help me shed some light in terms of why I was struggling so much and maybe even give me some concrete reasons to step down! (haha) To cut the long story short, at the end of the session, I really felt a lot more empowered and I had a clearer idea of what I should be working and capitalizing on. Thank you Victor for the session!
Concluding thoughts: It is always encouraging when I hear about powerful shifts in mindsets and the different stories that come with that. I hope as you read about the reflections by Charmain, you too can be personally encouraged and challenged to intentionally work on your strengths as you develop yourself as a leader. Each one of us can greatly impact our generation and the generations beyond, one life at a time.