As I mentioned last week, I had the good fortune to attend the LMA’s 2014 Leadership Conference, which was a whirlwind of sessions and networking. I was able to meet some great people, and really get down to brass tacks for planning for next year (LOTS of exciting things to come!).
But in among the planning and networking, we also had a couple of leadership sessions, which were incredibly valuable. I took away some great information, that I hope to be able to incorporate both in my work with the LMA as well as with my clients (ILN Specialty Groups, I’m looking at you).
So today’s Two for Tuesday involves leadership lessons I gained from last week’s conference, and some tips on how to use them.
Lesson One: Play to Your Strengths
Prior to the conference, we’d all taken a strengths assessment test called StrengthsFinder, which provided each of us with five themes and what makes us stand out within each of those themes (more on my results later). On the first afternoon then, we welcomed Alycia Sutor of Akina Corporation, who walked us through how these strengths can lead to creating great teams.
One of the key takeaways that I took from this session is that we focus too much on improving weakness – 61% of people believe that we grow the most in areas of greatest weakness. That’s why we address weakness in performance reviews and ask people to change or strengthen those areas.
But Alycia used the example of speed reading to illustrate that we actually grow the most in our areas of greatest strength – a group of people was going to take a speed reading course. Before the course, they were all tested, and those who were below-average speed readers could read 85 words a minute, while those who were strong in that area could read 300 words a minute.
If the idea that we grow most in our areas of weakness is true, we’d expect that following the course, those who were below-average would have the greatest percentage of improvement. But that’s not what happens. The below-average speed readers improved to 134 words a minute (50% improvement) – it’s better, so that shows that it is possible to somewhat strengthen areas of weakness.
Where we see the greatest improvement though is among those who were already strong speed readers – they improved to 1,800 words a minute. That’s a 600% improvement.
So in order to be a good team builder and leader, it’s helpful to be able to understand the strengths of each of your team members, and be able to foster those. This doesn’t just hold true for teams, by the way, but also one-on-one – it can be extremely useful to understand our clients and what their strengths are, so that we can identify what drives them.
Alycia provided us with some tips for identifying strengths in others – and we don’t have to all take the StrengthsFinder assessment to do it:
- Ask for strength stories: What is a time that you feel that you did something that you –
- Enjoyed doing
- Did well
- Experienced sense of satisfaction or fulfillment in doing
- Create a lot of "I loved it when…" and "I loathed it when…" examples.
- As a leader, help to identify how you can help others make incremental adjustments to utilize strengths more and lessen time on areas of weakness:
- If you could spend 5% more of your time doing something you love, what could you do that would benefit the team/the department/the firm? OR, how can you grow or strengthen your skills in this area? What do you want to take responsibility to develop and how can I support you?
- If you could spend 5% less of your time doing something you loathe, what would you stop doing? Who else might benefit or love doing that? How can I support or help you?
I love this, because it’s concrete ways that I can use (without requiring my attorneys to complete a strengths assessment of their own) to identify where it is that they fall on the spectrum – this also helps me to identify what their communication style is (which is HUGELY helpful). A quick note on that, thanks to Akina – communication styles are defined by the pace at which a person works and the priority placed on tasks or people. So there are four general communication styles:
|Tasks||Written, ahead of time|
|Relaters||Relaxed||People||Verbal, ahead of time|
|Socializers||Energized||People||Verbal, in the moment, document with written follow up|
|Drivers||Driven||Tasks||Written or Verbal Executive Summary, with more detail available|
Can you guess which one I am?
Identifying communication style, and working with individual clients in THEIR preferred communication can be huge. It takes some work but I’m sure after a while it will feel like second nature. I’m going to be implementing this with my lawyers, and would love to hear any of your success stories on doing the same (or your challenges)!
And as promised, here’s a quick peek at my strengths results (and some brief highlights of each theme):
- Learner: "great desire to learn and want to continuously improve;" "possess the physical and mental endurance needed to spend hours studying, reading, or researching;" "diligence reflects your need to work harder and longer than most people can;" "self-motivated."
- Achiever: "great deal of stamina and work hard;" "strive to complete many tasks prior to their deadlines;" "known as a reliable and dependable person;" "motivated to work diligently;" "instinctively devote yourself to figuring out what makes a person unique and special."
- Responsibility: "psychological ownership of what they say they will do;" "do whatever you can to avoid breaking the promises you made to people;" "reputation for showing care and precision in whatever you do;" "distinct and noticeable attention to detail;" "impelled to do things right."
- Intellection: "introspective and appreciate intellectual discussions;" "enjoy sifting through documents;" "active and quick mind;" "you have been known to read a 200-page volume in the course of one evening, morning, or afternoon;" "reading is the key that opens the door to a world of fresh ideas;" "even when you have not experienced particular situations, events, opportunities, or dilemmas, you might have the ability to project yourself into them."
- Discipline: "enjoy routine and structure;" "tend to become quite frustrated with individuals who constantly operate in crisis mode;" "resent having to interrupt your work or studies because someone else failed to anticipate everything that could go awry;" "impose structure on your day to ensure every task is accomplished;" "like knowing what to expect next;" "you discharge your duties and perform your tasks efficiently."
Has anyone else taken this test? What did your results reveal?
Lesson Two: Think Outside of the Box
Lawyers, don’t panic – this isn’t as scary as it sounds.
On Wednesday morning, we had a Business Improv session, which integrated improv techniques into various business applications. I hate anything that feels like an icebreaker (see above about enjoying routine and structure), so I was already pre-programmed to prefer sitting in a conference room listening to a speaker than to engage in improv.
But I was pleasantly surprised – and while some of the tips seemed silly at first (or may not work for every situation), I could definitely see the benefits of incorporating them.
Two of my favorites were "Yes, and…" and applauding all ideas.
This is the one I think we were all most familiar with when we started – the idea that when having a conversation, you respond to everything the other person says with "yes, and…" adding your ideas at the end. The idea here is to keep the conversation flowing and moving. Our facilitator likened it to improv, saying that if someone got up on stage and said to their stage partner, "I’m your mom!" and the stage partner said, "No, you’re not, you’re my accountant," the bit would die there. Similarly, if they just said "yes."
But when you say "Yes, and…" you’re agreeing with the other person and trying to find ways to make that work. Of course, it’s not going to work in every situation. But when many of us come to discussions with our own pre-determined agendas and ideas in mind, or the belief that whatever someone else suggests will automatically not work and we’re prepared to play devil’s advocate to explain why, the goals and purpose of the conversation die right there.
Instead, if we say "yes, and…" we’re inviting more conversation around a subject. The end result may be that not every idea is workable or helpful. But you have FAR more ideas than when you started. This can be an excellent brainstorming tool, and many companies will hold brainstorming meetings where everyone is required to use the "yes, and…" tool.
I know, it sounds a bit silly still – but we used it ourselves. We paired off and came up with a subject, which we then talked about using "yes, and…" We found that we were able to keep the conversation going, and stay more open minded, than if we’d had a regular conversation about the same topic. It may be worth a try the next time you need a creative solution!
Applauding all ideas
Now this will REALLY require some out of the box thinking, but the idea here is that when brainstorming, every suggestion is met with applause and cheering. Seriously.
It sounds CRAZY, and maybe it is. But it really works. We were tasked with identifying a product and coming up with a promotional campaign for it. Every suggestion that anyone made was to be met with applause and cheering from the entire group, no matter how silly it was.
Some people in the group are natural born leaders, and great at thinking on their feet – they were tossing out great suggestions and getting cheers. Others were more thoughtful about it, and were either encouraged by the facilitator to participate, or threw out ideas a bit later in the process. All of their suggestions were also met with cheers.
It’s so rare (unfortunately) to get positive reinforcement for our ideas, that many times, if you make a suggestion that is met with silence or is shot down, it makes it less likely you’ll share your next suggestion. The cheering really helped to encourage everyone to share, and to keep sharing. Again, not every idea is going to be gold, but our facilitators (Business Improvisations) explain that it’s important to separate the editing process from the idea generation process – you can always go back later and identify why an idea may not work, or isn’t the best, but you want to be starting from a place of having lots of ideas, from the zany and crazy ones right through to the brilliant and excellent ones.
You never know whether what someone else says will inspire someone to come up with a brilliant idea. And if we’re shooting down ideas regularly, you may never get to hear that brilliance (and that person may never even be inspired). So while it may not be entirely practical to hold meetings where everyone is cheering every few moments, it’s a) worth a try! and b) worth finding some adaptation (maybe just saying "Great!" every time someone shares) so that you can raise the level of your brainstorming process.
Take a look too at this resource from Business Improvisations – and maybe even think about getting them out to your firms. Even if you don’t use all (or any) of their ideas, the workshop is a fabulous way to break out of your rut and open your mind to new ways of thinking (and you KNOW I’m always in favor of that!).
There’s lots for me to think about this Two for Tuesdays in terms of leadership – have anything to add? Feel free to send me a comment!