Being a strong leader is something that a lot of us aspire to, whether we’re serving in a position of leadership or not – whatever our role in our firms, the way we work, collaborate, and engage with others has a big impact on them. Knowing your strengths, and leveraging them, can help you create great teams within your firm, and as collaboration is key to success, this is a skill we certainly want to pursue.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to take a strengths assessment test called StrengthsFinder, which provided me with five themes, and what stood out within each of those themes (more on my results later).  In the follow up to taking this assessment, I learned that we’re all inclined to want to focus on areas of weakness and how to improve them. 61% of people believe that we grow most in areas of greatest weakness [statistics and themes are from a session with Alycia Sutor, of then Akina Corporation, now GrowthPlay].

That’s why we address weaknesses in performance reviews, and ask people to change or strengthen those areas. Even when we’re looking critically at our own performances, we’re looking for feedback on areas where we can do better, what our liabilities are, and how we can improve or mitigate them. 

Improving Strength? Or Weakness?

But it turns out that we actually grow the most in our areas of greatest strength. Consider speed reading for example. A group of people was going to take a speed reading course, and before the course, they were all tested to get a base level. Below-average speed readers could read 85 words a minute, while those who could read more quickly could read 300 words a minute. So if the idea that we grow most in areas of weakness is true, we would expect that following the course, the former group would see the greatest percentage of improvement. However, the actual results revealed that below-average speed reader improved to 134 words a minute (50%), while those who were already strong speed readers improved to 1,800 words a minute. That’s a 600% improvement.

While that’s one example, creating great teams within your firms (and indeed, fostering your own success) relies on understanding the strengths of your team and yourself and being able to foster those. This also holds true for understanding your client’s strengths, so that we can identify what drives them.

Identifying strengths in others

So, does everyone have to take a strengths assessment for you to understand where theirs lie? Fortunately, no. You can use some key questions and scenarios to draw these out of people. Look for “strength stories,” by asking questions such as “when was a time that you feel you did something that you enjoyed doing? Did well? Experienced a sense of satisfaction or fulfillment in doing?” You can create a series of examples using the phrase “I loved it when…” and “I loathed it when…” to get an idea of the reactions that others have to the stories that you’re telling. Encourage them to share their own. As a leader, even one who isn’t defined, identify how you can help others to make incremental adjustments to utilize strengths more, and lessen time on areas of weakness. That sounds complicated, but ask questions like,

  • “If you could spend 5% more of your time doing something you love, what could you do that would benefit the team/department/firm?”
  • “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 from or love doing that?”

The way that people answer these questions and develop these scenarios will help you to identify what their communication style is – communication styles are defined by the pace at which a person works, and the priority placed on tasks or people. There are four general communication styles:

Types Pace Priority  Optimal Mode
Analyzers Deliberate 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?

As a note, 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.

What are your strength themes?

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.”

From the results, I’m sure you can see how using the above tactics can help to tease out what someone’s strengths might be – does your partner have an active and quick mind? Does she enjoy routine and structure? Is your client super self-motivated? Does the new associate working for you strive to complete many tasks prior to their deadlines? The full description of the 34 potential themes provides the range of strengths, and clicking through each one also offers some action steps to be taken to maximize these. Identifying first your own strengths, then the strengths of those on your team, and then leveraging these effectively, will help to maximize your own skill as a leader.