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Strengths and Emotional Intelligence

So how do strengths and Strengthscope™ relate to emotional intelligence (Ei) at work?  Our initial research into strengths which led to the development of Strengthscope™ explored the work of, amongst others, Meyer and Salovey and Daniel Goleman from the Ei research field, particularly as regards the energy which individuals have for understanding themselves and others.  We can summarise our views on the relationship between the two complementary perspectives as follows.

Strengthscope™ assesses 24 strengths, which break down into four clusters: Emotional, Relational, Thinking and Execution.  The first of these two clusters, Emotional and Relational, are more ‘people focused’ strengths.  The second, Thinking and Execution, are more ‘task focused’ strengths.  While Strengthscope™ is not intended to assess ability/skill but what energises individuals and what motivates them most at work, it is most often true that individuals who report ‘people focused’ strengths in the Emotional and Relational clusters in Strengthscope™ also display higher levels of Emotional Intelligence.  Both in terms of intrapersonal intelligence (e.g. self-motivation, self-confidence, self-control) and interpersonal intelligence (empathy, compassion, developing others, relationship-building).  So the first way in which Strengthscope™ relates to emotional intelligence is in the overlap between the Emotional and Relational clusters and most definitions of Ei.

Because the process of completing and receiving feedback on Strengthscope™ increases individuals’ self-awareness, it is always true that gaining a better understanding of what energises and motivates an individual, can lead to them developing a greater degree of emotional intelligence about their own emotional responses and those of others.  Strengthscope™ offers simple, work-based language and a practical framework for understanding your own and others’ strengths.  By better appreciating their own and others’ strengths, and how these differ, individuals make fewer assumptions about others’ motives and become better at exploring (through good questioning and listening) what it is that energises and motivates others.  With the appropriate support, then, the use of Strengthscope™ provides a key tool to developing greater insight into oneself and others.

Building on this, we encourage people to explore where strengths tend to go into ‘overdrive’, i.e. where the energy underpinning a strength builds and builds but doesn’t necessarily achieve the intended outcome (for example, someone whose Persuasiveness strength starts to become overbearing and leads to them not listening to others’ ideas, when they are placed under pressure).  When people recognise when, where and why some of their strengths go into overdrive, they are in a far better position to start to control this energy and become more agile in deploying it, in the right amount at the right time, with the right people.  In itself, the development of agility around use of strengths represents one of the cornerstones of Emotional intelligence (to become more attuned to one’s own emotional states and to use this information to achieve better self-control in pressure situations).

The strength of collaboration in adversity

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Collaborating well takes thought, planning, communication, understanding, respect, humility and learning.  When it works, it seems that groups of humans can overcome almost any obstacle.  And when it doesn’t, it appears that we revert to childlike behaviour, sometimes missing our target by a long way. I thought it might be useful to share a practical ‘how to’ of effective collaboration under pressure which apply to all situations, whether at work, in sport, or in life:

  1. Have a clear, common goal – while the task and goal to be achieved may look obvious to you, people often have different interpretations of what a group or team is trying to achieve. So it’s essential that the goal is discussed and agreed before setting out, so that the team can make sure that everyone’s contributions are pointing in the same direction and so that everyone will know how to measure progress against the goal and will know when it’s been achieved.
  2. Clearly allocate tasks and responsibilities and hold people accountable for these – you know, I can’t state this point strongly enough. For too many teams, too much of the time, assumptions are made that everyone understands what they’re doing, by when and that it will all get done. Only for the next review meeting to feel awkward and unpleasant as people haven’t delivered what was expected and the team starts to lose the faith that they’re all pointing in the same direction. It’s avoidable only by spending enough time discussing and agreeing what each individual is accountable for delivering and ensuring that this is understood in the same way by everyone, as well as making sure that each team member has the resources and support they need to achieve their part of the plan.
  3. Recognize individual and team strengths and utilize this – at a similar time to allocating responsibilities, I’d recommend the team getting a clear understanding of where everyone feels they will contribute greatest value – what are they good at, what do they enjoy, what are their strengths? –  and how can this help the team achieve the goal?  On the start line at the Tough Mudder event, each of us stated which of our strengths we’d be contributing to the team’s success – and it really helped! We knew who to go to for what support and we all felt we’d have an important role to play.
  4. Quickly develop trust, transparency and openness using ongoing, open communication – you can’t overcome adversity without trusting others – trust that they will do what they’ve agreed to, trust that there is positive intent in their actions, trust that everyone is focused on achieving the same goal. So start trusting, and quick. And being comfortable giving open, honest, timely feedback is vital if the team is to be the best it can be. So don’t assume that others know what you’re thinking, tell them – respectfully and with understanding but remember that everyone benefits from feedback.
  5. Stick with the goal and don’t get distracted – while this point may seem obvious, our busy lives and roles often mean that ‘side projects’ or ‘additional tasks’ get fed in along the way. These have the potential to distract us from the goal we agreed at the outset and may lead to miscommunication and misunderstandings. To avoid this, teams need to re-state their key project goal and re-contract on their role in achieving this on a regular basis, discussing any areas where there may have been a change in plans or priorities to avoid misunderstanding or loss of trust.
  6. Seek first to understand then to be understood…and don’t waste time on blaming – when things are misunderstood, or projects timelines slip, or another team you’re working with seems to be working to its own agenda, it can feel like the worst time in a project, like you’ll never achieve the goal you’re working towards. And it’s all too easy to get into blaming external factors, other people or teams. A better solution is to try and understand what’s actually going on through effective questioning, really listening to what others are saying and clarifying what you think you’ve heard. So go in with the intention of seeking to understand rather than having your point of view understood (as Stephen Covey once said). And then take action where needed to get things back on track.
  7. Mark achievements together and make time to review the learning – all too often, teams will work through the night for weeks or months to get to the end of a project or task and once achieved, they’ll stumble, exhausted, straight onto the start of the next project. This is a major missed opportunity; to collaborate well, teams need to learn to stop, review and reflect – identifying what went well and what needs improving, documenting this so that action can be taken to strengthen performance for the next time. Oh and very importantly too, to celebrate what’s been achieved in a memorable way.  One team I know attends a retreat of sorts each year – same time, same place – to refresh, reflect, recharge and prepare for the next 12 months. This involves a forensic assessment of successes and learnings, drawing up clear plans of action for the year ahead, and spending quality time together in a relaxed environment, building a collective memory of what great teams can feel like.

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The picture above shows our Tough Mudder team at the end of the course – battered and tired but happy knowing that we’d got everyone home and that we’d collaborated not just within our team, but with other participants right the way through.  Effective collaboration helps us achieve amazing things, and it’s all the more important to remember these principles when we’re under pressure. For more on Strengths Partnership’s ground-breaking approach to team development, head over to here.

Dr Paul Brewerton, Joint Managing Director, Strengths Partnership Ltd and co-creator of the Strengthscope® Profiling System

How overdone strengths can be avoided through better collaboration

Overdone strengths (when strengths are overused or used in the wrong way leading to negative performance) are one of the greatest sources of risk to effective performance and career success.

Yet, our research and experience indicate that most people are completely unaware of what happens when their strengths are overplayed and are therefore tripped up by these unintended “own goals” time and time again.

Fortunately, help is close at hand as your co-workers are one of the best ways to avoid overdrive behaviour. Specific ways you can access their help include:

Invite regular feedback

For most people, overdrive behaviours are ‘blind spots’ that they are unaware of because these are habituated patterns of behaviour learned over many years or even decades. For example, someone with a Collaboration strength might over-consult, even in situations when a quick or straightforward decision is appropriate. Similarly, a person with a Flexibility strength may decide to change course mid project, even when there is no good reason to do so. By sharing your top strengths with co-workers and inviting feedback on areas where you suspect you might be more at risk of overdrive behaviours, you will be able to target unproductive behaviours more rapidly and effectively.

Partner with people who have complementary strengths

To ensure your strengths are used in moderation and not overused, it is always wise to call on co-workers who have different and complementary strengths to your own. For example, if you are detailed oriented, find someone who is more strategic in their approach to avoid getting “stuck in the weeds” and becoming overly perfectionistic if this is something you are prone to. Similarly, if you are super optimistic, find a strong critical thinker to play devil’s advocate and help you avoid the Pollyanna syndrome. Studies show that cognitive diversity is crucial to effective decision-making and innovation so put any biases you have about people who are different from you to one side and engage them to help ensure your strengths are optimized and don’t tip over into the overdrive zone.

Get a coach and/or mentor 

Effective coaching and mentoring can help smooth the sharp edges of your strengths by exploring situations where overdrive might be getting in the way of effective outcomes. For example, one of my coaching clients had a very strong Critical thinking strength that was showing up as a negativity and unhelpful challenge in his project and management team meetings. Rather than enhancing problem-solving, clarity and outcomes, it was undermining both his relationships and results. Through coaching from myself and the person’s manager, we helped the leader understand the importance of dialling back on this strength when the group was generating and exploring ideas and creative options. We also helped the leader use his Critical thinking strength in more effective ways by signposting his “devil’s advocate” role in meetings and adopting more inquiry-based critique using powerful questions. This led to a significant improvement in his effectiveness and a sharp fall in negative, overdrive behaviours observed by his manager and colleagues.

Improved collaboration can help people at all levels become more aware of their overdrive risks and reduce the negative effects of these through regular feedback, coaching and improved teamwork based on cognitive diversity and complementary partnering.

However, the starting point is to ensure leaders and employees have a straightforward and scientifically proven framework to discover and optimize their strengths, but also guard against their overdrive risks. Strengthscope® is one of the most extensively used and researched strengths profiling systems on the market today and is accompanied by a comprehensive handbook containing detailed information about each of the framework’s 24 work-based strengths and behaviours to watch out for when they are overused or used ineffectively. For more information on how Strengthscope® has helped organizations go from good to great all over the work, click here.

Strengthening Your Confidence to Succeed

Confidence is at the heart of effective performance. But when setbacks or failures occur at work, our confidence often buckles. Internal voices of self-doubt are amplified and tell us we are no good, which starts of a vicious negative spiral of low self-confidence, poor performance and critical feedback.

We have found that focusing on one’s strengths can be a powerful way to help maintain confidence in the face of adversity and setbacks, ensuring you maximise your potential and career success. Here are several practical ways you can put this into action:

1.Identify and focus on your personality and performance strengths. The best way to do this is to identify and reflect on “defining moments” in your career, i.e., times when you felt particularly energised and performed at your peak. What did you learn about yourself and your strengths from these occasions? What type of work do you find really energising and confidence boosting? How can you secure more or this type of work in your current job or elsewhere?

2.Build new skills that build on your strengths and will help you achieve your next job or career goals. There are numerous ways to build new skills, including signing up for a training course, finding other people who can teach you, self-study options, on-the-job development etc.

3.Start understanding the unintended consequences of your strengths, what we refer to as “overplayed strengths”. For example, one of my strengths is “courage”. Being courageous means I am prepared to challenge established ways of doing things and question the ideas and opinions of others in senior positions. However, earlier in my career, I was far too eager to directly and aggressively challenge established views and assumptions. This behaviour was perceived as reckless and even arrogant by others. One of my greatest strengths had gone into overdrive and become a potential weakness. Through understanding that my courage strength has an associated “darkside”, I have been able to build more positive routines that enable me to use it in a more situationally sensitive way. This has left me feeling far more confident about my courage strength and myself.

4. Every time you experience negative self-doubt or are tempted into inaction, think about the opportunities and benefits of channelling your energy more positively. Amplify your positive self-talk and do something to change your situation. Remember that most success is not built overnight. It take concerted effort, disciplined execution and finally, decisive action to grab “Lady Luck” firmly with both hands.

Finally, remember the quote of the famous mountaineer and first man to reach the summit of Mount Everest, Edmund Hillary: “It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves”. If you can amplify your inner voices of strength and possibility, your self-criticism will be silenced or overpowered and your confidence will grow significantly as a result.

The 3 biggest triggers of overdone strengths and how to tackle them

When strengths are overdone or used in the wrong way, they can lead to negative unintended consequences and undermine performance and relationships. In fact, this is arguably the greatest source of performance and relationships problems for individuals, teams and even whole organizations. And the higher one progresses in an organization, the greater the impact of overdrive behaviours. Our history is replete with examples of leaders who have failed because or lopsided leadership, including Margaret Thatcher, Silvio Berlusconi and the ex-CEO of RBS, Fred Goodwin.

There are numerous triggers to overdrive behaviour and understanding these triggers is the first step in reducing these risks.

We have found that there a three types of overdrive risks that show up most often:

  1. Habituated behaviours

Many people, especially those who don’t engage in much reflection and self-improvement, develop deeply habituated ways of dealing with tasks and decisions based on what’s worked for them in the past. These habits are often developed over years, and even decades, and are therefore stubborn and difficult to change. For example, a newly promoted technical manager might continue to apply their Results-focus and Decisiveness strengths in the same way they used them before assuming people management responsibilities, as these worked well for them in an individual contributor role. However, the effect of these strengths in their new role are likely to demotivate members of their team as decisions are made autocratically and without any attempt to involve the team.

Remedy:

Stubborn habits involving one or more strengths in overdrive are often difficult to shift, but can be shifted by ensuring heightened awareness of the new behaviours required for the role and how these relate to one’s strengths, ensuring regular feedback (ideally 360-degree feedback from a broad range of co-workers) on how effective these behaviours are in improving performance and relationships and through regular practice of new skills and behaviours. Through learning to better monitor their strengths ‘gauge’ across different situations and practising the art of dialling back on strengths that are over-used, people can minimize the risk of overdrive behaviours showing up.

Research shows that it takes around 3-4 months of regular practice to unfreeze old behaviours and replace these with new behaviours and habits, as anyone who has taken up a new sport like running or going to the gym knows. Practice truly does make perfect, but only if it is intentional and accompanied by regular check-ins, feedback, self-reflection and evaluation of progress.

  1. Stress or pressure

Stress and pressure often accentuate overdrive behaviours. For example, if someone in accounts who has high Detail Orientation is put under pressure to produce a crucial financial report for the executive team, their focus on detail might lead to perfectionism and over-checking. This may slow down their work and cause them to miss the deadline for submitting the report.

Stress and pressure don’t always arise from excessive work demands or fast-changing work conditions. It can also arise when people feel their values and beliefs are being threatened at work. For example, if someone has a strong fairness value, this may result in their Courage strength going into overdrive if their manager gives them what they perceive to be an unfair performance review and/or pay rise. This might cause them to be unintentionally brazen and forceful towards their manager because of the internal stress and dissonance they are experiencing.

Remedy:

Awareness of what happens to your strength/s in times of stress and pressure is key. Once overdrive behaviours are understood, it is important to take action to minimize the risks of overdrive. Specific actions a person can take beyond awareness of specific triggers include: getting feedback from others on when and where their overdrive behaviours are showing up; specific actions to deal with stress responses such as meditation and relaxation exercises prior to engaging in a stressful task and developing complementary skills and behaviours to deal more effectively with stress, e.g., resilience and stress management skills.

  1. Company culture

Company values and cultures can reinforce overdone strengths. For example, we have witnessed several examples of strongly execution-oriented environments that value short-term execution and results over everything else. These companies favour people with Strengthscope® strengths like Results-focus, Initiative and Decisiveness and put less emphasis on relational strengths like Collaboration, Compassion and Empathy. This lopsided approach to hiring, performance management and development can trigger overdrive behaviours including rash decision-making, directive management, and short-termism. People in this type of environment with the strengths that are aligned with the culture are likely be reinforced and rewarded for overdrive behaviours, even when these are damaging to the organization’s longer-term future. Extreme examples of this include Enron, Sports Direct and some of the investment banks prior to the financial crisis.

Remedy:

This is a challenging trigger to address, as an employee is likely to remain unaware of their overdrive risks if these are being encouraged and rewarded. Even if they are aware of the risks, they will have little incentive to change their behaviour if it is actively promoted by the company’s values and culture. It is only when they change jobs or the company suffers a catastrophic failure as a result of the cumulative overdrive effects, that the employee will recognize the wrongs of their ways. A good example was Enron where overdrive behaviours associated with Decisiveness, Courage and Self-confidence led to a toxic culture characterized by hubris, greed, rash decision-making and narcissistic behaviour. It was only when the company failed that leaders (and employees more generally) took time to recognise the dire consequences of their dysfunctional behaviour. This is one of the reasons why it is important for leaders, teams and employees at every level of the organization to be aware not only of their strengths, but also the overdrive risks and when these are showing up so they can put in checks and balances to ensure overdrive is not amplified throughout the organization, resulting in lopsided behaviour and decision-making.

The risks and dangers of overdrive behavior need to be understood by all leaders and employees to help them guard against dysfunctional outcomes associated with lopsidedness and ineffective use of strengths. It is only through helping leaders and employees become more self-aware of their strengths that they can understand what their overdrive risks are and when these might be triggered. A good starting point is to ensure all management and career development programs (particularly personal/career development, coaching and management training) include strengths assessment and development exercises, as this will help reduce ‘blind spots’ and empower employees to understand and reduce the excesses of their strengths, improving both their performance and relationships.