065: Super-Sizing Your Strengths with Lisa Cummings

By September 26, 2016Podcasts

 

Strengths sleuth Lisa Cummings shows us how we can better leverage our strengths at work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How focusing on your strengths can 6X your work engagement and 3X your quality of life
  2. Approaches  to discovering strengths hiding right under your nose
  3. A clever trick to trade tasks and boost fun

About Lisa
Lisa Cummings, the Founder of Lead Through Strengths, brings 20 years of experience (and experiments) into this practice. She lives to help people find and leverage their strengths at work.
Lisa has experience building strengths-based cultures both as a corporate executive and also from the academic side. She has an MBA and is a Certified Strengths Performance Coach with Gallup, Inc., the biggest catalysts for and analysts of the strengths revolution. She’s the host of the Lead Through Strengths podcast. Her top three talent themes are: Strategic | Maximizer | Positivity.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Lisa Cummings Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Lisa, thank you so much for being here on How to be Awesome at Your Job Podcast.

Lisa Cummings

I’m so thrilled to be here and give some awesome tips.

Pete Mockaitis

I’m thrilled to have you too and with your awesome microphone audio quality. That is always appreciated, podcaster to podcaster. That’s good gear you’re working with there.

Lisa Cummings

Thank you. Gotta love it.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, speaking of gear, I have a roommate Dave who plays the drum, he’s always hauling his gear in and out, you also do a little bit of drum playing in your key notes, how does that come across?

Lisa Cummings

Oh. It’s so much fun. So, I do, of course like some fun jam session kind of stuff like your roommate probably does, keeping that household loud and that’s more like a proper drum kit and then in the training events, I do these things that are more experiential where I actually get the participants drumming, making some music and so it is a smaller-scale deal where they’re handing out percussion instruments, I just call them percussive doo-dads so that they are not scary to people, and then they’re really put into this situation that feels a little stressful and different but fun at the same time and it lets us have a chance to see how their talents come out at work. So, they’re having a good time with each other, kind of feels like good team building exercise, while at the same time, they are getting something really substantive out of it because we tie it all back to their strengths, and how their talents show up, how their team dynamics work and how one person reacts the other person or to the team situation. So, music becomes a really fun way to make a memorable conversation about how they work with each other at work.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh that is really fun, and I guess my first thought as a fellow speaker is, just how many percussive instruments can you fit into a carry-on suitcase?

Lisa Cummings

Well, if it’s a carry-on suitcase, I actually have never done it in a carry-on, I always check my bag if I’m going to hear them.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh. A hero. The sacrifice you make for the audience.

Lisa Cummings

I know. I know. Otherwise I have the no-check rule and if it’s local and, let’s say, the Texas zone where I would drive within 4 and 6 hours or something, I would actually do some major schlepping in my car and have some cases full of stuff where they get a little bit larger like hand drums, djembes, things like that.
But if it’s a far distance to travel a lot of times clients don’t want to pay for massive shipping bills, so I do jingles, shakers, and hand drums that are more like a frame, imagine a head of a drum only that they’re hitting with a mallets so it doesn’t take up much room because the whole body of the drum isn’t coming along with it so there are tricks like that to get more things with you.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, that just sounds like fun I want to go to one, so you let me know when there are open like seminar style to the masses and I’m intrigued.

Lisa Cummings

Okay. It’s a deal. I haven’t done them open style yet so that’ll be a good reason to keep the goal in mind so I can think of the people who have said, “Oh! That’s sounds really crazy, I’d love to do that.”

Pete Mockaitis

I am intrigued, and I’m also excited to dig into you and StrengthsFinder. I mean, I have taken the StrengthsFinder before and I’ll try not to make it all about me and my strengths, “Lisa tell me what this means,” but rather be universally helpful in terms of strengths.
So could you maybe orient us a bit so could you talk about yourself as a sleuth figuring out strengths and you use the instrument in some of your own stuff. Can I get you orient us a bit to you and strengths and how you think about them?

Lisa Cummings

Yeah, of course. Now you mentioned your strengths so we have to go back first and get your top five talents because you know people are going to be dying to know them when they’ve been listening to your show. Do you know what yours are?

Pete Mockaitis

Oh sure, yes. And I don’t know if the sequence is perfect, but the top one is activator. I’ve taken it a couple of times that’s been sizeable, it’s been consistent, each time it’s been activator’s the top followed by woo, winning others over and then some combination of strategic ideation and competition.

Lisa Cummings

Okay. So that’s good to know. Alright… I know everything about you now and instead of answering your questions, I’ll just keep asking questions about you. No. Yeah so orienting around me and my strengths as well, so, strategic, maximizer, positivity, we share woo and ideation from me are in my top 5 and if anybody is listening who hasn’t heard of StrengthsFinder, it’s kind of like a survey, it’s a hundred and seventy-seven questions, and the idea, is to find your natural talents that you could apply to work and life and they’re essentially, I call them “how you approach the world.” So a lot of people in their careers think about “oh what can I do at my job to get better?” and they’re thinking about their skills, the tangible things like that but they forget to think about how they approach the world so StrengthsFinder tells you about the ‘how’ and it’s just your natural patterns of thoughts and feelings and behaviors, the stuff that you’re good at without really trying and it gives you a whole other angle to look at how to be a strong performer at work.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh I’m going to dig a touch into the date if I can, so what’s cool about this assessment from what I recall, I’m sure you know way more now, with all your certifications and fancy things, is when Gallup developed this, they went through like over 2 million people having taken it and fine-tuning it to find these clusters and these patterns of strengths. could you tell us a little bit about the backstory for why anyone should listen and pay attention and say “oh another personality quiz, that’s great!” you know, what’s special about this assessment?

Lisa Cummings

It’s true. So they are serious data hounds. They have full time, data scientists, they have the likes of Daniel Kahneman if you ever heard of him, he’s a social scientist, I mean you’re talking the tip of the top guys. And they actually worked on this for a few decades before bringing it to the outer marketplace.
It’s really only been around to those of us who are not one of their internal clients that they were doing this on for just a little more than ten years and yes it’s significant. Now 15 million people have taken StrengthsFinder depending on when someone’s listening, that number keeps growing and changing all the time, but there is so much data behind it, and they’ve sliced it and diced it based on gender, based on generation, and the more you hang around StrengthsFinder the more you see how they slice and dice the data and give you information on it.
They do a lot related to employee engagement so that they bring us that’s like the fact that people are six times more engaged on the job when they as individuals decide to focus on their strengths. So I think it’s cool to bring ideas to shows like this where it’s just a high achiever as your audience member are saying “I want to get better on the job, what do I do?” And if you focus on your strengths as a filter for the way you work at work, you could see six times the improvement of how you feel engaged on the job.

Pete Mockaitis

I like that a lot. And so could you share any other kind of eye-popping you know stats or results or you know cases for why strengths matter, they’re important, and they make a big deal, well six times that’s cool, what else?

Lisa Cummings

That’s cool. Another one that I love is people who focus on their strengths report three times the quality of life as those who don’t. Is that crazy? So it’s not just work, it’s actually about you as a whole person, and I think an example will go well here.
So people are always like, what does this really look like? How do you take these words that come out on an assessment and turn them into something really useful at work? So to give you an example, I work really closely with one of my clients, Get It Done Gal. Super high achiever and she works really closely with internal executives and – both internal executives and client executives – and she was really noticing that she’s different from the way they are, she felt like“man, I am a lot more tactical than they are, they’re always coming up with these big, grand visions and then I am immediately thinking about all the stuff that’s going to have to happen and I actually get it done.’ And she has, if I use StrengthsFinder language, she has talents like discipline and that’s one of the planning steps and executing it, she has consistency that’s very much about processes. She has achiever which is very much about getting it done, so she’s really high on these executing talents which is great, but she was seeing them as weaknesses.
And so in using strengths, the idea is if you use your strengths, it will make you a stronger performer at work because every person has a unique contribution to the team. So instead of what she was doing, where she was thinking“I need to mask this or hide it or you know, because they’re going to think I am too much of doer and I won’t be viewed as someone who deserves to be sitting here”and so instead, she finally figured out how to use what she brings to the table as a company advantage. So that’s what she did, she really became a translator for them and using strengths. So they think of these grand visions. She’s the one that figures out how to turn them into reality. And they love her for it because don’t want to play that role, they hate that stuff. But they love that it gets done, so rather than you know her fears side which was they will view me like a tactical doer, instead they love how it rounds out the team.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. That is very helpful. Well many people experience that, like, “I don’t quite seem to… I don’t know if I belong here, or fit here” and it could be that there is sort of a key difference between either your own preferences, and personality, I’m thinking of Myers-Briggs language here, or the strengths that you’ve got working for you or in terms of your sort of key beliefs values, convictions, and it’s handy to get clear on what is the disconnect, and how can you focus in on the strengths? And that’s cool and exciting, I buy it.
Now I want to know, so you’ve used these terms and we’re talking about that the StrengthsFinder assessment, tell us first, where can we go, do that and take it,  and second, if we’re not going to do that, how can we still get a sense for what our strengths are?

Lisa Cummings

Yeah for sure. So the easiest way to go do it is just go on Amazon or wherever you buy books and buy the book called StrengthsFinder 2.0 and inside of that book you’ll get a code for an assessment so I think that’s the easiest way to do it and then you get the book behind it, and the book gives some additional case proof for, you know, why you should care about this and some stories about why you should care for it and it also has, it’s almost like a dictionary of the different talent themes so that you have the long version and when it start expanding beyond you, let’s say your team does it or maybe someone you’re close to, a family member, a friend, you can read theirs, and start to see how it shows up on them, it’s really fun when you start applying it to other people.

Pete Mockaitis

Yes, indeed. So, that sounds handy, and worth doing and doesn’t sound too pricey, you know just buy a book, and it’s not even a newer book, so that’s maybe 18-ish dollars or less?

Lisa Cummings

Yeah usually it seems to change a little bit but somewhere around 15 bucks is usually where you’ll find it. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis

Bargain. I’ve done it before with a team of folks putting on a leadership conference. I was like, okay, I want all my directors to take this, and we had a really rich conversation about it. So I’d love to hear that’s one way is to take it, and are there other ways?

Lisa Cummings

Oh yeah for sure because that’s the other part of your question, wasn’t it? That, what if they don’t take the assessment? What are some other ways? How do you start tapping into these? And finding them? Spotting them is easier than you might imagine if you actually watch for them and listen for them.
So, one way is what do people consistently tell you, “oh you’re so good at that!” And it’s one that people dismiss all the time, they have this great talent, they’re great communicators, they can always find the right words or they’re really good at crunching numbers or they’re really good at coming up with a story out of data, or they’re really good at relating to other people or they’re really good at you know noticing someone in a meeting made a face and you can tell, they are not bought into this and as soon as they leave the room it’s all going to unravel, but no one else noticed that thing.
So those are the kind of things that you know you’re good at, others will tell you you’re good at, but you don’t think it’s anything special because it’s in you, so easy for you and you discard it, so that’s one. Notice that stuff and listen when people tell you that and then ask yourself “what else can I do with that? How can I use that more and how can I benefit the company more by using it?” because then you become a more valued performer.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh that’s so good. I’d love to speak to that a bit because I think it just, it is just easy for you to just dismiss it because I think it’s natural for us to think, “boy, if I didn’t work hard in long and exert some sort of heroic effort toward accomplishing something, it is not really worthy of praise or merit, it really is, “That’s no big deal. That’s just kind of what I do, that’s fine.” It seems like a nothing, but it is absolutely quite a something and so I think it’s awesome that you highlighted that.
I think it can be tempting to just throw that aside real quick, and do you have any pro tips or how do you, kind of hold on and notice and retain that instead of dismissing it so fast, you don’t find a pattern?

Lisa Cummings

Well, one thing practice that I like to do when you notice anything like that, that you want to get more of, is making a little mantra out of it, or a little phrase out of it and then put it on a lock screen of your phone because you look at, I heard on your podcast the other day that you open it 68 times a day. I don’t know where the data came from or if it’s accurate but oh my gosh hearing that number I thought, really?
And so imagine if you take something like I’ll give you the example of take that situation where I mention of the person who’s really empathetic and they can sense what’s going on in the room in a meeting and so I’ve had a person who’s really high in empathy like that, use the phrase, “Be here, now.”
And so to take that example and that’s something he really values is being here now because he’s seeing and he’s feeling what other people aren’t because they’re distracted and they’re moving on. And so take that phrase “Be here, now” and then make an image out of it. I use Word Swag, there are a lot of apps that make words looks pretty on the screen of course, so you can pick whichever one you like and then make it your lock screen and so every day for the next month, you see something like your message be here now and you’ll know, “okay, I need to use this as often as possible and I’m going to keep investing in that and see what good I can create out of it in my work day.”

Pete Mockaitis

Oh that’s so cool, thank you. So you had some more. I kind of went deep on one but you had some more, so please don’t let me stop you. What are other ways to identify your strengths?

Lisa Cummings

Oh yeah sure. Another favorite is, look at your calendar and your to-do list and make a list of ‘yucks and yays’.
So if you are a writer, and you like to jot stuff down as you’re going through it, just split a piece of paper in half and write yuck and write yay on the other side. Look at the stuff for yuck, you’re looking for things that you like another meeting about a meeting, or I always procrastinate that one and look at the stuff that you are not looking forward to write that down. Those are often going to be trends that will show you your weakness zone that are probably calling on the talents that aren’t so good for you and they are going to wear you out.
And then on the other side, on the yays, it’s what am I looking really forward to? And then as you make that list, then you think of the things that you wake up for, and you live for, then you ask yourself how do you get more of those in your workdays? Sometimes you can swap out tasks with teammates, sometimes you can volunteer for projects to get it.
Sometimes they’re just small things at a time where you actually communicate with your manager about “I’d really like to get more of this in my workdays” if you see an opportunity because they can’t read your mind and they don’t know what projects you’d want more of, so the more you say it and put it out there, the more you get the chance to demonstrate it, the more you demonstrate it, the more that people see you at your best and I’ve heard a lot of stories about people’s roles evolving and even entirely new jobs getting offered to them because they’ve been leaning into it just 3-5 minutes a day at a time.
So you get that list of yays and ask yourself, “how can I just get 3-5 more minutes a day of these?” And then do the opposite with your yucks, what could you put on your stop doing list? What could you trade with somebody, something that you hate that someone else’s love? Perfect example, I have on my yucks list, I used to have a manager who loved pivot tables. Everything was in a pivot table, and you know it’s fine there are good things that came out of data, but it wasn’t my zone of genius let’s say. My analytical talents in are number 17 out of 34, it’s there I can call on it, but I just never looked forward to it. I got competent at it but I didn’t like it.
I got a team member, he loved pivot tables, loved everything he could do with data and I love presenting, so we ended up figuring this out about each other and swapped out. I started making his presentations for our exec reviews that we did every quarter, and I would make the deck and I would present and I just thought that was fun, I love designing, I love making, I love presenting.
He loved getting all the data and finding what was important to them, so we literally swapped tasks without asking, and we both felt more productive and energized by it, and you’re just talking about something that’s a 20-minute activity for each person, but over time they compound and really change the way you feel about your workday.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh that’s so beautiful, that you swapped tasks without asking. Because really the powers that be, they just want the complete beautiful deck which includes the data. So they probably don’t care a whole lot as to who and how it gets done, so you have that power within yourselves to just go there and then also I’m sure it does a lot to build sort of cameraderie and team spirit a bit, like you have a stronger sort of colleague bond with your collaborator there, than you would have had you not gone there.

Lisa Cummings

Heck yeah. And I like the idea that you’re raising the colleague bond, because it also gets to, if you apply this beyond yourself, one you’re looking at how this is going to show up on you and what can you do with them and then, once you get beyond you and you start looking around, think about a person at work who’s annoyed you before in your career, and there’s inevitably somebody around the office that you kind of, eh, you don’t love working with. If you flipped the script on that, and you use what you could learn through talents and say the opposite, what could this person bring to the situation? What do they do that annoys me, and where are they actually coming from on that?
Because a lot of times they’re bringing in an angle that you don’t want to see, or you don’t like to see, or you can’t see, and so it helps you see these values and virtues in other people, and so, one, it opens your mind and then two, it can even create those conversations like the one we just talked about where you can actually swap out duties or tasks or elements of a project like if somebody’s a really big ideation person and they want to do that on a front end of a project instead of you owning the whole thing from the beginning to the end, maybe you bring them in at the beginning.
Maybe if you don’t love presenting ideas or you think hey the product’s baked and everything’s done I wish my part in this would end but then you look to your partner or your teammate who’s actually great at selling ideas and getting momentum so that it’s not an if you build it, you know, they will come in situation in business, you got to get out there and sell the ideas, so find a person who loves doing that and a lot of beautiful partnerships get formed once you start looking for this stuff as well.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh that is really cool. And I recall working for a client organization, a major retailer who will remain nameless. This client, had as a regular part-and-parcel of how they operated, a list of the 5 strength themes at the bottom of their email signatures, which I thought was really cool, and so that’s sort of one simple way that folks are going about communicating and sharing, “oh these are the things I’d like to do and will work well at doing and facilitate all sort informal swaps that way.”

Lisa Cummings

Yeah, absolutely. And you know you’re making me think of another idea where when you start looking for these in other people, you made me think of a client situation where this woman was really detail-oriented, and she was seeing where her internal peers were glazing over, because she just gets way into the weeds on every conversation as far as her peers were concerned. For her, she though “this is really important stuff, they need to know the backstory, they need to know the detail, they’re going to make a decision, they need to have all the information,” and so it wasn’t until taking StrengthsFinder that she was able to say, “alright, I see the faces, I see they’re glazing over” so instead of trying to bulldoze, she came up with some phrases. That’s one of things that we’ll do to strategize and one of her phrases was “the short answer  is  X.”
So she got the habit of making herself say, the short answer is, and then give the short answer, and then she would say, there’s a lot of backstory or data or whatever there was a lot of and she would say, “would that be helpful to hear right now?”
So instead of just giving it and getting the glazed eyes, then people would either decide, I can hear it right now or can you email it to me. And it changed the dynamic of the relationship so in a really practical way every person gets a little different tactic or gets a little different approach, based on the talents that they have.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh that’s fun. So you kind of highlighted something, we’re focused on strengths, and Lead Through Strengths is your brand there, but you’re also suggesting that each of these strengths can have a little bit of a dark side when it comes to an overreliance upon them or that’s just the natural way of operating and flourishing but it may not be optimally suited to a particular situation that you’re in?

Lisa Cummings

I’ll share a dark side of mine because then I don’t have to share any client dark sides. So here’s an example maybe a shadow of maximizer.
So with maximizer talent, it is, on the beautiful side it’s like, I like to make things the best they can be, I like to help people become the best they can be, we’re here so why not, you know, live big, go all the way while you’re here?
The shadow of it is I’m never finished with anything; I always want to tinker and make stuff better. It can make me feel reluctant to put something out to market because I’m imagining “if we can just do this with it or make that better or tweak this” you know if I could only.
Sometimes, it makes me feel like the quality of the work isn’t good enough to ship. And I have a lot of situations in my career like if you work in a tech company or a fast paced company, that’s not going to fly, and I know that, and so I’ll have to have honest conversations with the person I report to, or the people I’m working with and say personally I would love to do x, y, and z to this project to make it really amazing. Based on the scope and the resources and the time of the project that’s in front of us, I think we have to make it like this to meet the business objectives, and it makes feel better when I can say, “I could make it this and I’d love to make it that, I think we’re going to have to be okay here” and as long as they know that I wish I could make it that, it makes easier for me to deal with the shadow side but it’s always at me thinking, “slow it down, make it better, wait fix that a little more, work a little longer” and that could be draining to me or slow to people who are waiting on things from me.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh that is powerful. And so, could you, maybe if you could indulge me with sort of one more example in terms of, if you look at my profile with activator and woo and the strategic etcetera, what are some things that come to mind with regards to “oh here’s a potential the dark side to watch out for” or “here is a mantra or practice that clients have found rather helpful” just to make it all the more real?

Lisa Cummings

Okay. Alright. So let’s see. With activator, woo, strategic, ideation and competition. Okay, one example you and I were just talking about hiring team members, so you have a new team member and you have activator combined with strategic and ideation, well first of all, these are very fast moving talents. Got to be a fast moving guy.
I would hypothesize that you could have a lot of ideas if you think out loud and you want to get stuff started likely with activator, let’s get it moving, let’s get it started, it could be overwhelming to a team member who thinks everything you talk about, every big idea you explore means, this is an assignment, go and do this, going to get it done, so what can happen with a team member in that situation is they’re off running, spinning like crazy, feeling totally overwhelmed, trying to deliver on all of these things, and you may not even realize that they’re off doing it because they’re just trying to fulfill the assignment and you were just talking about ideas.
You didn’t necessarily think that they were all going to be set into motion right now and out to complete so that’s one idea. It can be a dark side as a manager, thinking about how fast moving and influential your talents are. So that’s one.
I’ll give you one more and I want to see your reactions to them, one more could be with competition, on its shadow side, imagine somebody who is really highly competitive who always wants to win, who then can do the fun, imagine the touchdown dance at the end where you are like “end zone, in your face, I win” you know this kind of fun that you might have with your competition but on the receiving end for someone who isn’t competitive, they could think “oh my gosh, they’re trying to beat me, he’s trying to squash me.” And so the really beautiful side of competition when it’s mature is more like “I love winning, and I want to help everybody win” and it’s very elevating.
So you might see, if you look back, I’d be curious to know in your childhood when you were younger, did your competition look more like trash talk, you know it’s like “I want to win, in your face buddy” versus being more mature in business thinking, “we’re going to win as a company and here’s what we can all do to elevate.”

Pete Mockaitis

I do remember my dad once said to me, “Pete, why are you always talking about winning?” It’s so funny, it really does, kind of get there deep, but I didn’t do a ton of sports and what not and it is funny kind of marrying up with other assessments, I dig the Myers-Briggs and my preferences are ENFJ extroversion, intuition, feeling, judging, and they often say folks like this resemble like a coach, or you know like an Oprah figure, really helping you learn and grow, and find your best self, so it was sort of funny, I guess in a way it was both,  like if we are on the same team and yeah that’s all rally and inspire and go and if there’s someone on the other side, it’s like I want to crush them.
And not that they’re demoralized, just like in the leadership conference, “oh yeah our leadership seminar had a higher net promoter score in terms of attendee satisfaction than your leadership seminar.” So I would say that, but you know for my team I would totally them to show the slide and say, “hey, look at how we’re awesome!”

Lisa Cummings

Yeah. I love it. That’s definitely very competitive. What did you think on the other one? Do you feel like you are often faster moving than the people around you and you have to wait for people to catch up with you?

Pete Mockaitis

I kind of I do, and I would say this, I was chatting with my fiancé recently, and it’s interesting how, I think one dark side that’s coming off with these strengths, we just talked about this, is that I do kind of want to start it fast and get it completed fast, so often she’s absolutely not in that kind of space for an activity. So like, we washed the car recently, “alright this car needs to be washed. We’re going to get it done, let’s get it going, let’s get it washed, come on! Move, move, move.” And so that was not what she imagined at all from a car washing adventure, she wanted it to be just kind of you know a fun playful, you know, we’ve got water, we’ve got soap, we’re doing this sort of a different thing. So, yeah that does show up.

Lisa Cummings

Yeah. Now, how about woo? We didn’t talk about that one either so I’d say, on the beautiful side of woo, it’s typically somebody who really likes social variety, they’re out there, they love meeting new people.
I can say I have seen this on you. This is kind of the scenario, under which we met in person in Chicago, new people, new friends, how fun. And the dark side of woo, can be coming on strong for those who are little more closed off to divulging personal information to a new person it could at its worst even be viewed as disingenuous to somebody who’s like “why are these people talking to me? They don’t know me. They don’t know anything about me.” So those are a couple of examples of things where woo can have a shadow side where you have to be really conscious of how people are receiving you, because they may love it or they may think, “why is he out there trying to make a hundred friends today?”

Pete Mockaitis

Oh yeah. And I’ve had people say, once I had a spiritual director, and we were having a chat, and he said “I was kind of wondering is this guy for real?” So we were having a really honest conversation and he was like, that shows up, I was like “no I really am that interested in you and your life and your stuff even though you’re not accustomed to that and that might seem wrong.” There’s an announcement to the world, I really do care that much about what you have to say.

Lisa Cummings
There you go. And I can back it up. The people who are high in woo, they love the social variety and there are only friends I haven’t met yet, and there’s no end to it.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh boy! This is fun. So, well I want to hear, enough about me, so thank you. Let’s hear a smidge, we’ve talked about the shadow or dark side of some of the strengths and how that has implications, and it seems that the prescription you were offering was largely like you know, figure out a mantra or just sort of a quick sort of adaption in terms of “hey I would love to make this like super awesome” but given these constraints, this is probably what we’re going to have to do for now. So that’s a means by which you are able to cope and adapt with the dark side of that strength. I’d like to know how should we generally be thinking about building strengths versus quote “fixing” weaknesses, and how’s our efforts best spent and why?

Lisa Cummings

Right. So, I do believe that you should consider your weaknesses, work around them, address them, don’t ignore them. So that is a nice thing to just put out front because some people think, “yeah, yeah, yeah that all sounds good.”
That’s totally impractical to think, that I’ll just ignore those and let those go by the wayside. Now with that said, if you think about almost every workplace that I encounter, they have development plans and you do a development plan every year and what does it have on it? It has all the gaps you’re going to fill, it has all the weaknesses you’re going to fix and very rarely, does it focus on leaning into your strengths and investing in the places where you’re going to get that really kind of sky rocket effect of the approach.
So, one is I’m not too worried about telling people “work around your weaknesses, compose strategies to mitigate and push those down in your life compared with the way you’ve been focusing” because I really don’t meet people who are too focused on their strengths and it’s just like the negativity bias that’s in us is very strong. So, when you do spot the weaknesses, or what happens more often is exactly what you were just describing those shadow sides of the strengths which is pretty cool, because that’s a lot easier to work on. When it’s maturing something that’s already good, and a drive and a yearning in you already, great, it’s easier to mature that than to totally change who you are, so that’s one element. Another is, some people will think that they have weaknesses and really they’re just gaps. So someone says “oh I want to get promoted, I want to be in this job.” And when you really look at what’s in the way of them getting viewed capable for the next level, it’s often experience gaps like “oh I need to see you in this complex environment” or “I need to see you demonstrate how your soft skills show up when you’re trying to lead something and actually get other people to follow along or I need to see you in an international environment.”
Well, all that stuff, that’s just an experience gap, so if you’re going to fill those, fill them in places that allow you to use your strengths. Because you’re going to be stretched because of the experience you’re getting and because of the gap you’re filling, but do it in a way that you know you can lean into the things that are going to come naturally to you.
To sum it up, it’s very much like if you think about throwing a ball, and if you’re in a space where you can just do it, just imagine that you have a baseball in your dominant hand and then just step forward and throw it on the wall in front of you, and that feels pretty good. And then if you do the opposite, pick up your non-dominant hand and imagine you have a baseball in that hand and then throw that one to the wall in front of you, and it feels a little weird. You can do it, you can become competent in your weaknesses and the more you practice, the more you look great to your team members and even feel better to you, but it’s never quite intuitive like it is when you’re working on your dominant hand.
So it’s the wrong handed moment versus the strong handed moment, and you have to know enough about you to know where have you been just been practicing your weaknesses enough that they feel right to you and then go “oh yeah that actually is a little drain on me I just was not noticing it any longer” and instead focus on getting the strong handed moments because that’s where you really get the big benefits fast by making small investments.

Pete Mockaitis

I like it, thank you. I want to now touch on a quick question on when it comes to having your strengths be sort of noticed, appreciated in the workplace, that seems to be a theme that’s coming up with guests with regards to, when it’s the time to move on, is this a toxic environment, one of the things is you’re not appreciated for what you’re contributing, what you’re bringing into the table.
So, do you have any pro tips for, you’ve got a strength, you’re starting to use it, and then there are some cool little glimmers and positive results that are happening from that strength usage, but folks aren’t quite realizing that you’re special, you’re cool, you’ve got it going on, you making meaningful contributions. Are there any sort of prudent ways to do some career management along those lines?

Lisa Cummings

Yeah sure. So, one is reframing. So it’s coming up right, so if the culture that you’re in is not your jam, it’s not fitting your vibe, and you don’t think it’s going to change. When you look up, the most obvious thing you can do is change your behavior and your reaction to the situation because it’s not likely that moving one giant corporate culture is going to happen quickly for you.
So one is kind of on the order of being the change you want to see in the world, I call this practice, “Notice what works, to get more of what works.” So it’s literally spotting it in other people “oh! I love when you do that, that made the meeting so much better!” “oh! It looks so easy for you to do this thing in the meeting that you do, I’d love to learn about that from you” and go around spotting it in other people, and tell them specifically, not just “great job!” because that sounds just an empty platitude stuff but literally walking around spotting specific stuff, “I love how you worded this thing” “oh my gosh, I saw how you talked this customer off the ledge. You’re so good with client facing work.”
Notice other people and they will begin to do more of what works for them, and a little bit at a time, you can start to influence the team around you, just by creating your own culture of noticing what works, so that’s one thing you can do.
Back to the reframing, a second is connecting back with your purpose and what matters for you, why did you show up in the first place in that job? What’s the thing that really got you? I have one recently in a health care environment where people work in a pretty detached operations role away from what the work was they were doing for patients, and talking about reframing, it’s taking the same activity that you would do day to day, following a process that just seems like bits and bites or words on paper but instead thinking “if I do this well, it’s going to be affect that patient’s life.” And really reconnecting with why you’re there and the things that motivate you to show up every day so I know it seems a little weird that thinking about that from the outside like that could have a big effect, but if you’re feeling drained throughout the day, just simple practices like that like “why am I doing this? Why am I here? What attracted me here in the first place and what good can I find in it to use that to get me going?”
Sometimes, it’s big enough reframe to actually make you want to stay. Sometimes it’s just a wrong fit, in a wrong place, sometimes you do just have to leave. But a lot of times you can change a lot by changing your mindset.

Pete Mockaitis

Thank you. Okay, boy, we’ve covered so much good stuff. Anything else you want to make sure you put out there before we shift gears and talk about the fast faves?

Lisa Cummings

I think really that line when I said just focus on using your strengths more at work because that will strengthen your performance. Use your strengths at work it will make you a stronger performer. If you can internalize that and look for ways every day, you can really change the way any job feels today, whether it’s already feeling pretty decent or it’s feeling kind of cruddy and you really need to do some major reframing.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright then, let’s hear, tell us, do you have a favorite quote you’d like to share?

Lisa Cummings

Yeah, so we started with music, so why don’t I call back to some music. A line from a Ray Wiley Hubbard song called the Mother Blues and at the very end of the song, the last line is, “The days you keep your gratitude higher than your expectations, those are really good days.”
And of course keep your expectations high right? So his line is about keeping your gratitude higher than your expectations even when your expectations are high. Looking for what works so you can get more of that.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, that’s very good. Thank you. How about a favorite study or experiment or piece of research?

Lisa Cummings

Yeah, we talked about 6 times engagement focusing on strengths and the 3 times the quality of life, those are huge. My other favorite is that Gallup’s research shows 87% of the workforce worldwide, they are not fully engaged on the job. Isn’t that sad to think about that number, only 13% feeling fully engaged worldwide, so that then kind of leads you to that question, what are you going to do to be one of those 13% and what are you going to do to make that number higher?”

Pete Mockaitis

Oh yes. Thank you, so what about your favorite book?

Lisa Cummings

My all-time favorite book is Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Yeah, pretty powerful.

Pete Mockaitis

And how about a favorite tool something that you find helpful to boost your effectiveness?

Lisa Cummings

Now, you talk about Evernote a lot so I won’t use that as my tool because it is for me all about getting stuff out of my head, so that I don’t have to remember it because that is a bad idea and so what tool along those lines my favorite app is called Our Groceries, yep I’m dropping in a grocery app. So what you do is literally syncs up all of the devices amongst your family, your significant other, or whomever so when you run out of milk then you write milk right in that moment it’s on the list and it syncs across all of the phones. You use it in the store. And so we have a Home Depot list and a grocery store list an all kind of things on the list in here, and you don’t even have to remember to buy anything. And it’s always together in it so it’s like crowd sourcing the list that always syncs amongst your family.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh that’s so cool. I didn’t know that existed and now I want that. Thanks. And how about a favorite habit? A personal practice of yours?

Lisa Cummings

Okay so this is my confessional right here. That I have needed to get a handle on my overbooked calendar for a while and I’ve finally figured out that my problem is that I underestimate how long it takes things to get done on my to-do list. So I started blocking time on my calendar for to do’s and tasks which is the opposite of what most productivity and time management experts recommend and this has totally changed my life, so instead of me thinking yeah I can do that this month plus the 100 other things I plan to do, it really floored me when I laid it out like that because I started seeing when I put my own personal manhours out on a calendar, I needed months, sometimes a year, to do something I thought would take a month or a week something I thought that could take a day, it’s totally changed my perspective on time and has allowed me to stop working until 1 am.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh wow. That’s fantastic. And you know what, you’ve got experts like Greg McEwan episode 38 on essentialism who would say that’s critical to schedule that buffer time just because things happen or come up and you need it and it keeps you moving, so I’m right on board, I don’t think you’re a renegade, you’re being smart. And how about a favorite sort of a resonant nuggets or tidbit, something you share that tends to get retweeted or highlighted quite a bit?

Lisa Cummings

So probably the number one is “Notice what works, to get more of what works”.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Thanks. What would you say is the best way for folks to learn more about you and check out your stuff?

Lisa Cummings

Oh yeah, so go to leadthroughstrengths.com is the website. You could email me at lisa@leadthroughstrengths, I’m on Twitter @lisacummings. I’m happy to connect on LinkedIn if you’d like, you just have to tell me what your yuck and your yay was that you identified and then I’m all in connecting with everybody.

Pete Mockaitis

That sounds like a small price to pay. Thank you.

Lisa Cummings

That’s right. That’s right. Oh and there’s the podcast Lead Through Strengths podcast as well.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh yeah and your audio quality is great and your content is great so check that one out. It’s so solid. Do you have a final challenge or parting call to action you’d leave folks with, seeking to be more awesome at their jobs?

Lisa Cummings

Yeah. I think the tip I want to call back to that tip on the lock screen because it is so practical. People are going to pick something, they’re going to tell you, you’re good at something, you’re good with words, you’re good with analytics, take that item, out it on your lock screen on your phone, make a phrase out of it and look at it every day so that you’ll decide to invest in it more and I guess the conceptual call to action that goes to that is claim your talents and share them with the world because if you hoard them and you dismiss that comment that people think that you’re great at something then you’re really doing a disservice to all the people around you who could have benefited from that talent you have.

Pete Mockaitis

Thank you. Well Lisa, this has been so fun. I’m glad we got to meet at Podcast Movement and that we’re staying in touch. You’re doing cool things and I’m being enriched by it, and I’m sure, so are your many clients and listeners so thanks for what you’re doing and good luck, it’s been a treat.

Lisa Cummings

Thanks for having me, it was definitely a treat.

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