Thursday, February 6, 2014

Teaching and Leading: Focusing on Our Strengths

One of the courses I'm taking this semester is about leadership in the field of Educational Technology. I'm very interested in this--it looks to be a great semester!

Our first assignment was to read the book Strengths Based Leadership, by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie. It's a quick, easy read and give a good overview to the idea of leading with your strengths, rather than focusing on overcoming your weaknesses. Along with the reading, we were to take the StrengthsFinder assessment, created by the people at Gallup. (Yep, that Gallup.) They have a history of helping organizations and individuals understand their strengths.

This was an interesting assignment for me, but it wasn't the first time I'd taken the StrengthsFinder assessment. About six years ago, along with the rest of the staff at the school where I was teaching at that time I took the test as a part of reading Teach with Your Strengths. It was intended to be a team-building exercise, I think, but we never really did much with the results beyond a one-and-done "professional development" workshop. That might sound more cynical that it actually is; I found the exercise to be very helpful for me to understand my own strength areas.

What I've noticed now with some interest is that my top strengths have changed over the six-year interlude. Well, some of them have shifted, anyway. The first time I took StrengthsFinder, my top strengths were: Learner, Intellection, Command, Input, and Connectedness. This time, my top strengths were: Input, Intellection, Strategic, Learner, and Positivity. So, it's pretty clear that my strengths are generally in the Strategic Thinking domain of leadership. (The authors group the different strengths into four major domains: Executing, Influencing, Relationship Building, and Strategic Thinking. My strengths of Input, Intellection, and Learner--featured both times--are all in the Strategic Thinking domain.) But I wonder about the ordering, and how this is determined?

For instance, I think I am generally a pretty positive person--was Positivity the #6 slot the first time I took the test? What happened to Command and Connectedness this time around? Am I just not using these strengths as much in my current role in higher ed, compared to my previous role in a PreK-8 school?

This gets me thinking about the reliability factor of the assessment--does it depend on my mood and mindset when I take the test? Or is my current thinking and action significantly different than it was six years ago? (Six years seems long enough that I might have grown and changed, doesn't it?)

I am always trying to learn new things (Learner! Input!) and adjust my actions accordingly. The first time I took StrengthsFinder we had a facilitator in to help us think through how we can use our strengths in teaching. It was a good exercise. I realized that I tend to use my Learner and Intellection strengths most, but at that time I was putting them into practice through Command: "Hey guys, I was reading this, and learned this, and I'm trying it in my teaching! You all should do it too!" This didn't always work so well for fact, it earned me some friction with colleagues. Being aware of this helped me soften up around the edges and change my approach with working with them--making me more of a leader among the staff, as I'm thinking about it now. Interesting! Maybe the act of measurement caused me to change the emphasis I put on particular strengths? Now I feel like this could be something like Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle...measuring changes the trajectory!

Have you taken the StrengthsFinder assessment? Have you taken it more than once? I'd love to hear if your results have shifted in a way similar to mine, and your thoughts about what this might mean as well.

Overall, I think the emphasis on working out of your strength areas makes a lot of sense. I am encouraged by the emphasis on celebrating strength areas. Even if my strengths do change over time, maybe that's just a reflection of my attempt to continue to learn, to grow, to develop into more of who I am created to be.

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