Gallup Demonstrates Strength-based Leadership

By, David J Roman

Susan Shald from Gallup Strategic Consulting Services hosted an engaging workshop on leadership by amplifying strengths instead of focusing most on weaknesses. Several attendees from ASU were among the 30 attendees in the room in this 9AM session on Wednesday, October 22nd in Thunderbird’s Lecture Hall 53. Susan asked us on which grade we would spend the most time making improvements were we to be parents of a child who brought home a report card like the following:

  •  A – Language/Grammar
  •  A – Social Studies
  •   C – Biology
  •  F – Algebra

As might be expected the Algebra grade garnered the most attention, which was supported by the results of an official Gallup poll that said 77% of Americans surveyed said the same. Her point was that our weaknesses often receive the most attention in our attempt to become “well rounded”, but this often curtails our true potential. She displayed a graph that showed how working on an area of strength statistically yields around triple the progress than putting the same effort into a weakness. Not to discount ensuring we deliver with reasonable quality on areas in which we are less naturally gifted, Susan explained that we should focus at least as much on developing our strengths as we do our weaknesses.

Courtesy: David J Roman
Courtesy: David J Roman

What is a strength? According to Gallup, “a strength is a recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior that is productively applied to a desired outcome.”

In an excellent demonstration of this concept, Susan had us write I know my strengths! 5 times as fast and as neatly as possible with our non-dominant hand. This took around 2.5 minutes for the participants to complete, and many of us were not impressed with our results. We then repeated the exercise with our dominant hand, finishing in 45 seconds with much better product.

We shared our results with those around us. As we did so, I felt embarrassed about the poor penmanship of my non-dominant hand. Ms. Shald told about how Gallup’s CEO hosted a national conference in which employees each wore a huge tag that showed their name and strengths. Even though their strengths were on display, they still felt exposed and uncomfortable. However, they quickly developed transparency and trust which brought them together more tightly and productively as the event progressed.

Susan gave us an interactive tour through several of the most relevant strengths out of the 39 included in Gallup’s StrengthsFinder product. She incentivized us to share some of our strengths by awarding free copies of great books from the Gallup Press. Susan recommended that we take time at the start of each project to understand and build a solid relationship with our team members. One way to get started on this exercise is to gather each team member’s top 5 strengths (for example, mine are: Strategic – Arranger – Individual – Responsibility – Connectedness) then lay out a plan to use them wisely.

Courtesy: David J Roman
Courtesy: David J Roman

To enhance her point about the importance of close, constructive relationships, Susan asked us to draw a round table with ourselves at the far side. We were to encircle the table with the first people that came to mind when we thought of people that were instrumental in making us who we are today. Then, she encouraged us to thank each of them personally in the months ahead.

Bottom Line: Ms. Shald concluded with these 4 takeaways to cultivate valuable relationships:

  1. Build Trust
  2. Show Compassion
  3. Provide Stability
  4. Create Hope

When asked later how Gallup handled the price fixing allegations in recent years, Susan recalled that Gallup leadership took a firm stance with potential conflicts of interest and used the experience of the lawsuit to become even more customer oriented.  She stressed that Gallup holds to a high standard of integrity. As I reflected on this Development Week workshop session, I was reminded that we all face obstacles and failures. Some are outside our control. Regardless, it’s our response that sets us apart.

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