"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit." Aristotle
Those with the Maximizer CliftonStrengths theme in their top 5 StrengthsFinder results have a high regard for excellence. "From Good to Great" is a tagline that they can identify with.
Often, they are deemed to be people of high standards. Yet at other times, they are labelled "perfectionists." There is a great drive within them to keep improving what they are doing. Good is never good enough. Sometimes, this urge to improve drives them up the wall. Maximizers dislike people who try to "fix" them and make them well-rounded. Intuitively, they understand the Pareto principle (a.k.a. the 80/20 rule), which states that 20% of our efforts yield 80% of the results. They have a strong preference for working with the best people and they believe in optimizing resources to get the best results.
As a Maximizer, I discovered that the more I felt my strengths were engaged in my work, the more motivated I was to continue with this work -- even if at times the role of a leader could be very emotionally draining.
I also had another realization: the way I wanted to be engaged in my work as a leader was exactly the same way that the people I led wanted to be engaged - through their Strengths (or Talent Themes in StrengthsFinder lingo). This is particularly true of the generation of younger employees rising up as leaders in the marketplace: the millennial generation (individuals born between early 1980's and late 1990's).
These discoveries led to much personal reflection. One thought stood out: “How do I engage these emerging leaders and mentor them into their fullest potential?” This question guided my thoughts on leadership development, organizing training programs, teambuilding camps, and outreach programs.
How can a person with Maximizer turn this talent into a Strength? Here are a few suggestions.
1. Engage your team members by leveraging on their talents.
When asked about managing outrageous talent, renowned soccer coach Jose Mourinho said this: "The toughest thing is when you don't have that talent! I never understood when people said that can be a problem, or that you can have one special talent but not two or three or four. I want 11 special talents!"
Intuitively, I understood what Jose Mourinho was talking about. There are many millennials who are crying out to be engaged today. Many in the millennial generation have great talents that are not harnessed because of their noticeable character weaknesses. A large number end up leaving their organizations because they don't feel that their companies manage them in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work. In fact, according to a 2017 Gallup report, about 60% of millennials in the U.S. workforce say they are currently looking for a new job opportunity. (This figure is even lower in Singapore -- only 16% of millennials in Singapore are engaged in their workplaces!)
No one is perfect. The Maximizer in me reckoned that since it is so easy to spot character weaknesses (of which I have no lack), I might as well try to spot talents in order to engage these millennials in my care. I decided that if I communicated my belief to these young leaders and sought to engage them based on their talents or strengths rather than their flaws or weaknesses, they may open themselves up to me and allow me to establish trust with them.
Since forming this conviction, the most powerful statement I now use in my attempt to engage the millennials under my charge is, “I believe in you!” This phrase is supplemented by the many opportunities I've given to these emerging young leaders. I actively seek to offer them roles and responsibilities to reinforce the belief I have in these young people.
That approach was not without its challenges. Most of the time, I chose to go against the grain of the prevailing leadership styles around me. Rather than saying, "prove to me you are mature and you shall be given a greater leadership role," I chose instead to say, “I trust you and I believe in you even though you have many flaws. Take on this role, let me walk with you and show me that we can count on each other.” This approach, though extremely challenging and at times heart-breaking, has yielded much fruit. I stand proud as I see many transformed lives, many of whom have become leaders in their respective spheres of influence today. They may have started in their roles “judged” by many to be incapable or unsuitable (because of their behaviours or personalities). Now, they have overcome these to become the leaders of the future. One such talented and highly influential youth is a boy named Samuel. Against the odds, he overcame a few moral failures in his life, accepted the painful consequences of his actions, and bounced back stronger. Today, he inspires many younger ones through his life.
2. Leverage on Strengths as a new approach to teamwork.
As a leader with Maximizer, I also realized I intuitively seek mature leaders with particular strengths (that complement mine) to build a dynamic and strong leadership team. I have no doubt that the best team is an all-rounded team, at least in my mind. One of the best memories I have leading these young leaders was managing a core team of leaders who started out with little experience. I saw the growth journey of each individual as he/she capitalized on his/her strengths to serve the team and the vision of the larger organization.
As a leadership team, we were highly dynamic and deeply connected. Strong in all four StrengthsFinder domains, each individual contributed unique perspectives and talents. The one strong in Responsibility made sure every program ran smoothly and was strong in following through. The one strong in Woo and Connectedness made sure every newcomer was personally known and connected to others. The one strong in Empathy and Developer made sure the care and counselling needs of the team were met. The one strong in Analytical and Harmony highlighted key areas of strengths and weaknesses by studying patterns and data for the team to work on. As a Maximizer, I leveraged on each person’s strengths and drew out their best for the team.
I am deeply convinced that other than the conventional approach of leveraging on skill sets and work experiences to build strong team performance, there is another approach that is just as powerful: leveraging on each other’s unique Strengths. A strengths-based approach to teamwork and engagement allows different people to contribute in their own unique and impactful ways. In giving opportunities to do what they do best on a regular basis, individuals are encouraged to continue to use their strengths to serve their respective communities with greater joy and passion.
3. Own your Strengths journey and lead by example.
Leadership is most powerful when we lead by example. As a Maximizer, I realize that I am poor at receiving criticism (at least in my mind – my immediate reaction is often poor). Somehow, my facial expressions or the “defensive response” I give to others tend to be a huge turn-off for many wanting to give me feedback. I do suspect that as a Maximizer who takes pride in being excellent, being told that I am "not good” in something can be very damaging to my confidence.
This ability to accept criticism and feedback continues to be a key area I hope to grow in. The ongoing journey has been for me to learn to receive feedback with a more open heart. I have discovered that when I receive feedback and advice from others, I also end up validating their strengths, which in turn allows me to build the cohesion of the team and develop each individual in increasing measure. I believe strongly that a person of great humility is the hallmark of a true Maximizer.
4. Seek Complementary Partnerships
Partner those with Developer
People with Developer tend to be patient and nurturing, and they get excited at seeing small signs of growth in those around them. They enjoy taking something from 1/10 to 2/10, then 3/10, and so on. In their view, every individual is a work in progress, alive with possibilities -- and Developers are their greatest encouragers and nurturers. In contrast, those with the Maximizer CliftonStrengths theme focus on taking something that is already good and making it even better. Their greatest triumph comes from taking something that is 8/10 and polishing it until it becomes 9/10 or 10/10. At times, because of their focus on excellence, those with Maximizer can be misunderstood as discarding or neglecting seemingly low-performing individuals (particularly when the Maximizer talent theme is in its infancy). Thus, partnering someone with Developer allows for an expansion of their leadership capacity, building their ability to mentor their team members.
Partner those with Learner
Individuals with the Learner CliftonStrengths theme are open-minded and focused on personal growth. They tend to feel that there is always more to learn, and because of this they dislike the perception that they are the best in the field (even though they very well may be). They enjoy the challenge of going into an area they know nothing about and gaining competence in that new field. People with Maximizer, in contrast, tend to focus on what they're already good at, honing those skills to perfection. They have a keen eye for talent and tend to focus on working with the best in their field. Such a partnership would empower the Maximizer to develop a greater openness to trying new things and entertaining new possibilities, adopting an attitude of "always learning something new every day" and thus aiding personal development.
Partner those with Restorative
Individuals with the Restorative CliftonStrengths theme tend to focus on what is broken, bringing to life systems, processes, relationships, and workflows that did not function well before. They bring a tenacity and courage to problem-solving -- so much so that they feel energized at the prospect of having problems to solve. They enjoy taking something that is -5 and restoring it to 0 (status quo). Those with Maximizer, on the other hand, tend to focus on what is already good and desire to polish it to perfection. To them, it is not worthwhile to spend so much time fixing something that is broken; they'd rather find something that is already working and then improve it. This sometimes means that they tend to avoid particularly problematic areas in favor of endeavors that they feel are more worth their time. Such a partnership would sharpen the Maximizer in recognizing that certain problem areas are unavoidable, and in order to bring the team (and the project!) from good to extraordinary, they must develop a process to address these areas of concern.
Ending Note: Now that I've founded my own company (Strengths School™), the journey of using strengths to engage the emerging generation of leaders is one that continues on. In fact, Gallup's 2017 Report on Re-engineering Performance Management states that millennials account for 38% of the U.S. workforce -- and as older generations retire, this number grows every day. And so it becomes increasingly important that we move from focusing on weaknesses to building on others' strengths -- which is the crux of the Maximizer talent theme.