Exchange Matters / October 27, 2016

The President’s Corner: Leverage Your Strengths


Do you consider yourself an influencer, executor, relationship builder or strategic thinker? I recently retook the StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment along with 200 DC-based partners from the National Programming Agencies and the U.S. Department of State’s Office of International Visitors for our annual National Programmers Workshop that was held in Washington this past August.

For full transparency, most of my traits fall into the strategic thinker category as do a significant number of program partners, with the next most popular theme being relationship builder, then executor and influencer as the least common trait.

One of the goals of this year’s National Programmers Workshop was to explore how program partners can effectively manage the change that has been unfolding in the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) over the past year by using the StrengthsFinder tool. The workshop leader and Graduate School USA instructor Natalya Bah did a great job of leading the session by highlighting the normal stages individuals go through when presented with change. They include denial, anger, frustration, acceptance and learning. Natalya noted that each person and team moves through these stages at a very different pace and with varying degrees of emotion depending on their core strengths. Individuals and organizations can manage these stages effectively if they pay close attention to utilizing different strengths that typically make up a team.

For example, those whose strengths fall into the category of an executor tend to move through the five stages fairly quickly once they have an understanding of why the change is necessary. These individuals can help the group focus on making things happen and implementing solutions in fairly short order. Individuals who fall into the category of relationship builder on the other hand, may tend to focus more on getting everyone on board with the change and spending significant time and energy listening to others express anger or frustration, helping them work through these feelings.

You can imagine if an executor and relationship builder are on the same team conflict could arise because the former is focused on getting the change implemented quickly and the latter may be perceived as slowing the process down or getting stuck in the emotional aspects of the change. However, when paired up in an intentional manner, the executor and relationship builder can be an incredibly effective team that gets things done both thoughtfully and effectively.

Those who fall into the category of strategic thinker are most likely the individuals responsible for instituting the change based on their assessment of new dynamics playing out that require strategic adjustments. Strategic thinkers are well-served by teaming up with influencers who can help others understand and appreciate the rationale behind change. If the influencers however, do not agree with the strategic thinkers or don’t understand the need for change, they can derail the whole change management process.

The key take-away from this discussion was that individuals and teams have a great opportunity to bring various complementary strengths together to work through change (which is the new normal). To be successful it requires first a recognition and appreciation of individual’s strengths and then an intentional plan to utilize these strengths in a complementary way. Change processes can easily get derailed if individuals with different strengths work against each other as noted in the examples given.

The StrengthsFinder is just one of many tools individuals and organizations can use to help ensure they are hiring a diverse group of strengths, and managing teams and projects effectively in a way that builds on strengths. As a diverse network, we have a tremendous opportunity to leverage a wide range of strengths that each individual and organization brings to the table. As leaders of this Network – it is our goal to bring this awareness and discipline to the table so we can more fully maximize our collective ability to deliver on our audacious goal of building a more peaceful, prosperous world! In the National Programmers Workshop section under Training in the Member Home of our website has all materials presented during the National Programmers Workshop, including background information about the StrengthsFinder tool.