Embracing the change in my Talent DNA

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In a leadership role, I’m a believer in playing to one’s strengths – including my own.  I’m also a believer in building upon one’s strengths, and that true balance comes from harnessing your strengths both personally and professionally.  That said, I’m a fan of Gallup’s CliftonStrengths Assessment. It defines strength as “Your Talent DNA – the ways you most naturally think, feel and behave,”   and it follows one simple formula:  Strength = Talent x Investment. I recently took my strengths assessment for the second time in 3 years, and my talent DNAhow I naturally think, feel and behave – changed.  I took the time to reflect on how and why strengths change and what it means for me and my team.

My Talent DNA in 2016

I took the CliftonStrength Assessment (aka StrengthsFinder) for the first time in 2016 and told me I lead with Strategic Thinking.  In 2016, my top 5 strengths were:

  1. Achiever – You work hard and possess a great deal of stamina. You take immense satisfaction in being busy and productive.
  2. Strategic – You create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, you can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.
  3. Relator – You enjoy close relationships with others. You find deep satisfaction in working hard with friends to achieve a goal.
  4. Includer – You accept others. You show awareness of those who feel left out and make an effort to include them.
  5. Maximizer – You focus on strengths as a way to stimulate personal and group excellence. You seek to transform something strong into something superb.

I’m a believer in the power environment has on the way one thinks, works, and relates to others.  When I first took the assessment in 2016, my environment was much different. My kids were in their mid teens.  Our 1 year old chocolate lab puppy became a tripawd.  We were in the middle of completing a home remodel and I was traveling 3 weeks out of the month – everywhere from Seattle to Singapore.  I had just changed employers. I moved from an established large, publicly traded technology manufacturer with three competitors to a software start-up one thousandth the size in an industry with thousands of companies competing for buyer mindshare. I moved from being a relatively remote worker to an environment where I was physically sitting side by side with my marketing peers. I was a people leader for the first time. My team was a team of 2 – myself and 1 direct report. The pace was a thousand times faster and in my new role, the stakes were higher.  No wonder I thrived on being busy and productive, quickly spotting opportunities for improvement and making sure I included and maximized the strengths of my team. I was playing to my strengths.

My Talent DNA in 2019

Fast forward to 2019, and my environment was much different. I have a daughter in college and one touring colleges. My chocolate tripawd was still an energy sucking lab at age 4.  I was traveling much less but working much longer hours (my love can attest to that). In the 3 year span, my team grew from 1 to 4 to 8 direct reports. We were still finding ourselves and our groove competing for mindshare in a security software space that is crowded, complex, and wrought with chaos.  I was filling in for my boss who was on maternity leave. I was speaking up more, directing & delegating more and forcing myself to focus on execution because time was not a luxury. We were on the cusp of something big –  waiting to be sure we dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s was not an option.

Needless to say, my environment had changed. I took the CliftonStrengths assessment a second time in 2019,  and my top 5 strengths shifted, some quite dramatically. I went from being a Strategic Thinker in 2016 to being Execution-minded with my top 5 strengths being:

  1. Achiever – You work hard and possess a great deal of stamina. You take immense satisfaction in being busy and productive.
  2. Consistency – You are keenly aware of the need to treat people the same. You crave stable routines and clear rules and procedures that everyone can follow (moved up 26 positions in the 34 CliftonStrengths).
  3. Learner – You have a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve. The process of learning, rather than the outcome, excites you (moved up 6 positions in the 34 CliftonStrengths).
  4. Competition – You measure your progress against the performance of others. You strive to win first place and revel in contests (moved up 22 positions in the 34 CliftonStrengths).
  5. Includer – You accept others. You show awareness of those who feel left out and make an effort to include them.

Being an “Achiever” and an “Includer” remained core strengths in my top 5 which is not surprising given my personal discomfort  with downtime and a lack of acceptance.  I’ve always been curious, so “Learner” moving up 6 spots feels right. (Heck, I titled my blog myndfuel 5 years ago for a reason).  What surprised me most were the dramatic shifts relative to my needs for “Consistency” and that I thrive on “Competition.” Incidentally, my strengths as a “Relator” and a “Maximizer” – what feels like the opposite of competitiveness – shifted from my top 5 to my bottom 10 in the 34 Clifton Strengths. What the hell is going on!? Have I become less of a team player? Have I lost focus on the growth and development of my team? Is it all about me? That was my immediate reaction and in all honesty, harsh opposition to my new found “strengths.”

I shared my results with my team and reflected on the 3 year span between assessments.  A lot happened in 3 years.  My very environment changed. I had a larger seat at the table – a table of decision makers, drivers, directors, delegators.  I was forced to adapt to this new environment and establish new strengths that centered on getting sh*t done.  I came to the realization that I had a team of rock-star marketers that I could trust and confide in. I was given the luxury of not having to be involved in every single decision they made. I reflected on the fact that in my 3 year journey, my team would tell me, “give us more, we got this, and we got your back.” My very strengths around being a relator, includer and maximizer actually paved the way for my team to want to take on more.  They allowed me to get a lot more focused on getting the sh*t done that I believed mattered most – and that required full focus.

Full Focus.

Focus is defined by Clifton as “the powerful ability to prioritize, set goals and work efficiently, avoiding time-consuming distractions and staying on track toward an overall objective.” A big part of my  journey included adopting Michael Hyatt’s  Full Focus Planner – a Christmas gift from my previous manager and now friend.  I started the Full Focus Planner in January 2017 and have committed to it every quarter since. I established a rigor around breaking down annual personal and professional goals into quarterly, weekly and daily goals – the little wins.  When it came to getting sh*t done, I had to prioritize, commit, drive and track to results and outcomes on a daily, weekly and quarterly basis.  No wonder the “Focus” strength climbed from #21 in 2016 to #6 in 2019.

In January 2019, I went through a similar reflection and committed to some things that needed more focus:

  • Balance – from working on work to working on me.
  • Meetings – from meetings taking time to making time for meetings.
  • Rituals – from letting things happen to making things happen.
  • Leadership – from wanting perfect strategy to executing imperfect plans.
  • Teamwork – from prescribing their path to trusting their journey.
  • Growth – from adding up little wins to little wins that add up.

Looking back, I did pretty well staying focused on four of my six guiding principles. Admittedly, I still have a lot of work to do in the time department. I’m a bit off-balance. That said, following Chris Brogan’s lead, I’m committing to my three words for 2020:

  • Build – from my personal to our personnel brand
  • Believe – from seeking all the answers to trusting all the work
  • Balance – from working all the time to timing all the work.

As leaders, our environment is in a constant state of change. If it wasn’t, then we would never challenge ourselves, push ourselves, grow or develop as leaders.  The same is true for our teams.  Leadership is not only about embracing the change around us. It’s about guiding our teams through that change and embracing the change in each individual team member – starting with yourself.

Why we need a game plan with little wins

One of the things I  learned about myself after four quarters of using the Full Focus Planner is that the biggest piece of my growth the past year came from a simple move away from adding up little wins to focusing on the little wins that add up.

Let’s face it, we all have a ton to do at home and at work, but we should also have goals for both.  Mine included stuff like restarting my blog (myndfuel) and creating family experiences (go, see, do something new every week) to becoming a better leader, taking leaps and using my voice. On the surface these goals aren’t that concrete, so I had to break them down into the most critical projects (the little wins) that when cranked out one by one led me down the path to the bigger picture.

Reality check

I am sure I am not alone here.  Many of us are guilty of dreaming big at the beginning of a year, quarter, month, even week or day. We take on huge projects one after another with a sense of optimism that we will have no problem cranking them out. We list them out, start one, then another, and another and pretty soon we have five or more projects going at the same time.  We start putting in longer hours.  We start getting momentum with one or two of them and the others begin to fall victim to procrastination and some we completely discard. One study by Carnegie Melon University’s Software Engineering Institute found that the more projects we take on, the more time we actually waste. Five projects running simultaneously leads us to waste 80% of our time.  They refer to this as context switching.

Now the study was aimed at software development and DevOps, but it could easily be applied to nearly every discipline including mine – marketing. This was eye-opening for me because for the longest time I have been telling my team that they should only be focusing on 3 things at any given time. If we believe the data, I was basically telling them that it’s okay to waste 40% of their time.  In all honesty, I was following the same rule on a daily basis and found that at the end of the day, I was checking maybe one or two of my daily goals off the list (if I was lucky). Multiply that over a week’s time I felt like I got nothing done.  This had to change not only for me, but for my family and my team. The epiphany to move from adding up the little wins to focusing on the little wins that add up forced me to rethink the path to growth and goal achievement.

Game plan

In sports, great coaches (my faves: Halas, Ditka, Nagy, Maddon, Jackson) know that it’s not about the big play. Breaking down the game into smaller pieces ultimately leads to accomplishing the bigger objective – the win.

In football it may be ball protection, time of possession, field position, yards gained on 1st down.  In baseball,  runners on base, pitch count, ground ball outs all matter.  Basketball – free throw percentage, turnovers, points in the paint.  Each and every little win has a goal and each is part of a greater game plan that when accomplished increases the odds of success achieving the ultimate objective.

The trick is the game plan and figuring out the little wins that matter.  Each leader then takes accountability and responsibility for their little wins: offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, special teams coach, 1st base coach, 3rd base coach, hitting coach, bench coach, etc.  The players may have all of the talent in the world, but if we aren’t providing a clear game plan around the little wins, we are all going to continue wasting our time and ending each week feeling like we got nothing done.

How my journey back to the big picture took full focus

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably driven by the need for accomplishment on a daily basis. If I can’t check something off “the list” then the day feels wasted.  What I slowly learned is the fact that “I got a lot done today” was actually moving me further away from my big picture goals. My day-to-day “little wins” weren’t adding up.

Enter Michael Hyatt’s The Full Focus Planner and my journey back to the big picture.

I received my first planner as a gift from my manager in late 2017.  She was either sending me a message, or knew me more than I knew myself.  I was finding myself wrapped up in the day-to-day. I had big picture goals. I had a big picture strategy and plan. I knew exactly what I wanted, needed.  I didn’t have the focus.  I gave it a try starting one year ago this week and learned a lot about how I am wired and quite frankly what needed rewiring.

  • Balance – from working on work to working on me.
  • Meetings – from meetings taking time to making time for meetings.
  • Rituals – from letting things happen to making things happen.
  • Leadership – from wanting perfect strategy to executing imperfect plans.
  • Teamwork – from prescribing their path to trusting their journey.
  • Growth – from adding up little wins to little wins that add up.

One year later, let’s just say I’m more focused than ever. I will share a bit more about my journey in an upcoming post.

The last minute…

If you are anything like me and my family, we more than occasionally do things last minute. Maybe it’s a bit of “procrasti-nature”.  Most of the time it’s beacuse other things come up that take over our priorities, pushing others to the last minute.  But is “the last minute” really a bad thing?

  • Sometimes all that matters in sports is how teams execute in the last minute.
  • For me, the best part of a close basketball game is the last minute.
  • Travel plans? You can find all kinds of advertising for last minute escapes.
  • The best holiday shopping deals might be reserved for those that wait for the last minute.
  • Companies even focus on promotions the last minute to make their number, hit their goals.
  • News is all about the last minute….every news channel has a ticker these days. Every website touts up to the minute news.

There are those behaviors that should never wait for the last minute.  Seth pointed some of these out in a post of his 2 years ago.

But, when it comes to marketing, sometimes those projects that are last minute are some of the most rewarding.  Opportunities arise with customers, partners, co-workers, etc that are just too good to refuse.  They almost always pose an opportunity for one of those “little wins”.  They tend to rally a team of people with the goal of making it happen. They almost always have direct metrics associated with them, so they are easy to measure.  I like to take such opportunities and treat them like pilot programs. We can learn a lot in that last minute, and apply those findings from the “little wins” into more strategic long term plans.

Sometimes we as marketers do our best work in the last minute, just don’t get into a habit of making everything last minute…then the element of surprise is gone, you’re stressed out, and you lose track of the big picture.

The best last minute “little wins”, are the ones we never see coming.

Related Posts:

Get ‘er done…go for the “little wins”
Little Wins vs Big Wins for 2011

The best last minute “little wins” are the ones we never see coming

My family and I more than occasionally do things last minute. Maybe it’s a bit of “procrastinature”.  Most of the time it’s because other things come up that take over our priorities, pushing others to the last minute.  But is “the last minute” really a bad thing?

  • Sometimes all that matters in sports is how teams execute in the last minute.
  • For me, the best part of a close basketball game is the last minute.
  • Travel plans? You can find all kinds of advertising for last minute escapes.
  • The best holiday shopping deals might be reserved for those that wait for the last minute.
  • Companies even focus on promotions the last minute to make their number, hit their goals.
  • News is all about the last minute….every news channel has a ticker these days. Every website touts up to the minute news.

But, when it comes to marketing and leadership, sometimes those projects that are last minute are some of the most rewarding.  Opportunities arise with teammates, customers, partners, co-workers, etc. that are just too good to refuse.  They almost always pose an opportunity for one of those “little wins”.  They tend to rally a team of people with the goal of making it happen. They almost always have direct metrics associated with them, so they are easy to measure.  We can learn a lot in that last minute, and apply those findings from the “little wins” into more strategic long term plans.

Sometimes we as marketers or leaders do our best work in the last minute, just don’t get into a habit of making everything last minute…then the element of surprise is gone, you’re stressed out, and you lose track of the big picture.

The best last minute “little wins” are the ones we never see coming.