Project Polar Bear?

Guess what it’s doing outside! SNOWING! Every Sunday for the past umpteen weeks, as I sit down to collaborate with you on Project Butterfly, it’s been snowing. I think it’s time to turn in our wings for some fur! To that end, I share with you a shot I took right before Christmas. A polar bear! What do polar bears and butterflies have in common? Aha! Read on…

This is, of course, a strengths discussion. The polar bear, hearty and hefty, is perfectly comfortable in environments where the butterfly would shrivel up and die.  The butterfly, light and airy, can happily thrive in spaces and places where a polar bear would be completely ineffective.  A polar bear cannot sit lightly upon a limb on the butterfly bush in my back yard.  The butterfly cannot effortlessly traverse the glacier that also exists in my back yard.  There is a time and place for the talents of each.  They would make good strengths partners, wouldn’t they?

It’s a performance strategy to have the polar bear do the heavy lifting and blaze new pathways in cold, forbidding environments.  It’s a performance strategy to have the butterfly flit about on the wind, circling with staccato wing beats, sharing a message, and leaving behind joy and wonder everywhere they go.  Thinking of roles and fit, a butterfly might make an awesome brand ambassador. A polar bear might make a great pathfinder.  Due to their rather fierce nature, a polar bear wouldn’t be a successful brand ambassador.  A butterfly couldn’t shift a ½ lb object, let alone remove roadblocks.

Here’s the rub. Both are talented and totally different – different strengths, skills, and knowledge.  They need to be treated as equal contributors, but managed differently.  This is often where things fall apart in the workplace.

Last week I asked you to think about when your strengths felt violated.  Strengths violation manifests itself in a variety of ways – frustration, disappointment, self-devaluation (is that a word?), poor performance, and a huge drain on our energy. It can come from having someone dismiss your talents, and it can also come from someone insisting that you achieve excellence by fixing your weaknesses.

Let me give you an example of the latter. I am low in Restorative (removing roadblocks). It’s my 30th (or 33rd ) strength out of 34 (I took the Strengthsfinder twice.)  If success in my role hinges on my ability to remove or leap hurdle after hurdle, I’m in big trouble. I’m a sprinter, not a hurdler.  Both are runners, but that’s where the similarity ends. As a hurdler, I’ll make it about 50 yards, and I will drop, demoralized and exhausted. As a sprinter, I can happily run for days.  One of my survival strategies for Restorative is to leverage my Ideation (#1) strength.  I’ll figure out a way around the roadblock, which may or may not be a welcomed approach to solving the problem. When Ideation meets Status Quo… well, let’s just say I have been “taken to the corporate woodshed” more than once for playing outside the box (while not fun, this is also an opportunity to be WONDER-fully FEARLESS).

My strengths violation example this week is rooted in my Individualization strength (#5).  Here are some quotes from my Insight Guide:

You ask questions to understand someone’s hopes, successes, goals, experiences, talents, strengths, and/or interests.  You usually are the one who determines how each individual can contribute to the group. Chances are good that you easily identify with what others are thinking and feeling. You intuitively understand their hopes, fears, joys, and sorrows. This helps you consider things from each individual’s perspective.

All good, right?  Right. Until this happens:  when talented people are undervalued, I get riled up.  I got riled up this week (and perhaps became WONDER-fully FEARLESS in my convictions).

After I gave my reaction some thought, engaged in some reflective learning, and chatted about it with a trusted advisor, I realized that sometimes, particularly in large corporations, people can become invisible.  It’s like the polar bear disappearing in the Arctic landscape, or the butterfly melding into the rainbow of colors in a garden.  If one is invisible, it is inevitable that one is undervalued.

How do we overcome or prevent this problem?  Well, it helps to seek out others on our teams, get to know  them, and make sure we leverage their unique abilities. When this happens, particularly as a culture shift over time, they feel valued.  People who feel valued are more likely to deliver great results, be more engaged, and are less likely to leave.

I need to clarify one thing.  I don’t believe everyone needs or wants a spotlight (though some will – particularly those with Significance). What I do believe is that every person wishes to feel valued and effective.  It doesn’t mean that we must understand each person to their very core; rather, we simply have to ask questions and then listen.  Employees want to know that those around them and above them care enough to learn what their strengths and value propositions are, and how they can be used. 

This is the polar bear saying to the butterfly, “Tell me what it feels like to fly on the wind.”  And the butterfly saying to the polar bear, “I am amazed at your ability to shove things out of your way. Where does that come from?”  Both are likely to respond that it’s like breathing. They do it without thought.  The goal isn’t to have the polar bear be like the butterfly, or vice versa.  The goal is for each to understand the value of the other.

My Individualization strength is what drives me to be a success architect – helping people identify, leverage, and communicate their unique value.  I believe each and every person is interesting, talented, and fills a unique hole in the universe.  When my Individualization strength is violated, I am discouraged.

So!  Back to Project Butterfly (I’ve experienced a mini-rant this morning – perhaps in response to the relentless chill!)  I have an idea:

  1.  How about if we make this a week to become human detectives, and seek to know someone just a bit better and understand their strengths?  Wouldn’t that be fun?  If they haven’t taken the Strengthsfinder, we have two options –  a) you can suggest they do take it or you can purchase a code for them at www.gallupstrengthscenter.com , or b) simply ask some open-ended questions like, “When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?”  or “What’s the favorite part of your job?”
  2. Pick one of your strengths to share with them – perhaps one you haven’t worked on yet.
  3. Jot down a few thoughts on what the experience was like. What did you learn about you?  What did you learn about them?

Whilst this might feel like a detour from our own self-study, it’s actually just an extension of what we’re doing.  When we make the effort to learn and honor the strengths of a colleague or friend, we’re actually doing the same for ourselves.

Onward!

4 thoughts on “Project Polar Bear?

    • Hi Jeff! Thank you – there is a lot more to your post than meets the eye. ;-) Here’s to finding a place in the universe where your strengths are both understood and valued !! Maureen

  1. Absolutely love all that I’ve read. I am going to do the strength finder again, it’s been about a year now. It will be interesting to see if they are the same. Also, I’m going to decide on my word for the year over the next week. Thanks so very much for sharing your journey!!

    • Hi Yvonne! Glad you made time to visit! I can’t wait to see your results – feel invited to share with us but not obligated. And your word – how fun- can’t wait to hear what you choose. We are here to support you on the path!

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