English missionary James Hudson Taylor quipped, “Do not have your concert first, and then tune your instrument afterwards.” He’s right! Here are 5 tips to tune your talents so that when your moment arrives, you hit the perfect high note at exactly the right time.
These five tuning tips are simple, but not easy. If you follow them, you will live a happier and more successful life. When teams follow this process, the benefits multiply exponentially.
- Know Thy Instrument
Your strengths are your instrument. I find that many busy professionals and leaders are eager to skip this step because they “already know what their strengths are.” (Knowing our strengths is not just for the “little people.” It is for all the people, top to bottom.) When I ask them to describe their talents, I often receive vague descriptions about being a team player, reliable, collaborative, and hard working. That is not specific. I recommend people take the Clifton StrengthsFinder® because of its holistic assessment of talent, measuring how you think, execute, relate and influence others. It also provides a customized report that describes you in ways you couldn’t do on your own. It is filled with explicit information that, when combined with your unique skills and experience, builds a very distinct profile of your instrument.
Example: When you ask a member of the London Symphony Orchestra what instrument they play, they don’t say, “A brown, oddly shaped wooden object with some strings attached to it.” I explain my instrument this way: I build winning teams. I’m great at generating ideas to maximize the potential of individuals and organizations. I understand what makes each person tick and strategically align that information so that the team achieves its goals and objectives.
How do you describe your talents? Don’t be humble. Be clear.
Bottom Line: Talented people, at all levels of the organization, must be equipped to describe their value proposition with confidence and clarity. This also enables the next step: Tuning.
- Tune Your Talents
Anyone can toot on a tuba. That’s not playing music; that’s making noise. Knowing your talents is not the same as understanding how to tune and play them for success. Envision your StrengthsFinder results as the individual strings of a violin or guitar. The instrument is only effective when the strings are in tune. If one string is too loose or too tight, it is painful to the ear. This is akin to watching a gifted person self-destruct by not managing their strengths for productivity and effectiveness, or watching someone quit playing altogether. Tuning is essential and takes time and effort to accomplish.
Example: I was in a meeting where our manager asked to see the important, client- facing work of one of my teammates. He was a rock star, but he was also ultra-sensitive when someone questioned him (this would be a talent out of tune.) His response to my boss? “Why should I show you? The only thing you can do is correct the grammar.” Ouch! Dissonance! When our talents are not well-tuned, others will rightfully tune us out – and maybe move us off the team. How many great athletes have been traded away simply to prevent locker room poisoning?
Bottom Line: Tuning our talents helps us avoid leadership pot holes that undermine our careers.
- Practice Your Talents
Implicit in this journey is preparation. One doesn’t become a world class musician by thinking about it. Excellence is hard work that demands commitment and perseverance. We must tune our talents and relentlessly practice our scales and rudimentary activities so that we can tackle more sophisticated accomplishments with grace and ease! There are no shortcuts to greatness. If you are unsure how to tune your instrument and improve your performance, hire someone to help you. Almost all the work I do with professionals, leaders, and teams is tuning. We make small internal adjustments that garner significant external results.
You must engage your strengths in your daily work – both as a solo performance and in conjunction with teammates. Remember that you can’t whistle a symphony. No matter who you are or what you do, your talents must be used in concert with other people’s talents.
Example: I have a remarkable client who is tackling the issues that surround special needs children. She’s gifted with strengths that are not very common in women, which means she is often misunderstood by her circle of female friends and even by her husband. One of her strengths is Futuristic – often the dreamer’s rocket fuel for people driving innovation and change. With all the best intentions, her friends would undermine her goals as being “too far out there.” She learned to re-package her ideas so that they were more consumable to the average person. Her friends responded with more encouragement. When she is around experts in her field, she lets loose with her detailed vision – they get her and love her for it. This works at home as well. Her husband is wired quite differently from her, and by understanding each other’s strengths, they re-distributed workloads in the office and in the home. Everyone is happier and less frustrated.
Bottom Line: As you gain confidence in using your talents and playing with other musicians, you are then ready to shape your role.
- Tune Your Role
Facebook asks interviewees to describe their “best day at work ever.” They are seeking insight into what kinds of experiences generate the greatest success and energy for the potential employee. Then they place the employee in a role that will leverage what they do best AND how they do it. Employees take the Clifton StrengthsFinder so that managers can shape the role to the natural talents of the person rather than shaping the person to the role – imagine that! In my book, Destination Unstoppable®, a dysfunctional hockey team made this journey. Coach Weidenbach, The Maestro, defined a role for each player that well-suited them, and the team soared. Six weeks later, they were State Champions. The individual stories from some of the players revealed how important this step was for them, and how the relished being valued for being valuable and performing to their full potential – on and off the ice.
Example: The Cranbrook Hockey team was comprised of high-energy, task-oriented young men. This caused a fair amount of friction which resulted in fragmentation. Fragmentation undermined the team’s performance (this happens in the corporate world, too!) They didn’t have a hockey problem; they had a human problem. Coach Weidenbach assigned a young, 3rd string goalie, Nolan Rogow, to intervene. Nolan had the strength of Harmony, and he became the captain of team chemistry. Success for that role was preventing fragmentation before it occurred. “I can’t be in the locker room babysitting these guys all day long,” explained Coach. “I needed to show the team that Nolan had my permission. In fact, it was my expectation that Nolan intervene if things got heated in the locker room. It was his role on the team, and I needed him to have the courage to play that role.” (Destination Unstoppable, page 123). Every player I interviewed spoke of the impact that Nolan had on the team. He did more to help that team win off the ice than anyone else. Click here to watch a video of Nolan and Coach Weidenbach.
Bottom Line: Once your role is well-tuned and you are rocking the stage, you are primed to begin map making!
- Tune Your Future
When we interview with our tuned talents and communicate that information with confidence and clarity, we reduce the risk of that hiring manager picking the wrong person. It also helps us choose the right roles and companies to work for. The interviewing process is an exercise in risk reduction for all parties – including you! Working for the wrong boss, in the wrong role, in the wrong company, is a miserable experience.
Example: I worked with a police officer who had the strengths of Empathy and Responsibility. She was struggling to interview well. I asked her how having Responsibility made her a better officer. She said, “I have no problem telling dead beat dads that they have to pay child support or they’ll end up in jail, and I’ll put them there.” I couldn’t help but laugh at her confidence. When I asked the same question about Empathy, without hesitation, she said, “I can tell when someone is lying.” Two really amazing value propositions for an advancing a career in law enforcement. Needless to say, follow-on interviews were far more successful than ones she’d experienced prior to knowing and tuning her talents, and her leadership told her so.
Bottom Line: Managing your strengths, communicating what you do best, and finding roles that well-suit you is a strategy for success. The journey of understanding and tuning your talents is a glorious and exciting one. You will find yourself on the road to Destination Unstoppable!
- Tune Your Team (a bonus tip!)
This journey is wonderful for solo professionals and athletes to make, but the benefits compound exponentially when leaders, coaches, and teams make the journey together. The outcome of self-awareness and others-awareness is higher performance, greater collaboration, and a belief of how talented we are as individuals and as a team. This is what Destination Unstoppable is all about. Destination Unstoppable is not a place. It’s a common mindset founded in a deep appreciation for one another and the work we can do, the music we can make, and the goals we can achieve. My book contains a roadmap for individuals and managers/leaders/coaches and two appendices chock full of structured exercises. If you are a corporate or sports Maestro responsible for tuning a team, you will find this process rewarding and productive. Your orchestra will love you for it.
Maureen (Ideation | Strategic | Learner | Achiever | Individualization | Maxmizer)