I desperately wanted to go for a walk today, but Mother Nature is having her way in the form of “moist air.” Unwilling to bend, I threw on a hooded sweatshirt, a pair of shorts, and ventured out in the dampness.
I am glad I did. I came across a bright, carrot-colored leaf, torn from the limb of an old, bold oak (or did the leaf simply let go and fall on its own? Hmm… a topic for another Sunday!) The leaf was floating slowly in a small, reflective puddle, heading south. I stopped and stared, letting the image soak in. Suddenly, I was reminded of something I hadn’t thought about in a long time: water always wins.
It’s a good lesson for us as we lead ourselves in the best of times and the worst of times. Today, we’re the wave, rushing forward and smoothing the edges off the obstacles in our way. Tomorrow, we are the slow drip that wears away at a difficult challenge, shaping the desired outcome with patience and determination. No rock, regardless of size or makeup, is immune to the power of water.
Three questions arise from this.
Question #1: How does this relate to strengths and becoming fully?
Question #2: Which approach is right?
Question #3: Which approach works best for you?
Q1: How does this relate to strengths and becoming fully?
First of all, we will all have our natural inclinations based on our Strengths DNA. So, let’s think about water for a moment. Water is complex (like we are!) Water always moves forward; it doesn’t retreat or look back. Water follows the path of least resistance. Water can be hard (think of a belly flop off a diving board) or comforting (a warm, gentle rain.) Water can move swiftly, shifting everything in its path, or it can be slow – a single drop every minute or hour or day.
All of those descriptions mimic characteristics of some Strengths. Moving forward feels like Futuristic. Following the path of least resistance sure sounds like Adaptability. Refusing to “give” feels like Belief. Comforting feels like Empathy. Moving fast sounds like Activator, and a slow drip feels like Deliberative (both Activator and Deliberative have a different sense of time than the rest of us). I lean heavily towards Activator – especially when I’m riding the wave of a good idea. But, as we discussed last week, knowing that the world can’t see inside our mind means we sometimes have to package things for digestibility. For me, that may mean slowing down – consciously choosing to take my foot off the gas – even just a little bit. I can better complete the universe if I slow down when needed.
Q2: Which approach is right?
It depends. “Be the Wave!” might be the battle cry if swift, massive action is required because a project or large team is stuck, or if a company has fallen behind in the marketplace (think BlackBerry). “Be the Drip!” might better suit a more thoughtful, slow approach if the stakes are high and if a misstep will result in major, negative consequences (think disarming a bomb.)
Sometimes the situation dictates how to respond. Other times, the approach is determined by the strengths of the folks involved. If the house is on fire, moving swiftly and surely is appropriate, regardless of one’s strengths. If you hate “going with the flow” but can acknowledge that doing so will work better for a particular client, then partner with someone who has Adaptability and let them help you navigate that path of least resistance.
The keystone of self-leadership is your ability to remain focused on one thing: effectiveness. If you can let effectiveness dictate your next move(s), you will be seen as a better self-leader and leader of others. This is different than focusing on what comes most naturally to you – it requires opening up to and embracing the strengths of others and keeping the desired outcome front and center. (This circles back to the idea of me choosing to slow down to increase effectiveness for those around me.)
Q3: Which approach works best for you?
This is different from Q2 in one major sense: self-leadership and becoming fully are inextricably linked and can serve as your navigator to determine where YOU can contribute the most value in a team, project, or unexpected challenge. Then, expanding the same concept to the rest of the team or organization, if you know the strengths of your colleagues, you can help harness and direct them. This is a considerable value proposition! Knowing what is needed, and when, means that you can collaborate with your manager or leadership team to determine how to build the highest performing group in a way that harnesses their natural awesomeness.
Learn how to manage and direct your energy, and the energy and talents of others. Look at the landscape and determine what would be most effective to achieve the desired outcome – and then head in that direction. Be like water, because water always wins.