It’s very satisfying being a member of the leadership team inside Zalando Search. As a group, the other leads have been very welcoming to me over the last 6 months and we have grown to become a genuine team. Work in progress, but a team nonetheless. Recently, the bossman figured we were overdue for a team offsite to help solidify our team and to set out our plans for the coming year.
As part of this meeting we all conducted the Gallup Strengthsfinder 2.01 exercise and presented our results to each other. Both for us as individuals and for us as a team, this provide to be a very illuminating exercise.
In this blog post I wanted to share with you all my personal results and what they means for the people who work with me.
I should probably start with the assessment exercise. It is important to start here because the test is build upon a premise that you’re probably not going to like:
You cannot be anything you want to be – but you can be a lot more of who you already are.
Yeaaaah… if you were brought up to believe you can be whoever you want in life, this exercise is probably not for you.
The exercise is based upon the research of Don Clifton. Don’s concern was that we often spend too much effort in identifying and improving our weaknesses. As a result, our natural abilities run the risk of being completely untapped. In the worst case scenario this can lead us to become deeply frustrated in our work, without ever really understanding why.
Clifton’s model identifies 34 skill areas and, by taking the assessment your top 5 skill areas are identified. The argument is that the effort spent on developing your natural talents will produce significantly higher returns then putting the same effort in developing skills that you do not naturally have.
The test itself is a simple series of questions for which you have 20 seconds per question. I cannot remmeber how many questions I answered, but the overall test lasted about 30 minutes. Each question presents a scale between two positions and I had to select where on that scale I felt I belonged. Often the opposite ends of the scale were not polar opposites. In fact they could be completely different concepts and I had to choose which I felt applied more to me: “I am satisfied when I help a teammate solve a problem… …I enjoy eating food I have cooked myself.”
Having taken the test, you are provided a report which explains your top 5 strengths. These are the skills into which you really should focus your development time. For me, in order, these are:
Having read my reports to understand these skills better, I was pleasantly surprised at how insightful the test had been. Synically, I had assumed the whole test was going to be nonsense and, at best “a bit of fun”2.
Here’s a quick overview of what these different skills mean; I am paraphrasing from the report for the sake of brevity. There are listed here in order from the strongest. Don’t forget: these are all my strongest skills out of a set of 34.
I focus on building concensus within my teams. Differing opinions are inevitable and help to produce great solutions to problems, but I prefer to focus on the common ground and not on the diaspora of opinions. I like to structure conversations this manner to avoid arguments, which are outright counter-productive.
I treat all my team members equally and have a set of rules/standards that I apply uniformly across their work and my own. Junior engineers bring just as much to the table as a senior engineer, just they are just bringing something different. We all have our roles to play and I work hard to ensure that everyone in my teams is equally enabled to play their role.
This is subtely different from the “concistency” skill. As an “Includer” I am always working hard to ensure that everyone in my teams is engaged. That they are all part of the solution, no matter what the problem. I shy away from exlcusivity and, instead, try to create a wide and encompassing team where everyone is welcome.
As an “Arranger”, I like to tackle large and difficult problems and I enjoy breaking them down into smaller parts and arranging those parts into an efficient solution. I suspect this is a common skill within all agile leaders: we jump on complex problems and try to make them as simple as possible.
I form a strong psychological bond with my work, making me feel emotionally attached to idea of seeing the work through to completion. I thrive on volunteering for more responsibility than I currently have, stetching to achieve more.
So these results ended up being impressively insightful. When I first read the results, they instinctively felt “correct” but were not all necesarilly skills I would have identified for myself.
“Concistency” is a good example of this. I recently recorded a podcast with Jen Bunky and Lauri Apple where I was asked about my leadership. I cited having a strong consistent set of expectations within the team as being super-important to my success. I had no idea at the time that this was a “skill” and one that I should even focus more on.
For me, knowing the set of skills that I am best at is not the crucial learning from this exercise. I already had a pretty good (although not complete) understanding of what I am good at. My key learning is a shift in perspective; the learning that there is a lot to be gained from developing skills that I already have, rather than focusing on my weaknesses.
I highly recommend the “Strengthsfinder 2.0” book. It is a quick read, clearly written and provides the reader with access to Gallup’s online testing tool. Moreover (and more valuably) the book provides tangible examples of ho to develop each of the 34 skill areas. After all, identifying strengths/weaknesses is only the start of our professional development.