A Leader and a List Lover

Working Parts

As human beings, we all have natural strengths, and we all have areas where we lack in skill.

And most of us are even quite terrible at more than a handful of things.

What is important for organizational health is that they have an understanding of this and make sure that they have their people in places that are playing to those strengths and not in roles that are not a good fit.

Michael Jordan the Athlete

Imagine if, instead of rejoining the NBA, Michael Jordan had continued to play for the Birmingham Barons, a minor league baseball team in Alabama.

Instead of the 6 NBA championship titles and record-breaking 72 regular season wins to his name, the final statistics of his athletic career would look more like 114 strike outs to 436 at bats. Though Jordan’s stint in baseball was brief, it’s a great example of what can happen when someone isn’t playing to their strengths.

Sure, he’s a superstar athlete, but his best performance came in one certain sport and not in another.

The same type of performance gap can occur when leaders place people in roles that don’t utilize their strengths. In fact, they may even be in a role that forces them to operate in their weaknesses, which ultimately sets them up for failure.

Working with Kryptonite

You wouldn’t put Superman to work in a Kryptonite mine and expect him to succeed, so why would you do the same to your employees?

This is where Strengths-Based Leadership comes into play.

  • Strengths-based leaders choose to utilize their employees in ways that exploit their strengths.
  • They focus on replicating processes that work and creating best practices rather than forcing a square peg into a round hole.
  • They recognize that their human capital is their most valuable asset, and seek to create an environment that employees are proud of and enjoy being a part of.

Imagine if you were a watch maker and thought that you could use just any part in just any place within the watch. How silly would that approach be? How accurate do you think that watch would be if you didn’t have the right parts working together in the right place with the other components?

It’s probably best to let the gear be a gear and the spring be a spring.

The same goes for the people in your organization.

They need to be in the right place working smoothly with others in order for the trains to run on time.

Strengths-Based Approach

An integral step in becoming a Strengths-based leader is the ability to identify your employees’ strengths, as well as your own. One of the most effective tools used to identify strengths is Clifton StrengthsFinder.

According to Gallup (the company who developed the assessment), StrengthsFinder is based on positive psychology, and presents 177 paired self-descriptors, of which, the tester picks the one that best suits them.

They only allot 20 seconds per pair in order to encourage ‘gut’ responses, and discourage people from over-thinking the assessment.

At the end of it all, the tester is provided with a list of their top 5 strengths out of a total of 34. Though it’s possible to see the ranking of all 34 strengths in the assessment, the top 5 are the strengths that should be focused on, as they are, in fact, their strengths.

Getting it In Gear

So, leaders, now that you know your strengths, how do you leverage them effectively?

The best thing to do is to understand what each of the strengths mean, and how you lead someone using that strength.

Case In Point:

We will start with the first of the 34 strengths, achiever.


“People exceptionally talented in the Achiever theme work hard and possess a great deal of stamina. They take immense satisfaction in being busy and productive.” (As defined by Clifton StrengthsFinder).

Before we go into specifics, it’s important to note that this is the most popular theme! That means that, more likely than not, you will have a few people on your team that also have this strength.

  • If you leverage this strength appropriately, there won’t be a quarter that your team doesn’t meet, and probably exceed, expectations.
  • Achievers are highly productive; they are extremely driven and do well with lists.
  • They like to prioritize their work and get things done quickly and efficiently.

Knowing Yourself

As a leader, it’s vital that you don’t run over your team members who don’t have this as a top strength; they will quickly become dissatisfied and unhappy, which can have an exponentially negative effect on the team as a whole. Be aware of the high intensity you bring to projects, especially if there are other achievers on the team.

Your drive and determination to get things done could be perceived by others as overzealous, intimidating, or pushy.

If you are managing someone with the themes of Deliberative, Context, or Intellection, you need to be conscious of their needs to move through the processes more thoroughly; their goal isn’t to make sure the task gets done immediately, but to make sure they have all of the information and are able to make a solid decision.

Although this can be frustrating for you as an achiever, and as a leader, you can leverage these strengths to your advantage. They’ll be able to give your drive a focus and logical direction, which you can easily lack as an achiever.

Knowing Others

Once you are able to identify your employee’s strengths, set yourself the goal to learn as much as you can about their strengths and how you can utilize them effectively.

Your immense love of lists can also be used to your advantage; you will be able to set action goals for your employees, making it clear and easy for them to identify their role within the group as well as your expectations.

Don’t be afraid to make these lists visible to everyone!

As long as you approach your team with their strengths in mind (and tone down the jokes about ‘Work Saturdays’), you should easily be able to align your strength as an achiever to theirs.

Do you know your own strengths? Your team’s? If not, wouldn’t it be worth finding out? If you’re an achiever, I am sure you are adding it to your list right now.


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Alexsys "Lexy" Thompson HCS, SWP
Alexsys “Lexy” Thompson is Managing Partner at Fokal Fusion
She helps building Strong Leaders through Strong People Strategy
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Image Sources: itsabouttimeonline.net

L2L Contributing Author


  1. Bill | LeadershipHeartCoaching on March 18, 2013 at 8:10 pm

    Great post, Alexsys!

    I have been a fan of strength finders since first seeing Marcus Buckingham speak on the subject about eight years ago. Today, every new hire in our department takes the assessment and I readily offer the assessment in my coaching practice as well. I have many success stories of employees placed into situations where they are able to use their strengths. I just wish more companies saw the value in doing this.

    • Alexsys Thompson on March 19, 2013 at 9:03 am

      Bill, thanks for your comments…I would love to get on a call and share stories and sharpen my tool kit as a result! If you are open to that please send me and invite here on LI!

  2. Dawn on March 18, 2013 at 11:27 pm

    Thanks Alexis, I am going to use this assessment with my team.

    • Alexsys Thompson on March 19, 2013 at 9:05 am

      Brilliant! I dream that every organization does! I would love to connect directly and hear how it goes. Feel free to send me an invite on LI.

  3. Dr. Bill Donahue on March 19, 2013 at 7:54 am

    Alexsys – thanks for this reminder and challenge in this area. Taking a leadership team I consulted with through this was invaluable, and the the CEO said it was the best thing anyone had done for his people in years. The ability not only to identify personal strengths but to see how the strengths of the team work together is the power of this process. Also, it addresses what you look for in your next hire, and what to focus on when the future direction of the organization requires strengths that no one has.

    • Alexsys Thompson on March 19, 2013 at 9:07 am

      Dr. Donahue,
      Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. I am so passionate about this topic…so much that I think it can shift America at large. I would be honored to direct connect, if you are open please send me an invite on LI! Create a great day!

  4. Denise B on March 25, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    Love this stuff! What a great way to put teams together to not only enhance the team’s success but to make the individual feel good about their contributions.

    • Lexy Thompson (@alexsysthompson) on March 31, 2013 at 2:17 pm

      Denise, it is a great tool when we implemented into a culture to offer a common language and safety for higher accountability and performance.

  5. neilphillips on March 28, 2013 at 6:01 pm

    As a coach, I work a lot with client strengths. It makes them more comfortable with change if they can feel sure the aren’t loosing what works well for them. Has anyone looked into Buckingham’s new profile, StandOut?

    • Lexy Thompson (@alexsysthompson) on March 31, 2013 at 2:19 pm

      Indeed it does help a team move through uncertain times with more unrest than other teams in the same situation. I am a certified STANDOUT Coach and would be happy to share anything I can.