Why does developing new leadership skills feel like doing the opposite of what my strengths lead me to do? And how can I possibly develop these skills? These are questions people I coach ask. I have learned good answers through my experience.
It takes weaving together three strands to bridge the chasm between current strengths and new skills.
The 3 Change Strands
Conviction that the change is urgent and necessary.
Clarity about which one to two skills to change.
Change through consistent practice of new skills– not as a substitute for strenghs, but as a complement.
Here’s an example of how I use the three strands.
Mid-career my natural strengths were perfectly in sync with my consulting work. My big picture thinking and a knack for cutting through complexity with knife-edged questions led to innovative talent breakthroughs that served my clients well.
One client commented “When I first met Jeannie, I was struck by her ability to grasp complex organizational issues, target opportunities and craft creative solutions. I had not previously met anyone who could go 0 to 60, from big picture to tactics with confidence and perspective.”
All and all a nice place to be. But I was adamant about shifting my business from consulting to mostly leadership coaching. With a strong conviction to go there, I faced the reality that what got me here wasn’t going to get me there.
To be a great coach I needed to develop two things: showing more empathy (I am super high on thinking and lower on interpersonal sensitivity), and even though I was good at listening to clients, I needed to learn to listen like a champ. (I can get distracted by the flurry of ideas in my head and tune out).
Change Through Practicing New Skills—Blended with Strengths
Instead of chucking my strengths, I discovered a way to use them as back doors to new ways of behaving. To deliver genuinely high empathy, I learned to approach each person I coach like reading a good novel. My strong curiosity drives me to turn the pages to learn about their world and motivation.
But it becomes necessary to use top notch listening skills to uncover the clues. Then I use my analytic prowess to make sense of the clues. The result: I better understand and identify with the person. In other words, I think my way into empathy.
With this blend of strengths and new skills, I become more versatile. The opposites merge. I can be both tough (the upside of my lower interpersonal skills) and tender. My clients notice this versatility. I was thrilled when one called me the iron fist in the velvet glove.
What about you? It is said that a cord of three strands is not easily broken. Pick up all three of the cords I have described. But the order matters. Start with strong conviction.
Necessity might be the mother of invention, but it is also the mother of developing leadership. Without conviction you will lack the necessary drive to pull you through the hard work of developing. Conviction also boosts your eagerness to resolve the false either-or question, “Should I use natural strengths or new skills?” Use both according to the situation. Your increased versatility will boost your success.