From Below Average to Brilliant: A Strengths Career Story

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After 10 years as an Engineer in one of world’s largest firms, Jack was ready to hang his hat. Once an organization that he only dreamed of being a part of, it had now become a place he despised. Every morning at 5:45 a.m., he started out on his commute, gearing up to make it a great day–despite the odds. And every evening after 7 p.m., he shuffled back in through the door off the back of his house, head hanging in frustration and defeat.

Most evenings, his wife and young kids were already wrapping up dinner and onto the next stages of the nightly routine. So, he would recompose his tired soul to grasp at a few fleeting moments with his preschooler and toddler. Momentarily, as they splashed him with warm, sudsy bath water or hid beneath their towels on the multicolored carpet, he could transcend the defeat. He relished in their laughter and sweet night-time requests for just one more song or one more hug. But, as the final kiss was blown, the light turned out, and the door closed behind him, the doom would descend on him once more.

Every day at work was misery.

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When Jack was selected for the new role, he was optimistic. It brought him and his family to a beautiful, family-friendly town and brought him a sense of professional advancement—the organization seemed to appreciate his insight and experience, and he was ready to perform. Had he known that he was in for a year of scrutiny, rigidity, and power plays, among messages of doubt and inadequacy, he surely would not have felt so optimistic.

Within weeks of his first, bright and promising day in mid-July, he had been belittled and redirected and humiliated on an almost daily basis. His relationship with his leadership was like that of an abusive father—one moment singing praises with confidence that all is well, and another throwing insults and incompetencies that landed like a hot and powerful slap across the face.

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Ray, Jack’s boss, was a seasoned Engineer. He was a hard worker, to the point of exhaustion, and an excellent executor. He had been promoted time and again for his ability to stay the course, follow and enforce rules, provide leveled and well-researched work products, and essentially outlast anyone. He was married with a toddling daughter of his own, but it was clear, work took the place of the number one priority. On the day of his wife’s emergency caesarean section, he took a call from the corporate office within moments of his daughter’s birth, and within hours was putting out fires at his usual rate. His wife and baby girl were left to recover and acclimate all on their own.

As a leader, Ray had the reputation of being a hard-nosed producer who expected nothing less than his own 14 hour work day standard. From the account of many young Engineers, he had a way of deflating the energy right out of even the most bright and enthusiastic. Under his leadership, several Engineers left the organization or became embittered by the culture he created.

Jack, it seemed, would become another of those statistics.

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Ray insisted that Jack work a 12 hour day, despite work load, importance, or urgency. He gave very little credence to physical, spiritual, mental, or family health, and their impact on work productivity. As Jack pressed in on his own life–both earlier in the morning and later in the evening—he found himself beyond burnout. Too little sleep, too few moments with family, too little physical activity, too few face-to-face interactions. He was spent.

Work hours and climate excepted, Jack also found himself in a constant state of criticism. Ray, it seemed, saw nothing but flaws. Any deviance from his own strong suits, Ray saw as unhelpful, unnecessary and certainly unwelcome. As a people-oriented influencer and master visionary, Jack had always found his success in his ability to connect with people face to face, quickly size up and discern the most critical issues, and move forward with a team to meet and exceed the objectives. Favoring writing and computers over people and vision, Ray valued none of these approaches, and for that, provided incessant redirection and demeaning rebuke.

The everyday battle of values and approach eventually broke Jack’s spirit, and he began to try to fit into the mold that Ray had created for him. He was cramped and uncomfortable, and sadly, only marginally successful. Ray’s approach was getting his desired behavior, but not his desired result.

Jack became disillusioned with the organization, but worse, his confidence was crushed. He did not think he had what it took to be an Engineer. He started believing the lie he was being fed.

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A few days before his 35th birthday that fall, as Jack was gasping for air through the fingers that were wrapped around his neck, he stumbled upon an effort that promised energy and help in his everyday work and everyday life. StrengthsFinder was something he had tried before, but now he was desperate. So with the guidance of a coach, he tried it again.

As it turns out, that birthday experience is one that he will look back on as a turning point in his career.

Gradually, from that moment on, while the environment around him did not change, his own perspective did. He put his Strengths in front of him every day—literally and figuratively. He found a way to incorporate his brightest talents beyond the work that Ray insisted he do. He found younger engineer support staff to mentor, he began to find time to dream and stand firm on his own values. He found a voice that enabled him to speak from his Strengths instead of allowing Ray’s toxic voice of weakness rule his productivity.

Jack will be the first to say that the Strengths paradigm did not immediately save him from the feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt that Ray had seared into his heart and mind. In fact, it is only recently, several yeas later, that Jack feels most free from those weakness-oriented precepts he had internalized as truth.

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When the opportunity came for Jack to move into another department within the organization, as a leader, even though it would require a fair amount of travel, Jack was hungry for the chance. His wife, who had taken on the role of the nightly sponge of despair, readily agreed that a job in joy with regular travel was far superior to a job in misery with none. Together, they agreed it looked like a fit.

There, in the new role, under new leadership, Jack began to shine. He renewed his focus on Strength and intentionally incorporated his best into the role. He led uniquely, was well-loved, and was extremely effective. His stellar work, individualized approach and discerning vision allowed him access to executive leadership, and he became a trusted ally. When he struggled or felt the fear of doubt creeping in, he returned to his Strengths to restore confidence and provide clear direction.

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In addition to the focus in his own role, as a mid-level leader, Jack enabled the Strengths perspective to permeate his entire team as well. With a deep and personal understanding of the humiliating and defeating effects of fixation on weakness, he brought unprecedented emphasis on Strength to his workgroup. He allowed entry level assistants to help on high-level planning as it fit their Strengths. He admitted his own lack of sensitivity to the details and asked for help. Out of his own Strengths, he crafted rare and informal one-on-one time with each team member. As a result, they opened up, felt known and began to work harder for the team.

Two years later, when Jack was promoted into another arena, he had ascended to be the top performer of the entire department. This accomplishment was something that Ray, in his search for weakness, could never have supported nor foreseen. In Ray’s search for a cog to produce the standard, he missed the brilliance and potential that could have produced the best.

As with the weathering of rough rocks into smooth stones by the mightiest of storms, Jack withstood the rough waters to come out the other side shining and more brilliant than ever before.

 


LINKS | RESOURCES | CONNECT

Links & Resources from today

Isogo TV Episode 27 | Find the BEST Career for Your Strengths
Isogo TV Episode 31 | Ultra-specific Way to Experience More Flow + Less Frustration at Work (or Play!)
StrengthsFinder is Life Changing | Remember to Remember Your Strengths | Step 1 of 9 {Checklist}
StrengthsFinder is Life Changing | Show Up with What You Bring {Step 6 of 9}
9 Steps to Life-change through Your Strengths
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Connect

As always, one of the best places to join the Strengths conversation is over at our Facebook Group — Energy Up Frustration Down by Strengths. Join us for weekly chatting, complaining and commending, as we all try to figure out just how to use our Strengths to impact the most important things around us—in our work and life.

In the meantime and beyond, I would love to hear from you and help you. So, if you’re thinking about the way a Strengths-perspective could impact your marriage or your family or you’re just not so sure about it all, reach out, and let’s connect about it. You can catch me at FacebookTwitter or Instagram, all at @isogostrong, or by this handy contact form.

Enjoy your day, and {be strong}!

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