My teammate and I facilitated a design session last week with a food security organization. I began the session with the icebreaker “What vegetable are you most similar to?” My teammate named kale, because it is tough and maybe a little bitter when raw, but gets softer and more flavorful as it cooks. I named kohlrabi, because it is subtle at first but kind of grows on you over time. Also it is a great delivery mechanism for salt.
If you are familiar with the Gallup StrengthsFinder framework, you would guess that neither my coworker nor I have the strength of “Woo,” or Winning People Over. And you would be correct. People with the Woo strength can walk into a room and quickly convert anyone to a friend or follower. They aren’t kale or kohlrabi, they are a vine-ripened heirloom tomato or maybe a really sweet carrot dipped in ranch. Everyone likes them, right away. Two of my favorite people — Jenna Carter and Bryan Bass — are known Woos. My guess is that many of our most beloved politicians and celebrities, like President Obama and Oprah, have Woo as a top strength.
Gallup StrengthsFinder is asset-based. The purpose of the assessment and framework is to identify strengths to build upon, not weaknesses to ruminate on. But since first taking the assessment I have envied those with Woo. Or rather, the Woo label provided a way for me to think about part of myself that I have always found lacking. Throughout my life I have felt awkward, like I missed part of the manual for how to show up with new people. I can be overly friendly, ask too many personal questions too quickly, and maybe invite your dog for a sleepover right when we first meet (true story). Or I get feedback that I seem standoffish and uninterested. I am missing the modes of operation between RBF and weird-dog-sleepover person. There are so many times throughout my career that I’ve felt like everything would be easier — fundraising, public speaking, people leadership — if I just had more Woo.
Something hit me during the icebreaker, though, that made me think about my Woo-envy. My colleague who defined herself as Kale is amazing. She is wicked smart, listens deeply and then can deliver to a team the perspective and framing they need to take the next steps in solving big, important problems. I assume if she were trying to Woo people she may not be using her superpowers of deep listening, systems thinking, and clear, concise communication of complicated concepts.
My top strength is Individualization. Individualization leads you to be intrigued by the unique qualities of each person. Gallup says that people with this strength “instinctively observe each person’s style, each person’s motivation, how each thinks, and how each builds relationships. [They] hear the one-of-a-kind stories in each person’s life… Because [they] are such a keen observer of other people’s strengths, [they] can draw out the best in each person.”
My mission is to lift up the brilliance of each person I work with, be they a teammate or a participant in a strategy or design process. The accomplishment I am most proud of in my last leadership role was building leaders and teams by getting the right people into the right places for their talent to shine. This can be extra challenging in government, where position descriptions and job paths are inflexible, but our IT department leadership team worked hard to find creative ways to staff our work in a super competitive tech talent environment by honing in on each person’s superpowers. Talent development — my passion — is a long game and doesn’t necessarily require big Woo energy. (To be fair, my favorite Woos also excel in the area of talent development.)
So, tl;dr: I am making strides in overcoming my long, complicated relationship with Woo. I love my strength of Individualization and want to lean further into how I can harness it in my work. My other top strengths are Input, Relator, Command, and Activator. Have you completed the StrengthsFinder assessment? What are your top strengths and how do they show up in your work? Are there any strengths that aren’t at the top of your list that you envy?