Influencing Through Strengths, Not Persuasion – With Andy Sokolovich

Lead Through Strengths Interview with Andy Sokolovich Episode Art

This Episode's Focus On Strengths

Andy Sokolovich joins us to help you lead through your strengths at work. You'll find this episode especially useful if you need to influence others at work. He does it with his talent called WOO (Winning Others Over). He also shows the world how your natural talents are cooler than purple rain.

Listen Links

Give the full episode a listen on iTunes or Stream The Audio Right Here.

Here's A Transcript of The Full 32 Minute Interview

Lisa Cummings: You mentioned Woo as one of your top talents, and it is one that interestingly, when I'm doing training events or speaking events, people probably more than any other, mention that one, and have a negative reaction to seeing it on their list, and they say, "I've been told that I talk too much in my career," or, "I've been told that I'm shaking hands and kissing babies, and that it doesn't look genuine," I've had a lot of people show a lot of concerns about that talent, and several others give a similar response. So Andy, talk to people about anything that you see in people where they've been trying to squash their talent and their career, because it's not really a virtue.

Andy Sokolovich: Yeah Woo is definitely one that often gets highlighted a lot. Either you hear people talk about Woo and say, "The first thing I think of is the smarmy salesman that gives you a nice firm handshake and brings you in for that half hug with the sole desire of getting to buy something from them."

That's not the case. I do see a lot of people suppress their Woo, because they do not want to come across as that.

Granted, I embrace my Woo. I give it the double hug, bear hug. Bring it in. I love having Woo. Why? It has really allowed me to build my social capital to a level that I would never be able to do if I don't think I had that. Here's the thing. I'm not very good at noticing emotions in people, so some of those emotionally driven strengths, or people will notice that, "Hey, you're coming across to strong," or, "Hey, this person is kind of freaked out by the fact that you're super positive and excited, and way outgoing."

Lisa Cummings: So when they stick out their hand out to shake your hand…and you give them a big bear hug instead they think, "Whoa buddy."

Andy Sokolovich: Yeah. What is that? That is just the type of person that I am. But what I'm finding now, more and more, is that people are receptive to that as opposed to get offended or feel like they need to go on the defense. I tell people, "If you have the strong desire to go out and meet others to shake hands, to foster relationships, to grow your social capital, use it," because that's an untapped talent that a lot of people are not willing, especially managers, are not willing to foster that growth within their organization.

This is my pet peeve on job descriptions. I feel we've created this way that we employ people: we give them a paragraph of what they're going to be paid to do. You have to have this degree, you have to have this amount of years experience, you have to have this, this, and this. Once all of those items are checked off here's a block of text that says what you're paid to do, yet we don't take enough initiative to unearth those untapped talents from those individuals and see what they're naturally good at.

Now just imagine if you had somebody who was just overflowing with Woo. Someone who wanted to go out and meet people, who wanted to grow new relationships, wanted to bring new people into the business. And instead they were stuck in a cubicle crunching numbers.

Is that the best use of their talents from a business perspective? My answer is probably not. Don't let them just sit there and wallow and own their own self defeat because they need to get out there and meet people, they need to go out there and shake hands.

You've seen people like this if you work in the corporate world. They are the people that walk around and start up little conversations with everybody, and never really seem to be focused on their work. Why? They need to go out and communicate in order to feel like they are contributing something to the overall goal of the organization.

Lisa Cummings: Yeah, and it's likely that that actually helps them relate better, influence better, and get their work done. It just looks different.

Andy Sokolovich: Absolutely.

Lisa Cummings: I always talk about it like a Jack-in-the-box where you have this talent (pick Woo or any others that you've been trying to squash down), and on the inside what's going on is that thing is getting cranked up, and do do do do dooodledo, do do do do dee do [singing] ... It's just getting tighter and tighter, and sometime when you're not expecting it, or when you don't want it, Bam, it's going to pop out and scare people.

If you actually invest in it instead, and watch the effect that it has on people and use it to your advantage--double down on it, while you're maturing it and investing in it--it has a great effect for you. But if you're just trying to squash it, it comes out eventually. It's a part of you, so if it's your natural way of thinking or feeling, it's going to pop out at you. Trying to squash it isn't going to do you a lot of good in your career.

Andy Sokolovich: Yeah, no, I reflect back onto the small part-time jobs I had before I joined the military, and I always think of reasons why I was either 1) fired, or 2) counseled for my bad behavior, and they all relate to me over communicating. I was always talking (first job when I worked at the grocery store) instead of stocking the shelves. I was always talking to somebody—to the customers that were walking up and down--sparking up conversations because of the jersey they were wearing for my favorite football team.

Or if I was working at a grocery store up at the cashier station, I would get chastised for the fact that I'm spending more time talking to the customer than actually ringing them out and getting them out the door so the person behind them can come check out. All of the things that I ever got in trouble for were because I like to talk, and it wasn't just I like to talk because I wanted to kill time. It's because I needed to communicate with others in order to feel good about myself.

Lisa Cummings: I can see with Communication being such a strong talent for you also that you talk to think, and talk to figure stuff out, whereas other people might just go back to their cube and be able to do that stuff alone. There's such a different need from each unique person. How did you find the roles that would shine the light on those in a good way, instead of, early in your career thinking, "Oh my gosh, those are getting me in trouble all the time, getting me fired." Obviously you did the right thing. You didn't say, "Well, I guess I suck as a human." Instead you found how to make those work for you. How did you figure all that out?

Andy Sokolovich: Yeah, it was a long maturing process. When I left the military, I had this overwhelming desire to be an entrepreneur. I can't really say where it came from. I knew nothing about business. I knew nothing about marketing. I knew nothing about any of that stuff. But when I moved to Clinton Iowa, I was looking for a void in the marketplace that I could fill.

It's a small blue-collar town with a population around 26,000. There's a lot of small business growth, but there is the larger businesses in industry. We have large corporations in this community that really support most of our qualified workforce. So when I got here I was looking around at the small businesses—at what they were doing to market themselves. Really nobody at that point was leveraging the power of the Internet, and I started doing some research on marketing.

Really what I found out was that marketing is being able to tell a story in order to draw in new business. Whether that story would be told via platforms like social media, websites, press releases, whatever it was, I needed to get out there and tell the story of these local businesses in order to draw in more business. I thought, "Man, would I be good at that?" I remember sitting there one day and I was talking to a friend on the phone and he said, "Well you like to talk, and you tell a pretty good story, actually half the time we don't know if you're telling the truth, or if you're stretching the truth," because I'm a storyteller, and actually, professionally, that's what I call myself: a professional storyteller.

I tried it, and I got my first client. I realized that the client-relationship part of it--the sitting down, trying to create a narrative and tell a story--was a little difficult because they already had a story in their mind. My expertise was really to highlight those areas of their business that nobody knew about. Those little hidden gems that nobody really knew existed, but man if only they did, it would bring up a whole new level to that business, and there would be a huge attraction factor, and we just need to get it out there.

It was slow growth at the time, because I had a lot of maturing to do. Believe it or not, I was that type of person who thought they were never wrong for a long time. I was so confident in my own abilities that I thought, "I'm never wrong," so once I got involved in client work, I really had to understand that, "Listen, we have to work as a team in order to make this effective."

I started to grow the marketing business, and there was a time about 11 months after I actually started that where my business started to plateau. I wasn't losing clients, but I was having a hard time getting new ones. I went to a friend of mine, a mentor of mine, here in the Clinton area Chamber of Commerce, and he handed me a book called Strengths Finder 2.0. "Take this assessment." I thought, "An assessment? Dude I don't need something to tell me what I'm good at. I know what I'm good at."

Lisa Cummings: I'm good at everything, huh?

Andy Sokolovich: Yeah. He said, "Do me a favor and just take it. See what happens." Once my Top 5 were revealed, I did the Andy way of doing things at that time. I basically stuffed the report in my desk drawer for about another year. Now we're two years into my business development, and things are continuing to plateau. Again, not losing clients, but just not getting any new ones.

What was even worse was that I was no longer in love with the fact that I was an entrepreneur. I was no longer in love with the fact that I was building my own business. I hated it. I went back to the same guy and I said, "What am I doing wrong?" He said, "What are your Top 5?" I said, "Dude I respect you, but I could not tell you because they're in my desk drawer collecting dust." Needless to say he was not surprised by that, because he just assumed that was going to be my course of action moving forward, but he said, "Go get them, bring them back in, and let's review them."

Strategic, Futuristic, Woo, Ideation, Communication. What we quickly realized as we reflected back on my business growth and what I was actively doing, is I was spending an awful amount of time on the logistics of running a business. Tweaking the business plan, applying for financing, sending out invoices. All the little nitpicky numbers things that I hated, hated, but it had to be done, and I was the only one doing it at the time.

He said, "What are you good at?" I said, "Man all I want to do is go out and talk to people about my business. I want to talk about their business. I want to go out and I want to share their passion for why they do what they do." He said, "Why aren't you doing it?" I said, "Who's going to do all the rest of this stuff?" He said, "Outsource it, find somebody else." And that was probably the single most important turning point of my career, when I started to realize, "I don't have to be good at everything, and there are people out there who like crunching numbers, and just because I'm not one of them doesn't mean I have to take that action on. I don't have to take on that responsibility."

I started outsourcing whatever I could, whenever I could, and focus 80% of my time on just getting out there and speaking, doing what I naturally loved. From that moment on, things began to skyrocket. Not necessarily in result to my bank account, but in the way that I feel towards my business, and the social gains that I've been able to make over the last almost a year now.

Lisa Cummings: There's so much good stuff in there…with identifying your talents and doing something with it. The career slump that was sneaking up on you, I mean you were at a point saying, "What's going on here? What am I doing wrong?" That stuff just happens over time, and people feel that in their careers all the time. For a lot of people listening that are in the corporate world--they may manage people, or they may not--a lot of them have had this experience of the career slump sneaking up.

Let’s say they're digging the Clifton StrengthsFinder report out of the drawer…and if you are Andy talking to them now…and you want to give them a couple of ideas for what to do with this. Okay, they know their Top 5 talents now. How can they handle this at work in a corporate setting? What could they do next, just action taking?

Andy Sokolovich: Yeah, the first step is always to be able to identify where your talents lie, and I think you and I probably have had similar success in the fact that when we get people in the room, and we show them their Top 5. When you have managers, supervisors, even C suite employees reviewing their Top 5, it sparks a conversation where people start to talk about, "Hey, what other skills do you have? Why are you so good at this? How have we been ignoring this the whole time?"

My first little bit of advice is make it known. Okay? Don't keep your talents to yourself.

Now it doesn't mean that you come in with your favorite kazoo and play your kazoo down the hallway, and say, "I'm musically talented." That means have that conversation with your supervisor and let them know what you are naturally good at, because if you keep it a secret, nothing is ever going to happen.

The other thing I tell people is often when I give this conversation, or I give this speech in a large setting, people want to talk to me about the entrepreneurial side of things. "Well Andy I'm really good at this, and I've always wanted to do this as a business, but I'm scared to." Listen, the power of the World Wide Web has never, ever been stronger. I mean if you have it a desire to crochet for a living, and you think you can do it, and you're naturally gifted at crocheting, pursue doing that and try to draw in some extra residual passive income.

Whether it be through online courses, or maybe crocheting stuff and selling it on Etsy, just try it and see if you actually like it first, because sometimes when people think they actually really would do well at something, whether it be starting up a business, or selling a specific product, they quickly realize that they don't like it as much as they thought they would. So test out the waters, grab a hold of your talents, figure out a way to apply them. If you want to try something outside of your normal 9-to-5 grind, use the power of the Internet to maybe start a little online business for yourself.

Lisa Cummings: I've been wanting to start a kazoo band on the side [laughs].

Andy Sokolovich: It's really the only instrument that I play. I'm actually talented all across the board, but the kazoo… [laughs]

Lisa Cummings: I couldn't let that one drop, you know you mentioned the kazoo…

Andy Sokolovich: I have zero musical talent, I can't carry a note even on a kazoo [laughs].

Lisa Cummings: Oh Andy you were singing with me earlier, so that's pretty good.

Andy Sokolovich: Yeah we were, Purple Rain I think is what we were jamming out to.

Lisa Cummings: Yeah, now that's going to be in everyone's head the rest of the day. Purple rain [singing]. Oh, so let's talk about managers. Those are really good tips for employees, and then the next layer that happens is managers will say, "Okay I get it, I need to pay more attention to what's going on with the team, and I want to do this to lead my team through their talents instead of trying to scale humans."

Let's say one of the listeners leads a team and they want to get better at just spotting Strengths on the job, even without StrengthsFinder, what do they look for, or how do they start this? What do they say? What are they watching for?

Andy Sokolovich: Yeah, I mean as you and I know, every manager is different. Not everybody manages the same. What I found to be most effective is I always ask the managers that I work with to start communicating with their employees. To just start talking about things, and once you become aware, once you mentally decide, "I'm going to start searching for talents, I'm going to start mining for abilities that maybe are untapped in the organization." You will find that you are more in tune in the conversation to pluck those things out.

It could be something as simple as, "Hey, what did you do this weekend?" Listen to what people are saying. Listen to their hobbies, look for when their eyes light up, when maybe they've spent the weekend with their son, and their granddaughter. Start to mine for those abilities that maybe you didn't realize existed, and ask them … You and I have talked about this in the past. There's an exercise that we do with some of our clients, and it's called “The Best Of Us.”

Really what the conversation is about is asking people, "What do you need from me in order to be successful?" It's not a bigger budget. It's not a front row parking space. It's not a bigger office. You've got to think of this emotionally. What do you need from me as your manager, in order for you to be successful? That conversation goes both ways. Managers can say, "This is what I need from you in order for me to be successful."

Again, it's not budget minded type of stuff, it's, "Hey, what I need from you in order to be more successful is five minutes of your time," or, "What I need from you to be more successful is maybe a little bit of information before moving forward." "What I need from you to be more successful is maybe that you understand that I'm a Deliberative person, and I'm not going to ever be late in getting you this report, but you've got to understand that I'm going to read over it 10, 15, 20 times and make sure that every I is dotted, and every T is crossed before it comes across your desk."

That conversation usually yields massive results, but you have to be open and willing to have it. I guess my advice would be as a manager, is start asking people what they need from you in order to be successful. Ask them deeply. What do you…you…not your department, not whatever office you serve…what do you, first name, last name, need from me in order to be at your very best?

Lisa Cummings: That's so good. To bring some examples like you did. And be ready. Give them context about why you’re asking this because if that question comes out of nowhere, and you haven't asked that kind of thing before, they might be looking at you with really blank eyes, like “what is up here? What's going on?”

You mentioned something way earlier in that answer that is so cool to tap into. You mentioned somebody's eyes lighting up when a person was talking about a hobby. It's just taking those moments and saying, "Oh, you really lit up on that one. Tell me more about that." It can be the simplest sentence, but just noticing that that thing got them really fired up, and asking one more follow-up question, that's where the deep part comes from.

Andy Sokolovich: Yeah, I'll use one example that I keep remembering, and it was early on when I started coaching, but we were sitting there and it was a group about 25 of us. I issued that same response, you know what I would do if I was manager, and I could see that there was this person to my left crying, I mean noticeably sobbing. I looked over and I said, "Are you okay?" She said, "Yeah, I'm okay." She said, "So and so is my manager," and he's sitting right there, and she's like, all I want to say to him is, "I need five minutes," and I think that's why I use that example all the time, "I need five minutes of your time in the morning."

He says, "What?" She's like, "When I come by your door first thing in the morning, you're doing the standard zipping through 250 emails, do I need to reply? Junk, trash, the standard thing that most of us do every single morning when we sit down at our computer." She said, "In order for me to be effective, and to serve the position that you hired me to do, it's important to me that I have five minutes of your time every morning so I can go over my action steps for that day."

She was like, "I don't need you to approve them, I don't need you to agree with them, it's important for me to verbally speak with you and tell you that." He was like, "Oh." She's crying, and he's like, "Well, I didn't realize it was that big of a deal," and she was like, "Yeah, because there's several times where I had my letter of resignation typed up and ready to send."

Lisa Cummings: Wow.

Andy Sokolovich: All because all she wanted was five minutes of his time, but she didn't know how to start that conversation, she never had permission to in her own mind. Now he would not have cared if she came up and said that. In her mind, she didn't give herself permission to share that, why? She thought that in doing so, she would be perceived as weak, or needy, or different from the others. The fact she was different, because she needed that five minutes, and then he started welling up a little bit and said, "Oh my gosh, I never knew it was that bad," and she said, "Well it is, and now we're talking about this, and I just want you to know that if you give me that five minutes every single morning," he said, "You got it. You have five minutes of my time between 8:00 and 8:05 is dedicated to you. I won't be at the coffee pot. I won't be putting my food in the refrigerator. I won't be checking emails. I'll be in my office waiting for you so we can have this five-minute sharing session of what you’re going to do that day," and as long as he was there ready to listen it changed everything for her.

Lisa Cummings: It's so big. Five minutes, and just that moment to have this conversation and what you were doing opened that up.

Andy Sokolovich: Yeah, and to think she was willing to pack up her office and leave in search of somewhere else that may have yielded less results financially who knows?

Lisa Cummings: Who knows?

Andy Sokolovich: The willingness to test the waters because of five minutes.

Lisa Cummings: This also makes me think of one more question, which is how sometimes people have trouble seeing the other person's virtues, or preferences, or talents. You know, to pick that thing, and get into a mental habit about how you think about your boss, or how you think about that employee. It can go either way, whether you're the manager, or you are the employee with the relationship.

Instead of viewing it like a lost cause going, "This person…we're just never going to click." How do you instead approach that when you're in a situation like this: you have an employee who you know has some goodness, because everybody has genius and talents, but they don't know how to uncover it. How do they even get started with the process of opening up to understand each other?

Andy Sokolovich: Well, we always say as strength coaches, and strength enthusiasts, be able to look through a lens of strength. I think that comes with maturity, and it actually comes with an increased feeling of responsibility and discipline, because for the longest time I never was seeking out talents in other people. I mean it wasn't something that I totally ignored, but it was not on my priority list.

I was focused on my own personal growth, but once I started to become really in tune to what other people brought to the table, no matter what level they are ... We've all seen the movies, you look at Goodwill Hunting where the janitor solves the algorithm, but those people out there exist, but you've got to find them. I think the starting point is start with yourself, being able to identify the talents within yourself. First become aware of what talents look like. It’s one of the beauties of StrengthsFinder. I say this time and time again, I'm in love with the concept of strengths-based development.

The 34 Talent Themes are great verbiage to add to your arsenal of tools to help you identify talents with others. I love the fact that Gallup has taught us (and Dr. Donald Clifton has taught us) that there is this whole strengths movement where we're actually starting to identify what's right with people rather than what's wrong with people. Once you start to realize the terminology of strengths, the 34 Natural Talent Theme names, you can start to look at people and be able to not judge. Instead, pluck around, or pick different talents until you can zone in on what you think they definitely have, and you don't want to say, "Oh, you're a Woo," or, "Oh you're a Deliberative, that's why you're taking so long to get me this report," or, "You're this."

Be aware of it, and start asking questions to try to mine for that talent, and see if it actually exists, and then think of ways to apply it. Here's what I hear all the time. "That's great Andy, but that's not within..." and this is going back to my job description rant, but they say, "That's great Andy, I'm good at this, and yes I probably make a better salesperson then an accountant, but that's not within my job description, that's not what I've been hired to do."

To me, that retards business generation, and forward momentum because you're not allowing people to grow within the company, and fill those cracks or voids using their natural talents. For the life of me, I can't understand why businesses still expect that.

They just expect you to be happy in the position that you're hired in and never seek out more. If I went to my boss and said, "Hey, you know what? I know I'm an account, that's what you hired me to do right out of college. I'm an accountant today. I don't mind doing that, but I'm telling you what, I just have this deep itch to be in the sales floor and to go out there and talk people. Is there any way that I can maybe transition out of this office into that position?"

When managers, or supervisors, or CEOs or whoever say, "No." I think, "Man, why would you ever say no? Why would you ever deny somebody the chance to express themselves and go out there and try to do something amazing for your company?" I probably just derailed your whole question there.

Lisa Cummings: No I love that, because there are so many good conversations that come out of this. When I work with teams and people have that same feeling you just described--then I say, “all right, well, if you're doing something that's within your control, and you're the accountant…and you want to go be a salesperson…it's a serious change. So think about projects you can take on, teams you could be a part of, some extra stuff you could go build your network in that area. Test it out, and maybe build some chops as well. Be able to have that conversation with your manager so that you say, "Hey, this is what I'm interested in trying on."”

Take on something that's low stake. Try a project where you can get involved. Then people start seeing you in that light. Managers aren't mind readers. I mean they don't know this stuff about you unless you have the conversation. Now I hope they're having the conversation, and I think listeners are the types who try to pull this out, but if you're in the employee perspective here, you've got to go think about what you want in your life. What do you want more of? What talents, what yearnings do you have? Then go ask for it, and say, "Hey, I'd really like to try out X," because if you haven't asked for it, it's not going to be on their mind.

They have 4000 other things competing for that priority, but if you spark that thing that says, "Hey be on the lookout for projects that would let me test this out, I would love to do it," a lot of times, they come back and bring you the opportunity, and then those turn into roles, and they turn into relationships that 10 years later you're getting a job from somebody you worked with on a project because you expressed interest.

Andy Sokolovich: Right, absolutely, and every corporate boardroom has that buzzword called retention. People constantly try to think of how to solve for it: how do we keep people here for the long haul? How do we bring them into our family, our culture and make sure that they continue to grow and they become enthusiasts about what we're trying to do? How do we make them want to stick with us forever?

How do we do that? Well, the secret sauce is what we just said. You ask them what they want and what they need. You ask how you can foster their growth internally. Don't just expect them to live within your guidelines, i.e. that job description that they got hired under 11 or 12 years ago.

I mean really start to invest in people, and you'll see things just mature to a level that's mind blowing. I've done it personally, even with folks that I worked with online. I do stuff with virtual assistants, and I do stuff with graphic artists, graphic designers. I try to constantly tell them, "You are naturally gifted at design, keep doing what you're doing. I really really enjoy this," and even when I'm not working with them, I'll go back every once in a while and say, "Hey, I just want to check in with you and see how you're doing. Is there anything I can do to help your business grow? Can I direct you to anybody? Is there a certain niche, or is there a certain group that you're trying to target? How can I help you grow, because I really believe you have the talent and to do what it takes."

We've talked sometimes about low points. Just imagine being at a low point in your life, where maybe your career is not firing on all cylinders. Your family life is falling apart. Your health is going away--who knows--but when somebody comes and actually acknowledges or recognizes a talent that you have, something that you're able to do better than anybody else, how much of an uplift is that? How much of a boost in confidence is that? I think that little gesture makes all the difference.

Lisa Cummings: I so agree. You never know what's going on in people's lives, and taking that moment to appreciate a talent that you see, and like I had an experience so similar to what you're talking about recently. I was working with a client, they were going through a merger and acquisition process. I was working with somebody who was a really heavy part of the due diligence process, and I know she was working insane hours.

She was sleeping four hours a night. Otherwise working the other 20. I asked for something that just seemed trivial, and I knew it was going to be a pain. I didn't even want to send a request to the person, but it was something that I needed. So I made mention, "I appreciate you so much for taking the time to get this. It was so accurate and fast, and I know you must be so slammed right now."

Then she wrote back this very heartfelt note. It was just about noticing what she was going through, and acknowledging that she took that extra time, and it was really cutting into her few hours of sleep that night, and she appreciated so much the notice. I think that's such a big deal--taking 30 seconds to tell someone what you see in them--just like you do with the designer you work with, or whomever, and say, "I really see this spark in you," and it gives them the juice to go, "There really is something to that," and maybe the difference in pursuing a whole different career.

Andy Sokolovich: Absolutely, well said.

Lisa Cummings: Andy this has been such a blast. Now I know the listeners want all sorts of Andy now, so how can they find you?

Andy Sokolovich: My website is over at

Lisa Cummings: Thanks Andy, for joining. And thanks to all of the followers of Lead Through Strengths. Remember, using your strengths at work makes you a stronger performer. If you’re focused on fixing your weaknesses, you’re choosing the path of most resistance. So claim your talents. Then share them with the world. And help your team do the same!

Andy also has an excellent podcast focused on Strengths. It’s called Theme Addicts