To Build A Strengths Focused Team, Start With What’s Right – With Lexy Thompson

Lexy Thompson Episode Art

This Episode’s Focus on Strengths

This week Lisa speaks with Alexsys (Lexy) Thompson. They discuss lots of ideas about how to apply strengths to both conflict on your team and gratitude on your team. If you interact with others in your daily life, then this is the episode for you!

Lexy’s Top 10 StrengthsFinder Talent Themes:  Strategic, Connectedness, Futuristic, Intellection, Command, Input, Activator, Ideation, Self-Assurance, Relator

Lisa’s Top 10 StrengthsFinder Talent Themes:   Strategic, Maximizer, Positivity, Individualization, Woo, Futuristic, Focus, Learner, Communication, Significance

Resource of the Episode

Books that are mentioned during this podcast:

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey

The SPEED of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything by Stephen M.R. Covey

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book) by Don Miguel Ruiz and Janet Mills

Here's a Full Transcript of the 30 Minute Interview

Lisa Cummings: You're listening to Lead Through Strengths, where you'll learn to apply your greatest strengths at work. I'm your host, Lisa Cummings, and I've gotta tell ya, whether you're leading a team or leading yourself, it's hard to find something more energizing and productive than using your natural talents every day at work. Today, in this episode, we are going to talk about how strengths apply to conflict at work, and how you can apply strengths to gratitude on your team, and why that's important.

Your guest today is the founder of several books on Gratitude and Graceful Leadership. I left last week, doing several events in New York City, and at those events a bunch of participants said they wished they had more Self-Assurance and more Command, so those are two specific talent themes people were wanting for. Your guest has both of those in her top 10 talents.

Even though I always tell participants, "spend your energy working with what you've got instead of worrying about what other people have - you can always get your outcomes through the talents you have," I figure you would still find it very fascinating to know that your guest has both of those talents. Shhhh. Even though she has them she's still totally terrified of snakes. As a gardener, this can be a scary thing, so even if you lead through Command and Self-Assurance, it doesn't make you bulletproof.

Besides being super unique, and out there with these unique talents, she's also top notch in strengths-based development. She focuses on delivering StrengthsFinder coaching, performance coaching, and training like I do. She's also planning an epic Airstream RV adventure and has some really awesome communication course content that will dribble into our conversation today. All kinds of great stuff.

With that, Lexy Thompson, welcome to the show.

Lexy Thompson: Thanks Lisa. Happy to be here.

Lisa Cummings: Let's dive right in. I mentioned conflict, and this is one of those items that is tough for teams to master. I'd be curious what your number one thing is that you think creates unproductive conflict in the workplace.

Lexy Thompson: Number one I would say is the avoidance of it, the fear of it, the almost aversion to it. Once we can get past that, we can figure out how to actually lean into it. The funny part about this is at the executive level this seems to be the one competency that sets everybody apart. The best of the best at the senior levels are able to manage this day in and day out with some grace and kindness and high level of accountability.

You and I do our work at that mid-level management often times, and that's often a really good space for them to start trying to get comfortable with what's uncomfortable for them.

Lisa Cummings: I think that's really smart because a lot of people listening are people managers and they want to be in executive roles and I could absolutely agree that that does seem to be a distinguishing factor, someone able to go in and really work in those situations confidently. There are also a lot of listeners who are individual contributors trying to be promoted into manager roles and that is about the number one complaint when I am working with people managers, and they say people have these conflicts on the team and they come into their office like tattle tales saying, "Oh, I'm having this issue with so-and-so ..." and are not addressing it head-on.

If you want to be viewed as a high performer, as self-sufficient, as having high emotional intelligence, you start learning your ways of addressing that head-on in a mutually respectful way, in a way that builds trust, you're going to be looked upon as a great candidate, or at least that area of you will make you a much more viable candidate for a leadership position in general.

What is the why that finally makes people see that this is important?

Lexy Thompson: The self-awareness piece, the strengths journey for somebody, is really eye opening. Inside of that awareness, as much as they're willing to really enter in and do some work, the confidence just builds because you start to ... The wiring's there, you just haven't run down the road long enough to pave it. Once you've got that paved, your ability to run down and come back, you can do it within nanoseconds where it might have taken you minutes before. The more you do that the more confident you become, the stronger runner that you are and then you're willing to enter most races and give it a spin.

Conflict really isn't much different than that; it's just knowing that you can take what you've learned here and see how you can apply it in a new situation.

Lisa Cummings: If you're a manager, how do you know whether your team is functional or not? Let's start with how it looks. If you walk in a room and you see a functional team contrasted with a meeting with a dysfunctional team, what are the differences in how they appear?

Lexy Thompson: There are actual body language cues. There are, like the way people sit, the way people walk in a room, the eye contact that you'll see in the meeting. Whenever I see teams talking to a person in the room but they're looking somewhere else, that tells me there's an avoidance of some type going on, whether it's conflict or self-confidence or whatever, there's something that isn't working amongst at least that two-person group, much less the whole group.

Sometimes you walk in a meeting and you feel high-energy and you feel productivity and in other meetings, you'll walk in and you'll feel flat and kind of dull, and that's another cue too.

Lisa Cummings: What do you do next? Say you're a manager, you've walked into a team, you're new to the company, you get the vibe of the 'something is wrong here' and you have to figure out how to put your finger on it. What are the steps that you take to start to unravel it and understand what the root of it is?

Lexy Thompson: Firstly you check yourself. We all, every single one of us, bring our baggage with us when we go anywhere. What I found helpful when I was learning to be really proficient here was to see what was the story I brought into the scenario I was experiencing called conflict, or avoidance of conflict. Once I could check that, I could either say, "Okay, it is something that's outside of me that I'm going to need to engage with," or "It's a filter and a judgment that I just ran and I called it conflict but it really isn't, there's no data on the other side of this table or this room to help me validate that and I can check myself before I start diving in with someone else." That's the first part.

That's the hardest part sometimes because it's called fatal attribution when we think that our faults are about the other person or environment but if it's someone else's faults, it's their character, so we really have to do that homework first.

Lisa Cummings: I love that, when it's simplified down to the idea that you judge yourself by your intentions and you judge somebody else by their actions. It's easy to see the actions and say, "Oh, that's a character flaw," because you don't know the thing that's going in behind the scenes in the mind. I also think it's tough to know what you're assuming because you only know what's in your own head. How do you take people through that process? You've been checking yourself, how do you check in on assumptions and what's going on and probe into what's happening in a way that maintains the trust?

Lexy Thompson: Probably the next step would be really owning your part of that, and making sure that you use language that shows the other person that you own your part of that. If you and I are in a room and I'm concerned about something in relationship to you, I would say it just like that, "Lisa, this is my story. This is what I'm experiencing. I'm not sure if I'm checking myself or do you feel something, a different version of this or any version of this where you are?" At that point the conversation will evolve and it will go where it needs to go and there may be avoidance on your part, maybe you don't see it or you're not ready. There's going to be a dialog there but at least when I open up and say, "I have something going on over here and I'd really like your help to discover what that is."

You have to make sure your intention and your authenticity is just that because what I'll see new people when they're learning this do, is they'll use the language, but they really are just waiting to tell you what's wrong with you. That doesn't build trust because people sniff that out, right?

Lisa Cummings: That's funny because the surface reaction is always to go back to the Stephen Covey concept of seek first to understand, and then to be understood and to actually genuinely do that. There's a little deeper level around subtext. That concept about you saying people can sniff that out, I think that's surprising to a lot of managers and I know it's surprising to a lot of people, I see it in my workshop. This just happened last week where someone when I asked them about when you're getting triggered and when you're at your worst, what does that look like? This woman said, "Well, I get really quiet and I kind of shut down, so maybe people would realize I'm not talking as much but I don't think they would know anything is wrong."

Several teammates started laughing, and a guy said, "No, no, no you have this eyebrow thing," and he was just being really specific about, "I know exactly when something is wrong." She was totally surprised by all of this. I think people fool themselves into thinking that they can have a poker face, even the people who will beat their chests and say, "I don't bring my feelings into the workplace, it's just about the facts, ma'am." They're still going to show it.

This kind of reminds me of your whole concept of a safe place for souls to show up and that you really can't hide how your soul needs to show up because it's there and no matter what words come out of your mouth, people will be able to tell if it's incongruent, or if it doesn't really sound like you feel like you, act like you, at your core. They'll know something's off, even if they can't name it. How do you go through that process to really even understand how you're showing up to you and to other people?

Lexy Thompson: Yeah, so this is kind of where that beautiful 360 that everybody enjoys doing comes in. You actually do need mirrors in your life, whether it's a good friend who you trust with everything or it's a work mate that you've just met, really seeking feedback in a space where you're willing to take it in and then do something with it, process it, and that doesn't mean that everybody's feedback is equal and it doesn't mean everybody's feedback you have to wear like a shawl.

Inside all of it there's some level of truth, because if you're resonating with one person like that, the odds are that there are more. The biggest ... The funny part, or the odd part of this is most people will say to me, "This happened today in a team meeting." They're learning each other's strengths. One person said something they needed around a belief that they have, and then another person said, "Yeah, now that I know you need that I know you need that ..." and she's like, "Well, are you going to give it to me?" She goes, "Well, I don't know. Why should I have to change how I approach it to meet your need?" There it was, right?

There's that concern about having to change who I am, in order to be with you the way you need me to be. That's a really interesting paradigm for someone to venture into, and really have their own internal conversation around, "How can I hold my own authenticity, and still meet the need of someone else in a conversation so that they can hear what I'm saying, I can hear what they're saying, and we can receive each other as we need to in that space?"

I have not experienced it. I won't say it never exists because just because I haven't experienced doesn't make it so. I have not experienced in the many, many negotiations and conflict mediations I've done, where someone couldn't show up in an authentic way, and meets someone's need and lost in that scenario. It doesn't mean it wasn't scary, it doesn't mean that it didn't take a lot of guts in some situations, but I've never, ever seen anyone lose.

Lisa Cummings: Talk about authenticity at work, and what you see most often people being afraid to show.

Lexy Thompson: Most people are not willing to show what they need. When we talk about strengths, going back to that topic, that whole precedence is that we have a needs and contribution piece to strengths. That conversation, when we have that and people are discovering and I'm sure, Lisa, you've had the same fun, amazing transformative times with your clients. When they're able to actually look across the table and do it in a really safe way. My Responsibility needs these things so that I can contribute in this way. When people can communicate that cleanly to each other, people are actually willing to meet the needs so the contribution can be realized. I think it gives them a way to access that that didn't exist before.

Lisa Cummings: If one of the biggest obstacles in the way of people not showing up authentically, and they need to be able to express their needs, is one of the solutions for it, how do they really get to know their needs in the workplace?

Lexy Thompson: You're right, strengths is one, and it's a really nice, clean way to at least start to explore the possibilities. There are lots of other good assessments, I think, out there. They're as good as we want them to be and master them to be. The journey that I took to get myself there was really, and this is going to sound interesting I think, but it took me six years to get to the place where that was really true for me, and it started with a class we took as a company, and we were supposed to write a paragraph about our mission statement in the world, our purpose kind of thing.

Over time, I took another class and boiled it down to two sentences and then I got it down and down and down to the place where I can tell you that it's safe places for souls to show up. Every time that I choose to do anything in the world, personal or professional, if it can't meet that need, I don't do it. When I got that clear about my life, I was willing to show up and when you're willing to show up then you've got to take risks, right? You're not always going to be received in the way that you might like to, and certainly you won't be liked by everybody.

That also, I would tell you, would also help people with that Self-confidence piece because it goes through that filter of your main purpose on this planet and everything else just falls to the wayside.

Lisa Cummings: This is a great. I think a great pivot point to move into gratefulness as well, because we said we would talk about conflict and gratefulness at work. Some people I see receive this concept really open armed and I've worked with some companies that this has become just baked into their culture, and it's how they operate and they don't even have to think about it consciously. Other people have a reaction about, "Really? At work? This doesn't even sound like something that belongs in the office." Talk about that. Why gratitude?

Lexy Thompson: I wish I could remember whose quote it was but I think you'll know it when I refer to it, but there's that thing that someone who's appreciated will fight the last battle with you and that their performance is better and their health is better and all of those good things. There's a lot of science around it. I do a keynote about Gratitude. I do think there's the personal gratitude. Every morning I'm up in my journal, and I do my stuff there and then at the end of the day I wrap up my day in gratitude, every day for many years.

Then there was the, "Then what?" Beyond me, what do I do with that? We've been out exploring some of those things and reading some of the best stuff out there. The reality is when you start to extend it across to another human being, the emotional release in a really positive way is overwhelming. I think that might be the hesitation in the workplace, because for so long we didn't want to think feelings had a place. Even now, I'll hear hiring managers be like, "Oh, that's a feeling group. They cry at everything," or "They're upset at everything." The reality is we don't do much without an emotional jaunt to make us move one way or the other.

If you can be in a space where you're expressing gratitude in an appropriate way in your work environment on a pretty regular basis but very sincere and very specific, that's the other part, then that person, those behaviors that that person is sharing with you, are getting anchored over and over again so you're getting more of that good stuff and by default you'll get less of the stuff you don't desire. It also makes it, you know there's that old adage, "You need money in the bank to make a withdrawal."

Lisa Cummings: Yeah.

Lexy Thompson: We're really clear about that too that there's going to be times where it isn't going to be all happy and it isn't going to be easy. If you've done this other really good work on the front side it doesn't have to be really, really hard either.

Lisa Cummings: You're making me think back to a meeting when we were together a couple of months ago, and you suggested that we start off the meeting like that. I thought it was a really cool way that supports your point about understanding other people's needs, as well, and then getting more of, I call it, "Notice what works to get more of what works," because if you're noticing what's working about someone's contributions and then they see, "Oh, someone appreciated that. It's easy to deliver more of that,” because it's repeatable and then I noticed in the meeting where you asked us to kick off that way that the thing that resonated with each person was really different.

The thing that the person decided to comment on, they were all over the map and it told me about each person. It told me about what they value. It told me about what they want the meetings to be about. It told me a lot of information that without that conversation I wouldn't have understood their needs and their contributions in the same way. I can only imagine if you do that a daily practice as a team, you get some really deep insights into how the other people in the room are at their performance best.

Lexy Thompson: Yeah. It's pretty powerful. At the end of every meeting we have Sunshine Shout-Outs where we, you know, they're not forced, not everybody has to say anything, it's just if it's showing up for you, we ask each other to share those things. We actually have gratitude coupons that are electronic that we give, they're free, and we just say, "Spread it." There's that, I don't know, it's some meme or something floating around saying that they're, you know, gratitude is one of those currencies you just never go bankrupt with, so why not?

Lisa Cummings: Oh, for sure. Yeah.

Lexy Thompson: Yeah.

Lisa Cummings: If you're talking to a team and whether it's an individual contributor or a manager, and they just want to start doing some of this at work and get a movement going, what are some of the practical tools and habits and things you can do? Give me some examples.

Lexy Thompson: There's actually just saying so, right? It doesn't even have to be a big to-do, it could just be at the end of a team meeting. You could just say, "Hey Lisa, I really appreciate that you had my back on that project, and if you hadn't been there it wouldn't have come out anywhere near as good as it, and thank you for that." Then you know, you know what your behavior was and you'll do more of that most likely next time. Too, you can be really formal. You can put pictures or memes or whatever into e-mails and just shoot them whenever someone's knocked it out of the park for whatever reason.

It doesn't have to be big stuff. I got a gratitude coupon once, and this is one of my favorite ones, and it was just a, "Hey thanks for saying 'hi' to me this morning. I needed that." We forget about those little things, about eye contact because we all have our heads down in or our phone or we're walking from here to there. In that vacuum people are just missing that human connection at some time or another. It helps us keep that stuff present.

Lisa Cummings: I agree. It doesn't have to be big and formal. I like that you leave people with a concept that no one has to ordain this. It doesn't have to be a company movement. It can be as simple as you deciding that when you walk by another human at work you're going to make eye contact and make them feel seen, and that can be a form of it. Just taking the time to give credit.

I had a leadership session recently where they were having some issues in the organization where employees were saying their managers were taking credit for the work they did. If you talked to the people managers, they have no idea that this is how that could even be perceived because they weren't intending to do that. People weren't feeling seen or appreciated, or that the credit was getting spread around, so essentially determined that they were all kind of being credit hoarders and takers instead of givers.

Once they started shifting that and saying, "Hey, the more generous I am with thanking people, and sharing that, "Oh, they made our team look really successful. They made our team act successful, and so we're going to give as much credit as possible." That it just spins up into more desire to be productive and more desire to do it, not just to say it but also to do more of it.

Lexy Thompson: Yeah, it does translate it into action. One of the most interesting phenomenons of it is the actual receiving of the gratitude. Most of us are willing and able to extend it. We may not have a practice of it and we may not be consistent, however when it's given back to us, sometimes it feels really awkward. There's also a learning about Self-awareness and even it could be a strengths conversation with yourself or your coach about what is that. What's going on with you when someone says, "Hey, thanks for a great job," and you feel awkward. Whatever that awkward looks like for you.

Lisa Cummings: I think this is a really important topic because it is a gift that you can receive and if you make someone feel like it's less than, "Oh, no, no, no, it's not a big deal. Oh, no, no, no ..." and you're dismissive of the gratitude, it could actually be like you're turning it down.

Lexy Thompson: Uh-huh.

Lisa Cummings: What does a gracious receiver do?

Lexy Thompson: They just smile and say, "Thank you." It's that simple. It's that simple, and it's that hard sometimes. I've had it happen to me. I'll do a keynote and I'm just as nervous every time I do it, and I could have done it a hundred times and someone will come up and say, "Thank you," and if it's more than that and they're trying to expand on that, I feel uncomfortable. I just stand there and I continue to say, "I really appreciate that." I actually let it into my heart. That's part of it, that I've gotten very deliberate with around heartful and mindful practice around receiving, and not just giving.

Lisa Cummings: I know you've been talking a lot lately, because I know you, about letting love in and you take a set of talents like Command or Self-assurance or Intellection or some of the talents in your line-up that people might stereotype as to saying your tendencies could be to not lead with a big loving heart. I don't know your full journey. I just know where you are today and really focusing on that. For somebody who is feeling more like, "Hey, I lead with the logic side and it's all just about the facts for me, and I just try to keep emotions out of work." Why would someone consider leading with a big old heart the way that you were just describing?

Lexy Thompson: Yeah. Thank you for that question. What comes up for me when you ask that question is my grandfather. He was a pretty savvy entrepreneur in a small town in Vermont, where I grew up, and when he was passing away, his cold, old hands were holding mine and I will never, ever forget this, and he said to me, "I won't ever wish I worked an extra day. I will have wished I loved a lot better." That stuck with me. I was young and I didn't really know what that meant at the time and I will tell you I'm just now starting to be able to manifest it in a way that I feel like I'm honoring that.

I will also tell you I work with a lot of people that come out of really bad places in their life, whether it's the death of a loved one, or their near death, or some tragedy. They don't wish that they could do more of the non-emotional work, it is always the relational work. When I look at my lineup of strengths I have Connectedness and Relator in my top ten. They're my only blue lines to humanity because I can spend days and weeks alone, and be quite content but at the end of all of that what matters is the impact that I left and that impact isn't on the bottom line, it's with people.

Lisa Cummings: Without them in your life what would your impact be on? It would just be on a thing.

Lexy Thompson: I think we're in interesting times, being where technology is leading us and there are so many exciting things to explore with technology. This podcast would be a good example of that, right? This conversation wouldn't have existed.

Lisa Cummings: What a great point. It would have only been able to be in a big network environment in a niche like people who are interested in strengths development. I don't think that's going to make it to primetime 20 years ago.

Lexy Thompson: Yeah, I agree. Yeah. It's exciting because I think that we also have an opportunity to find the things we need, when we need them, rather than just when they show up.

Lisa Cummings: Speaking of things that you need, when you need it, we can make some resources show up for people right now. We've referenced a couple of books and resources. We've mentioned Stephen Covey and The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I have a feeling that you do a lot of reading and gathering and researching. I also know you have a class on communications that is darn good. I've flipped through a lot of your content. Maybe since you're going to officially move from Houston, Texas, to Austin, Texas, I can just sit myself down into one. Anyway, tell people about some of your very favorite resources on this concept of communication, on conflict, on gratitude, and be sure to share your course inside of that.

Lexy Thompson: Around the communications piece, difficult conversations, crucial conversations, and non-violent communication are my favorites. They're easy to get to. They're usually on the top reader lists. I think they're all on Audible as well, which is my preferred mode right now. Around conflict, interestingly enough, it's not a conflict direct book but it's The Speed of Trust, also a Covey book, that I think answers a lot of the 'why' around 'why bother' and the value of building trust and the void that's there in conflict that is not trust, and how to bridge that gap.

Another favorite of mine, a real simple read that made a huge impact when I was going through kind of my mission for my own life, was The Four Agreements. It's a very simple thing and yet so very hard to keep top of mind and in action, but it made a difference. Those would be some recommendations I have.

Lisa Cummings: Great ones. Thank you.

Lexy Thompson: Yeah, you're welcome. The one we've developed that's on our website, we'll have a link here, it's a communications course and it has some of the best of the ones I mentioned kind of woven in there. The thing that I think sets it apart, is that it has the assessment StrengthsFinders on the front so as you're moving through the model of communication, you actually bring yourself and all your glorious baggage with you. When you come out of the course, you are quite clear, or at least beginning to be clear, where some of your weak points are going to be, and then how to make corrective action when you need to.

Lisa Cummings: I love it. I can't way to attend. It has been really cool exploring all of our glorious baggage - yours, mine, the listeners' thinking of their own. We'll make sure that we link up to all the resources that Lexy just mentioned, so that you can get your hands on those books and I'm with you, The Four Agreements, you don't even have to go to Audible because it's just teeny, it's a teeny little thing.

Lexy Thompson: Yeah, it is.

Lisa Cummings: There you go. It's like a back pocket size.

Lexy Thompson: It is.

Lisa Cummings: We'll get them all the links to that and to your course. I want to thank you, everyone, for listening again to Lead Through Strengths. Remember, using your strengths at work makes you a stronger performer at work.