Superpowers At Work

Your Superpowers At Work - New Ideas For Finding Them And Using Them From Lead Through Strengths Facilitator Strother Gaines 

In this episode, Lisa Cummings and co-host Strother Gaines discuss, through analogies and practical examples, the impact of knowing how to wield your superpowers at work.

If our previous episode suggested ways of striking a balance between making your strengths known and not sounding arrogant about it, this topic is all about using your superpowers at work with out overusing your power.

Listen as Lisa and Strother explore one of the important paths towards professional maturity, through which StrengthsFinder has been guiding so many. You can also watch the video version of the interview on our YouTube channel.

Lisa: 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 you know, I'm always telling you about how energizing it is to lead through your strengths every day at work.

But sometimes, the truth is, it feels like the work culture is not aligned to our strengths. And it's really soul-sucking.

And we don't know how to ask for what we need, because you don't want to look like you're throwing a temper tantrum. You feel like you have more potential yet you don't know how to let it out. Heck, you might even feel like you have some superpowers to unleash at work, but you don't know how to make them known or useful. So if you're in that situation where you're thinking —

"Yeah, the culture and what would put me at my best, they're not fully aligned. And I get by because I'm trying to be a good team player.

"But yeah, there are some things that really get me down whether that's too many distractions, or how many details someone goes into or won't go into."

There are many, many colors of this example. And I'm here in this interview with one of our facilitators, Strother Gaines. And we're chatting about this topic of superpowers at work - and how you might contribute with them without sounding like you're arrogant. We go through a few examples of people and how they have asked: “What?” “How?” 

We go through a few practical examples of where people are frustrated by this at work and how they have signaled to their team some of the needs that they have or how they've explicitly asked for them without sounding like a bratty jerk. 

So without making you wait any longer, we're just going to jump right into an example that I experienced in a workshop where someone was not liking her superpowers at work (AKA her list of talent themes) because she wasn't getting what she needed at work and she felt like she wasn't able to express them or figure out how to express them. 

So watch for this thing. You've heard me call it the volume knob, and you'll hear Strother talking about controlling your powers.

Finding Opportunities To Leverage Your Superpowers At Work

Lisa: I'm thinking of a person who looked at her list of strengths from CliftonStrengths, and she sees Communication in her Top 5 and she's like —

“Number 1, number 2, number 3, number 4 ….. yes, yes, yes, yes. Those are sooooooo me.” 

“And then Communication — whelp, I have been told in the last few performance reviews that that's actually one of my weaknesses. So I'm not going to claim that one as a strength. That's actually been my greatest weakness.” 

And if you think of it like the “This or That” situation, I feel like when I look back on the situation that she was describing to me, she was saying —

“I'm going to give you all my Communication all the time, turned all the way up...or down. Since they don't like it up, I’m shutting off my superpowers at work because they're not welcomed here.” 

Strother: Yeah. 

Lisa: "I'm not speaking. So..."

Strother: Which is great in the meeting, and people love that like…no. 

Lisa: Yeah, suddenly you went from, “Hey, you don't give anyone room to speak in a meeting,” to getting feedback that “Hey, you have a resting, grumpy face."

Yeah, just literally shut down.”

Strother: Yeah. The on or the off, I think it's...you're totally right, it's back into what is the appropriate level right now. 

And as you become more adept at your strengths and you give them the space, I think that we struggle with that because in order to learn, it's like your mutant powers. I was just watching the old X-Men cartoons...and they really apply to superpowers at work.

This is a weird deviation. You're like, "Yeah, where are you going with this?”

And the old X-Men cartoon starts with Jubilee just sort of coming to terms with being a mutant and she has this sort of fireworks powers. And she just doesn't know how to control them. So they kind of help sometimes and sometimes they just go off and destroy everything and she hates them, because she hasn't learned to wield them yet. And you can't learn to wield those powers if you're too protective of them. 

She has to swing the pendulum too far to see —

“Oh, that's….and now it's too much. I got to learn to pull back my fireworks because if I go that far, it hurts people.” 

And so in protection of ourselves and other people's, and not looking stupid and not feeling silly, and all those sort of things that we protect against, when you have it, in particular, strength that has a bias against it, like Competition or something like that, where it's like, “Well, you're just being a jerk,” we're nervous to swing for the fences, because we see really clearly what it's going to look like if it goes wrong.

But you have to allow yourself that grace and that flexibility to learn how to control your superpowers at work, or you're going to waste them. So swing for the fences, let the pendulum swing in both directions until you find that nice, juicy middle ground where you're actually leveraging them appropriately.

Lisa: Yeah, what a great way just to give yourself permission to experiment with it. And to not think that there's only one way to do it because Competition doesn't mean I'm shutting down or I'm challenging you to a gunfight. It doesn't have to mean this or this all the way. It can be simple things like —

“Hey, when I lead through Competition, I'm keenly aware of our standing compared with our competitors. And it means that I make really cool bubble charts that show how we stack up in the industry. And the fact that I'm driven and motivated by that makes me a better performer.”

And so I think when people go from the “This or That” pendulum, they shut off the ability to even play with the middle and say —

“What else could it mean? How else could I contribute through my superpowers at work" And what else? And what else? And what else?

Strother: Well, you and I do, both of us, when we facilitate, oftentimes will do that activity “This or That.” The thing is you ask people, “you do this, you do that,” and then they spread themselves out throughout the room. 

And it's very rare that you'll get people who are like, “I’m the full polar.” And sometimes it happens, and that's an identifier for people and they really care about that. 

But most people do fall somewhere in that mid-ground. And so in that respect, it's easy for people to see that it's shades of gray. But when it's intellectual, and you're not in like the actual physical practice of the strength, people are like, well, it's “I'm one of the poles,” and you're probably just not.

Show People How You Perform At Your Best And Solicit Support To Make It Long-Term

Lisa: Yeah. Well, let's end with an example like that. So I did that exercise. And I remember this event vividly. The woman led through Intellection. And it was a question in my “This or That” exercise, I was having them line up on a continuum, whether they do their best thinking when they're in the midst of a group conversation, or if they're able to be alone and do the deep thinking. 

And she literally slammed her body against the sidewall to show —

“I am so far on the... I need to be by myself.” 

But she was in an environment where she was not allowed to work from home. And she didn't have any physical space where she could be alone. At the same time, she felt that her superpowers at work came out when she had space to be alone and think. Yet she felt like she was always getting barraged with “Collaborate!” and “Group work!” and all of these things. But she's saying —

“I can't be at my best like that — and I need you to know it.” 

And so that was a moment where she could bring it out and say, 

“I need more alone time... I need to go in my cave to think.” 

But how do you do that where if you just decided "I'm gonna maturely bring that up at work. I feel like I don't have a physical space to do that," without sounding like you're having a temper tantrum and stamping your feet and saying, “I need my corner office where I can be alone.” 

You know, how do you raise it...? She's afraid that if she brings up her superpower at work she will actually seem like she's anti-teamwork, and that's not a message anyone would want to hear. In fact, it could be a ding on her personal brand rather than an unleashing of strengths.

We know StrengthsFinder can help a lot with these conversations about what we individually need to be at our best. But once you realize "I have this need, but I don't know how to bring this up with my peers or my leader without sounding selfish or like a child or absorbed in me and not thinking about the business needs or how the culture actually works." 

So how do you face that? 

Strother: I think the first piece that we, anytime we're asking for something like that, framing it in what's in it for you instead of for me. If I come to someone and I say —

“Well, I need a corner office because I really need time alone and I just need you to make this accommodation for me.”

Like, “Deal with it. You're not gonna get any good work for me until you do it.”

Like, "Even if I have that corner office. I'm already like I'm not.... No." 

Lisa: You just sound like a brat or a diva.

Strother: Yeah, I don't want to give that to you, because you're just complaining right now. 

But if you can frame that for me in, 

“Here's how I produce my best work.”

Especially if you've done like a team StrengthsFinder type thing where everybody kind of knows, and we're all sort of moving into that methodology, we get it. 

“Let's find a way to activate your CliftonStrengths and activate mine.” 

“How can we make space for everyone?” 

If you're lucky to have that culture, then frame it in that way.  Say —

“Hey, you want the best work from me? We've found that one of the things I found in my report is that I do my best work like this. And I don't feel like we have access to that. Is there any way? What could we do?”

Lisa: What could we do? 

Strother: Instead of “Do this,” say, “What can we do to make this work?” 

And then it's a co-creative process. Then you are collaborating and you're giving them the opportunity to throw something out there, which maybe you've not considered either. 

Apply Your Superpowers At Work *For Work*, Not Just For Yourself

Lisa: Yeah, maybe you don't have a corner office. So you get to go down to the park outside and instead of someone thinking that you're just messing around out there for an hour, you're actually at the park alone doing your thinking time and you come back and when you show that produce better work that way, then people will say, “Oh, okay, yeah, go to your thinking in the park. Because right, we want that brainpower that comes back when you do it.”

Strother: And don't let your anticipated thoughts of what you think people will think about you, stop you, because I think oftentimes we're trying to project ourselves into other people. And we usually get that wrong. So when you think, “If I went to the park, I bet they would think that I'm lazy, or I bet they would think I'm just slacking off—” 

Then tell us you're not. 

A lot of times we're very nervous to throw those things out there, especially if it feels like an accommodation, or something that not everybody gets. People feel like, 

“Well, I have to do things the way they've been done.” 

There's no rule that says we have to do things the way it's been done. And if you can frame it in “Look at what you get from me.” 

Even when sometimes you might have to have a little data to support it, like, “This week, I tried out this thing, and I found that I produced so much better or it was easier work with me or I had an easier time in this way... Here's the data from my experiment. Can we make this more long-term?” 

So there's lots of ways to make it less like jump your feet and being a brat and more like “How can we build this together?”

Lisa: Make it about the business, not about you. Make it a pilot. And use your superpowers at work in service of the team.

And I like what you brought up about:

“What else could we do? How could we accomplish it, given what we have available to us?” 

And then knowing things like, you may not get the whole thing that you want. Certainly getting a physical office space, that's a big request. That's probably not likely. But what if the concession is that the team understands, “Hey, I'm going to put these big ol headphones on, and it's my one hour tiger time, and I'm not going to answer Skype, no instant message, no text. I'm going to shut out the world just for one hour a day.” 

And that's not something you've ever been able to have before and suddenly you're super productive, then your team's gonna want to honor that one hour. That seems very reasonable compared with you just deciding that “Well, I can't be productive here so I'm going to pout.”

Be Inoffensively Transparent

Strother: I had a client who, on the door of their cubicle or like the entrance of their cubicle, had a traffic light magnetic piece and he would put the magnet on the line like —

“Could you come talk to me?” was on green. 

“Am I deep on something? Don't come in.” was on red. 

So he let people know, “I'm in a deep workspace. Don't interrupt.” 

Because I think that is a challenge at work, it’s that constant, like, 

“Wanna gonna go grab coffee?”

“Can I ask you a quick question (that will turn into a 20 minute chat)?” 

“Hey, can I grab you for just a second? Can I talk to you for a second?” 

And his solution was, “I'll just be very clear and very transparent. Right now, no, you can't.” 

And they loved it because they knew when it's green, cool, great. And when it was red, he's busy and I'm not offended because that's not, “I don't want to talk to you.”  It's “I'm not talking to anyone right now because I produce better work that way.”

Lisa: And even knowing the talent themes like having the conversation where this is a team event so that someone can see, for example, someone who leads through the superpower of Focus at work -  that they could be in an open work environment and have their back to the room and literally not be able to hear everything that's going off behind them because they are so focused on that one thing.

Other people are so distractible that they wouldn't understand that's possible. They may not even believe it to your point about, you know, putting your own behaviors or the thoughts in your head, your lens on other people. So that's a powerful one.

Strother: Yeah.

Want To Grow As A Professional And Wield Your Superpowers At Work? Do CliftonStrengths With Your Team

Lisa: That moment when Strother said the example of his friend who said, “Life is so dynamic right now,” this is what it feels like at work when you're trying to be really mature about it.

It's like, “Oh my god, there's so much chaos and I'm burnt out and I'm just overbooked on my calendar and everything has gone awry.”

And then you're like, “Alright, now I need to show up and be a pro. So okay. Things are so dynamic right now.” 

You find a way to say it, you find a way to frame it, so that you still feel professional, but you still have needs. Even though you show up as a mature pro, there are still things that would put you at your best at work. 

And I loved how we were able to just jump around different examples and chat through some simple ways that people have signaled those to their teammates, and how they've asked for those kinds of things from their manager without seeming high-maintenance, without seeming like a brat or a jerk. You may not feel that you can leap from today's current state to "superpowers at work." Maybe that seems to far right now. That's okay. Take the smallest action in that direction.

If you think this kind of conversations would be useful for your team to have with each other, and I'm just gonna go — hint, hint — they're really useful to have with each other, meaningful conversation about your talent themes.

Over time, they're going to open up so much understanding for you so that you know:

  • What another person's interest is
  • How they would naturally process information
  • How they would naturally relate to the world
  • How they make decisions
  • How you could be helpful to each other by honoring those talent themes
  • What their untapped potential might be (AKA hidden superpowers at work)

This would be a great time to do CliftonStrengths with your team, and then consider doing some team building conversations. Many people are doing virtual training today. And Strother definitely facilitates those. So if you're interested in having him in for one of your virtual events, feel free to request him for your event. 

It's these kinds of open conversations that you have with each other that ensure you understand what each person on the team needs. Many people will consider it too high-risk, they won't come forward with these kinds of requests or wishes or thoughts because of the brat factor. 

They don't want to be seen as a brat. But they also see it as high-risk. They see it as a conversation that if they raise this, and that makes them go down a notch or two in your view, it's not going to be great for them in the workplace. 

And if you contrast that with what happens when you're having these strengths-focused conversations at work around CliftonStrengths, it opens it up in a whole different way. It puts it in a new context and makes people feel open in a way that they wouldn't if they were just going to come up with this conversation and raise it to you like it were an issue.

With that, thank you for listening to Lead Through Strengths and for bringing your best strengths to the workplace, because you know our workplaces need that from you. 

Next up: It's the last interview in the series with Strother and in that one we are talking about whether your commitments match your calendar, whether the things you say you want match what you actually do with your time. It's a powerful self-audit, and we'll see you over there.

Charge Up Your Superpowers At Work With These Helpful Resources

You can supercharge your career when you can do your best work in a way that will work not just for you but also for those around you. If you lead through Focus and Achiever, consider engaging in some mature conversation with your team and being more sensitive towards the needs of others and the business while striving for your best.

In fact, why not conduct a fun experiment with your strengths? Remember the volume knob that Lisa talked about? It’s a metaphorical way of regulating your strengths — in the context of the situation and the people around you. You’ll discover whether you need to turn your strengths up or pull back a bit. And once you’ve found that sweet spot, you’ll find that your strengths are better received.

Finally, review Lisa’s episode on how you can offer your awesomeness without sounding arrogant, where she explores the idea of balancing your talent’s energy with outward focus, i.e. thinking about the business outcome your strengths and talent can serve.

About Carmie Carpio

Carmie is a professional writer and editor at Lead Through Strengths. Having spent 8 happy years with a nonprofit child organization as a storyteller and sponsorship relations team manager, she continues collaborating with others across the globe for the joy of human development and connection. Her days are powered by coffee, curiosities, cameras (film and digital), music, notebooks, and a cat. Where books are home, she's home. She calls her Top 5 StrengthsFinder Talents "CLIPS" (Connectedness, Learner, Intellection, Positivity, and Strategic)--you know, those tiny objects that hold connected things together. She'd like to think she's one.