leaders as climate engineers

01/25/2012

by carolyn mathews

If you were to describe your position as a leader, would you include “Climate Engineer”? Now, before you envision yourself in front of a green screen, pointing to cold fronts and high pressure icons, think more locally. In addition to setting strategic direction and ensuring smooth organizational operations, leaders also set the climate of their team, department, and organization through their attitudes and behaviors, according to positive psychology researchers. Those in your organization watch how you respond to all challenges and this sets the tenor for how others meet challenges and how they work with each other. Thus, leaders serve as climate engineers.

One way to set a positive climate is through strengths coaching. Strengths coaching allows leaders to recognize and develop their own strengths and also recognize strengths in others.  When used in positive psychology, the term “strengths” refers to ways of thinking, feeling, or behaving that are intrinsic or come naturally to us. They differ from skills in that skills can be learned, even if one is not necessarily good at something.

Several researchers, ranging from the Gallup Organization to university based organizational and positive psychologists, have found benefits to a strengths-based approach in the workplace, including: better performance, higher engagement, and greater likelihood of goal achievement. Recognizing and managing to strengths in yourself and others, explain the researchers, allows leaders to allocate “people and resources according to individual and collective strengths as they go about building strengths-based organizations more broadly.”

However, a strengths-based approach does not imply that weaknesses are ignored in favor of what one does well naturally. We all have areas of weakness and they may be included in our job descriptions. To build robust organizations, weaknesses must be recognized in ourselves and in teams and not ignored. Depending on how integral they are to one’s position, weaknesses should be mitigated. The good news is that you can choose to use strengths as a way to mitigate those weaknesses.

For example, I once wrote speeches for a C-suite leader. He was not a great public speaker, yet because of his position in the company, this was not something he could allocate. So, we sent him to an executive seminar to hone his public speaking skills. His skills improved, but it was still a struggle. If I were to work with him now, I would recognize his strength for making difficult concepts very approachable and ask him how he could use this strength in developing and delivering content for presentations. Using strengths that come naturally to him (explaining difficult concepts in an approachable manner) would have contributed to a much more natural speaking style and probably less anxiety about public speaking. Would that have made him a great speaker? Probably not, but the goal would be to mitigate the weakness using one’s strengths.

There are many ways to identify personal strengths, including several assessment options and coaching. Observation also provides opportunities to recognize strengths. Notice what you, or your team members, tend to naturally gravitate towards and are successful doing. Who always volunteers for presentations? Who thrives on analytics? Allocate based on personal strengths when you can. Watch your employees thrive as the climate changes.

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