"It all starts with this question: What difference would it make if your team – or your family – had no weaknesses? Seriously – no joke: How would you lead if every strength and quality you needed for those around you to perform at higher levels already existed within them?"
Degrees of Strength by Craig W. Ross and Steven W. Vannoy is an easy to read “story” based on real life case studies that strive to convince readers like you and me to change our mindset so we can unleash the untapped potential of every person we interact with – whether at work, at home or at the gym! If we want to be effective leaders, we need to change how we look at and interact with people in order to help them deliver on their potential and move our organizations to extraordinary performance levels.
If you’re like me (a realistic optimist), you likely read that introductory quote and thought to yourself, “No weaknesses? That would be fabulous! We’d take the world by storm. Life would be amazing!” But – and there’s always a’ but’, isn’t there? – let’s be honest, we all have weaknesses. What we need to do is figure out how to minimize them or work around them. It’s just the way it is.
As you read this book, you’ll learn why that thinking is not only inaccurate, but how it’s hampering your leadership efforts in both your work and personal contexts. The authors then outline a series of ‘mind shifts’ that will help us move from this “degrees of weakness” position to a degrees of strength perspective. And that’s where the magic begins!
The Big Idea
Choose Your Path Carefully
"You go in the direction of your focus."
While this is the third of three “Mind Factors” discussed in the book, it is the one that “cinches the deal” as Bernie (one of the characters in the book) puts it. Our minds are powerful things and we tend to “see” what is top of mind. For example: have you ever bought a new car – let’s say a yellow VW Bug – only to start seeing them everywhere, when before your purchase you would swear you never saw any yellow VW Bugs on the road?
This principle holds true for our goals and objectives, too, and it’s where the other two mind factors come in. It’s important to acknowledge and leverage the three mind factors when assessing any situation:
1. You can only focus on one thought at a time (multi-tasking is a myth).
2. You can’t avoid a “don’t” (as in “Don’t picture a pink elephant”. Gotcha!)
3. You go in the direction of your focus (the self-fulfilling prophecy, I’ll never lose this weight).
So what you might ask? How does that help me and my team reach our targets this quarter? Well consider this… what are you asking your team to focus on – problems or what’s working? Are you telling them what ‘not’ to do (don’t lose the sale) or what the real goal is (satisfy our customers and win their business)? Are you starting to see the mind shift you need to make?
"Just the facts, Ma'am" can make or break you
"It took me a while to learn that yes, she wanted the facts – but how those facts were interpreted and used was the leadership difference she was looking for."
Sgt. Joe Friday, a character in a TV Show called Dragnet (the original series aired in the 1950’s, and was revived again from 1967-1970), was famous for telling potential witnesses “Just the facts, Ma’am. Just the facts.” And while it is important to utilize facts and data when making business decisions, Roberto (another character/teacher in the book) reminds us how facts are interpreted and used which makes a world of difference to how you lead teams to better outcomes:
“I used to share facts from a degrees of weakness perspective, so everything was interpreted or understood with a destructive or limiting energy: ‘Here’s where we’re in trouble.’ ‘These are all the problems we have.’ ‘We’ll never have enough resources.’… When I discovered that you can take the same numbers, the same facts, and see and use them differently – well, it changed everything. I began speaking up with, ‘Here’s why we can close that gap.’ ‘These are the conditions we must create to generate solutions.’ ‘Here are the options our resources currently provide us.’”
This is more than just a Jedi mind trick of replacing negative talk with positive talk. With a degrees of strength approach you look for what IS working in a given situation, even when things are not progressing as far or as fast as you would like. Encouraging your team to first focus on what is going right and how to do more of it generates forward momentum and helps transition them into a problem-solving mindset instead of an ‘avoid the blame’ game.
Which leads us to our second GEM…
Forward Focused Questions
"The human mind can rarely resist a well-timed, well-phrased question. In other words, as soon as someone is asked a question, the mind becomes pointed in the direction of the focus presented."
Just as data can be interpreted positively or negatively, how questions are worded can dramatically shift our focus. Think about what you focus on as you read each of the following questions:
Why are we always making these mistakes?
What am I doing wrong?
What do we need to do to improve?
What can I do better?
Hopefully by now you are recognizing the difference between degrees of weakness and degrees of strength thinking; problem focused vs. solution focused. Ross and Vannoy call the first two questions ‘backward focus questions’ and the last two questions ‘forward focus questions’.
So, when facing a challenging situation at work or at home, consider asking the people involved forward focused questions:
1. What is going right? How can we do more of this?
2. Are there things we are currently doing that we need to get better at to be more successful? How might we make that happen?
3. What else can we do that we are not already doing to make progress in this area?
You don’t have to wait for something to be going right to be optimistic and forward-focused. The authors believe that “Optimism is a function of our ability to see what seems to be in the way – and using Degrees of Strength to transform the obstacle into a lever.”
The book illustrates Degrees of Strength thinking across a number of different leadership issues – accountability, change management, leadership, individual performance, agility – all which help you become more comfortable with how to apply the concepts in real life situations. It closes with an inspiring quote from Woodrow Wilson, and I for one, just love inspirational quotes. So if you’re wondering if Degrees of Strength is worth your money and your time to read, consider this:
“You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.”