Tag Archive for Rath and Conchie

Quotable (Rath & Conchie, on seeing connections)

“People strong in ‘Connectedness’ have faith in the links between all things. They believe there are few coincidences and that almost every event has a reason.”

Rath, T., and Conchie, B. (2008). Strengths-Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow. Gallup Press: New York, NY.

Connect the Dots

Most of us probably remember doing “connect the dots” picture puzzles when we were young.  The page would have dots all over the paper, usually numbered in a sequence.  The task was to place your pencil tip (or crayon) on the first dot, draw a line to the second dot, then another line from the second dot to the third, and so on, until all the dots were connected.  At that point a recognizable picture had emerged (at least, if you connected the right dots together, it did).  The reason they formed that picture was because they were not a random smattering of dots; rather, they were each specifically and intentionally a point on a bigger picture, and therefore, connecting those dots allowed the picture to take shape.

Astronomers do something similar by grouping stars together (constellations) and drawing imaginary lines between those stars in such a way as to form a picture or a symbol.  This makes it easier to identify and remember particular groupings and locations, relative to direction, season, and time.  The real significance of the picture is not the picture itself, but rather the particular arrangement, and the connectedness of the stars in that arrangement.  In other words, these specific stars appear in this particular place, in relation to each other, at this time of the night and year.  This knowledge is what was used by mariners of the past to navigate ships, providing a map in the sky for direction and location.

One of the skills that an effective leader learns to harness is connecting the dots.  Generally, a leader is responsible for providing and shaping vision, which requires the ability to see and communicate the big picture. Part of seeing the big picture includes seeing how various pieces fit together to form that picture.  It is an understanding that certain events, actions, and ideas are going to complement each other in a way that produces a positive impact.  Therefore a good leader is able to identify those connections in order to harness their connectedness.  He also helps others to recognize those connections.  In an article originally published in the Harvard Business Review, Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas describe this as the importance of grasping context, saying, “The ability to grasp context implies an ability to weigh a welter of factors, ranging from how very different groups of people interpret a gesture to being able to put a situation in perspective. Without this, leaders are utterly lost, because they cannot connect with their constituents” (p. 112).

Rath and Conchie, in Strengths-Based Leadership (2008), also speak to this when they categorize 34 leadership strengths into four basic categories, and then identify one of those strengths as Connectedness.  They explain, “people strong in the Connectedness theme have faith in the links between all things. They believe there are few coincidences and that almost every event has a reason” (p. 139). This involves helping people to see how various pieces are parts of a whole, or part of a bigger picture.  The person with this ability recognizes interrelatedness between events, people, or both. It is the ability to connect the dots and then help others see the connection.

This happens to be one of my particular strengths (it showed up as one of my top five when I took the StrengthsFinder profile).  Part of the reason stems from my faith in the sovereignty of God, which in turn leads to confidence that things don’t happen by chance. Part of the reason simply stems from an ability to recognize connections.  The realization of this emerged over time, and eventually I understood that it was one of the things that made me more effective as a leader.  I could identify factors in the environment that were impacting outcomes, or see how specific individuals were influencing culture, or spot the connection between seemingly unconnected events.  This in turn helped me to understand how to shape vision, or make adjustments, or communicate information.

For example, when I began working in one school, I discovered that the students as a whole were performing poorly on standardized tests, like the SAT and the ACT.  As I reviewed curriculum, I could also see that many of the classroom tests were focused on details and memorization, but at the expense of critical thinking and interacting with ideas.  I also learned that most students did not take practice standardized tests (like the PSAT or PLAN), because it was voluntary, and so they little familiarity with those tests.  Although those pieces were not the only reasons, I could see the connection between those factors and poor test scores.  My response was to create tests that improved critical thinking and reasoning, require all students to take the PSAT and PLAN, and create and institute a Test Prep course.  The result was a notable improvement in average scores.  But it began because I recognized the connections.

In two different organizations, I experienced an initial lack of trust, and resistance to my efforts.  When I took the time to do some research and understand some of the history and culture, I learned in each place that the organization had been through a period of harshness, excessive control, and poor treatment of employees.  It was clear that there was a connection between their past experience and their responses to me.  An understanding of that connection helped me to determine my own actions and responses, enabling me to intentionally restore and rebuild trust.

More recently, connecting the dots of environmental factors led to changes that I implemented in the instructional process.  Over the last ten years, I could see that young people were being affected by technology.  The onsite of the Internet, with accessibility to information, social media, and electronic devices are all factors that combined to influence how children interact with the world around them.  Global communication became possible, making the world smaller.  Technology was incorporated into the workplace environment in many fields.  When I connected these dots, the conclusion was clear – digital integration needed to be part of the classroom.  As a result, I initiated a 1:1 program, one in which each student carried an electronic device into the classroom as an educational tool, and teachers incorporated the use of those devices in the learning process.

The lesson for you is this: you will be more effective if you can learn to connect the dots.  Find the connections, and use those connections to make decisions that will result in positive changes and improvements, decisions that will move you and the organization forward.  And here’s a tip: it’s easier to see connections if you can zoom out and see the big picture.

Bennis, W., & Thomas, R. (2011). “Crucibles of Leadership” in HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership. Harvard Business Review Press: Boston, MA.

Rath, T., & Conchie, B. (2008). Strengths-Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow. Gallup Press: New York, NY.

Put the Right People Where They Fit

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great and Great by Choice, famously said that an effective leader gets the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. (2011; 2001)  Usually, this concept is only applied to the general hiring process in organizations, as HR departments and hiring managers make every effort to employ the right people in the company.  However, I believe it is just as important to take it to a micro-level, and apply the same principles to the formation of your team.  When it comes to your team, those principles are, quite simply:  get the right people, and put the right people in the right place.

It begins by getting the right people on your team, and this happens in two ways.  First, identify those people that need to be on your team, and get them on board.  A good leader will learn to understand his personal strengths and abilities, as well as his own “gaps,” knowing that “without an awareness of your strengths, it’s almost impossible for you to lead effectively.” (Rath & Conchie, 2008, p. 10)  He also needs to understand the strengths of those around him, especially where those strengths are different than his.  With those pieces of information, an effective leader is intentional about identifying and placing people on his team that will provide a full range of strengths and abilities.  Where leaders make a mistake is  in choosing people without consideration of how they fit, when people are not “recruited to [the] executive team because their strengths are the best complement to those of the existing team members.” (Rath & Conchie, 2008, p. 21)

The second piece of getting the right people on your team is to remove the wrong people from the team.  These wrong fits to the team may be immediately evident, or may become apparent over time.  “Effective executives know this and check up (six to nine months later) on the results of their people decisions.  If they find that a decision has not had the desired results, they don’t conclude that the person has not performed.  They conclude, instead, that they themselves made a mistake.”  (Drucker, 2011, p. 30) When it becomes clear that someone is then not a good fit, it is time to take them off the team, but a truly outstanding leader will go one step further.  Because he has learned and understood that team member and his or her strengths and weaknesses (at least, enough to know that they do not fit on the team), a great leader will not simply usher that person off the bus, but will help get him on the right bus.  He will help that person move to the place where he best fits, whether that be within the organization, or perhaps even in some other organization.

With the right people on your team, the next step is to make sure that they are in the right place on the team, functioning according to the gifts they bring to the group.  There are a variety of personality and strengths assessments (Myers-Briggs, DISC, StrengthsFinder, etc.), but the underlying premise of all of them as that there are different personality types and strengths (that makes sense, doesn’t it?).  The application of this premise is that those different personality types and strengths will function best in different roles.  Some may be better at analyzing and mapping, others at motivating, or administrating, or planning, or connecting, or any number of other skill sets.  Part of the purpose of having a full range of strengths on the team is so that the leader can assign tasks and responsibilities based on those strengths, and so that, in turn, the team members are each operating at their highest capability, enjoyment, and fulfillment.  Often, when it becomes evident that the team is not functioning well, it is because the leader “didn’t put the right people on the job.” (Drucker, 2011, p. 31)

The most successful – and, incidentally, the most enjoyable – teams on which I have participated have been those that have had a balanced combination of strengths and abilities; so much so, that when a team member left, I became very intentional about searching for a replacement that filled in the right gaps for those that remained.  I have learned my strengths, and I know that I will do best when I can fully operate within those abilities; therefore I know I need to seek out people with abilities that will complement mine.  When that happens, we perform well, we work together well, and we accomplish much.

Collins, J. (2011). Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership (pp. 115-136). Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.

Collins, J. C. (2001). Good to great: Why some companies make the leap–and others don’t. New York: Harper Business.

Drucker, P. F. (2011). What makes an Effective Executive HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership (pp. 23-36). Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.

Rath, T., & Conchie, B. (2008). Strengths-Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow. New York, NY: Gallup Press.


Quotable (Tom Rath & Barry Conchie, Strengths-Based Leadership)

“Effective leaders surround themselves with the right people and build on each person’s strengths. . . . While each member has his or her own unique strengths, the most cohesive and successful teams possess broader groupings of strengths.”  (Rath & Conchie, 2008, pp. 21-22)

Rath, T., & Conchie, B. (2008). Strengths-Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow. New York, NY: Gallup Press.


Fill in the Gaps

One of my favorite lines from the movie “Rocky” takes place when Paulie (Rocky’s best friend) is having a conversation with Rocky in a meat locker.  Paulie is asking Rocky what he sees in Adrian (Paulie’s sister), and gives a straightforward question when he asks, “What’s the attraction?” Here’s the line I love, which I think is incredibly profound:  Rocky replies by saying, “I don’t know, she fills gaps, I guess. . . She’s got gaps, I got gaps, together we fill gaps.”

I have often used this phrase when providing marriage counseling.  When I would meet with a couple, I would use as an illustration a ring that my mother-in-law had, which was made up of separate bands, each with alternating spaces and gemstones, that when put together made one beautiful circular band of gems. Then I would quote the line from Rocky, and explain how, in a marriage relationship, a husband and wife each bring different strengths and weaknesses, and that part of their individual role in building a successful marriage was to fill in each other’s gaps so that they would be better as a couple than either one could be as an individual.

This same idea should be true in teams, but often is not.  Rath and Conchie (Strengths-Based Leadership) realized this in their study of teams and leadership, finding that “rarely are people recruited to an executive team because their strengths are the best complement to those of the existing team members.” (2008, p. 21) When they looked for teams that were successful and functioning well, they discovered that, “while each member had his or her own unique strengths, the most cohesive and successful teams possessed broader groupings of strengths.” (p.22)  From this they learned that, “although individuals need not be well-rounded, teams should be” (p. 23), and therefore “it serves a team well to have a representation of strengths.” (p. 23)

The truth of the matter is, no one individual leader can be the best at everything that is needed.  When one person tries to “do it all,” the result is, as the old saying states, “a jack of all trades but a master of none.” But when a team is assembled that is comprised of differing strengths and abilities, the members of that team fill in the gaps for each other.  It makes sense, then, that good leaders “understand what they’re good at and what they’re not and have good judgment about how they can work with others to build on their strengths and offset their limitations.” (Ancona, Malone, Orlikowski, & Senge, 2011, p. 181)  These leaders gather teams that offset the leader’s limitations.  The result is that the combination of individual strengths makes a better whole.

As a leader, you need to know your limitations and your capabilities.  Where you have limitations, or gaps, it is a misuse of your abilities and your time to try to fill in those gaps on your own when you have people around you who can fill in those gaps for you.  This means it is part of your responsibility as a leader to be intentional about placing people on your team who will provide the best combination of necessary strengths and skills.  It is also your responsibility to be active in developing those strengths and skills in your team members.  In the process, when you identify a deficiency in the team that cannot be filled by a current team member, you need to find the right person who can fill in that gap and complete the team.  In the end, the best teams are not necessarily a simple combination of the best individuals, but rather the combination of people who fill in all the gaps.

Ancona, D., Malone, T. W., Orlikowski, W. J., & Senge, P. M. (2011). In Praise of the Incomplete Leader HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership (pp. 179-196). Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.

Rath, T., & Conchie, B. (2008). Strengths-Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow. New York, NY: Gallup Press.



Strengths-Based Leadership (Rath & Conchie)

Strengths Based Leadership book coverStrengths-Based Leadership, by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie, is a product of extensive Gallup research on the topic of leadership strengths, with the premise that “the path to great leadership starts with a deep understanding of the strengths you bring to the table.” (2008, p. 3)  This book comes with an access code for taking the strengths assessment, StrengthsFinder 2.0, from which you can receive a personalized strengths-based leadership guide that describes your own strengths and explains how they can help you maximize your leadership.

The book presents three key behaviors of effective leaders:

  1. Effective leaders are always investing in strengths; they focus on and invest in the individual strengths of themselves and their employees;
  2. Effective leaders surround themselves with the right people, and then maximize their team; they understand that, while the best leaders are not necessarily well-rounded, the best teams are;
  3. Effective leaders understand their followers’ needs; people follow leaders for very specific reasons, and the best leaders meet those needs.

The accumulation of research behind this book revealed four distinct domains of leadership strength:  executing, influencing, relationship-building, and strategic thinking.  The most effective teams are those with contributing strengths from all four of these domains.  Therefore it makes sense that effective leaders are intentional about identifying the strengths of those around them, and about surrounding themselves with a combination of strengths that allow the team to accomplish more than what could be done by any one individual.  The StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment identifies your five predominant strengths and the domains in which they fall, and when the assessment is used by everyone on the team, it provides a map of the team’s strengths.

I was first exposed to Strengths-Based Leadership through a leadership conference several years ago.  I completed the assessment, and found the resulting description to be both accurate and helpful, and therefore found it beneficial for enhancing my leadership.  It was much more valuable for me, though, when I involved my team.  When I provided the assessment to the other members of my team and mapped the results, two things happened.  First, it confirmed and affirmed that my team was a very effective team, when it revealed that we were balanced and well-rounded, with strengths from each of the domains.  Second, by clearly identifying where our strengths were different, it made me more effective as a leader in delegating tasks and responsibilities to the appropriate team members.  The end result:  my good team became better.  For this reason, I think this particular tool can be quite valuable for you and your team.

Rath, T., & Conchie, B. (2008). Strengths-Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow. New York, NY: Gallup Press.