We are talking all about finding our strengths today with my friend, Laura Cootsona, an accomplished coach, consultant, and non-profit executive. She walks us through StrengthsFinder, a tool that helps you identify and lean into your strengths and uncover the strengths of others.
Research shows that leaning into your strengths at work and in life is absolutely life-changing. Here’s what we cover:
1. How to identify strengths to unleash your potential
2. The link between strengths and enjoying your work
3. Understanding the downside of your strong points
4. How to team up with other strengths
5. How to build a strength-based family
Do you have questions for Dr. Alison? Leave them here.
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Music by Andy Luiten
Sound editing by Kelly Kramarik
While Dr. Cook is a counselor, the content of this podcast and any of the products provided by Dr. Cook are not specific counseling advice nor are they a substitute for individual counseling. The content and products provided on this podcast are for informational purposes only.
More about The Jesus Center
What Color Is Your Parachute by Richard N. Bolles
Now Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton
Episode 49: Personality
Episode 50: 9 Types of Intelligence & 9 Sacred Pathways
Episode 51: 12 Common Thinking Traps
Episode 52: The Enneagram
The Best of You Podcast:
With Dr. Alison Cook and Laura Cootsona
Episode 52: Favorite Psychology Tools – The StrengthsFinder
Alison: This show is sponsored by BetterHelp. It's so easy to get caught up in what everyone else needs from you and never take a moment to check in with yourself, let alone identify what you need from yourself. I know that, in my own life, having a regular time to check in with someone else who's going to ask me the hard questions. Ask me about my week. Ask me about what I'm thinking about what priorities, what relationships might need to be realigned, to create just a little bit more space for me to do my own work is so important.
Therapy can give you the tools to find more balance in your life. So you can keep supporting others without leaving yourself behind. It's helpful for learning positive coping skills to check in on what's cluttering up your mind. To help you check in on the messages you're telling yourself, the things you might be, subtly, starting to believe about yourself or other people, that need to be realigned. It can help you take those steps to set better boundaries and to become the best version of yourself. There are just so many reasons that we can all benefit from therapy.
If you're thinking of starting therapy, give BetterHelp a try. It's entirely online. It's designed to be convenient, flexible, and suited to your schedule. You fill out a brief questionnaire to get matched with a licensed therapist, and you can switch therapists at any time for no additional charge. Find more balance with BetterHelp. Visit betterhelp.com/bestofyou, today to get 10% off your first month. That's betterhelp-h-e-l-p.com/bestofyou.[00:01:34] < Music >
Alison: Hey everyone, I'm Dr. Alison, and I'm so glad you're here to discover what brings out the best of you. This podcast is all about breaking free from painful patterns, mending the past, and discovering our true selves in God. I can't wait to get started, as we learn together how to become the best version of who we are with God's help.
Hey everyone, and welcome back to this week's episode of The Best of You podcast. I am so glad you're here. This is the last episode in our series called My Favorite Psychology Tools. I'm sad to see this one go. I have loved every single one of these, and maybe we'll revisit a part two of this in the future, and I'll see if you guys have some ideas about what you want me to talk about.
But today we're going to end with StrengthsFinder. This is one of my favorite psychology tools, that has helped me so much in my life. And to talk about it, I've invited my dear friend Laura Cootsona onto the podcast. Laura and I met several years ago when we were co-leading retreats with my co-author Kimberly Miller, called Leading Wholeheartedly. We led these retreats together and Laura was both the coordinator of the retreat, as well, as she led us through Strength Finders exercises at every retreat and I learned so much from her.
She has worked with nonprofit organizations for 37 years. She built a consulting practice that focuses on fundraising, marketing, CEO coaching, strategic planning, and board development. She recently served as the executive director of the Jesus Center, which is a social service nonprofit in Chico, California. That was focused on reducing the impact of homelessness.
She's also been deeply involved in Campfire Collaborative, which has been a huge part of the long-term recovery process from the terrible fires in Paradise, California. And more, recently, she has formed a collaborative consulting firm called Good Well Consulting, where she focuses on personal, team, organizational, and community health, and capacity building. She lives in Chico, California, with her husband and has two grown daughters.
Welcome to The Best of You, podcast, Laura. I am so glad to have you here today. We've known each other for a long time, and it's really fun to get to bring your expertise to this podcast. So thanks for being here.
Laura: Yes, thank you, Alison, for inviting me. This is such a fun privilege.
Alison: So, Laura, I learned about StrengthsFinder from you. We used to run these retreats together, these Leading Wholeheartedly retreats. And one of the things that you would bring to the table was you led us all through StrengthsFinder, and I found it to be so powerful. And I've gone on to use it in my own life. I've used it in my marriage. I'll tell a little bit about how we approach it, which has been really fun. But just tell us a little bit about how you discovered StrengthsFinder, what it meant to you, and how you've used it in your work?
Laura: So I was, actually, having to go back a little bit, in the history books, to make sure I had the chronology correct. But I want to go back a little further, which I used to say I was one of those nerds that would read the self-help books and do all the exercises. And, so, I really think my pre-work towards StrengthsFinder was in a book that was published over and over, and I think it's still being published called What Color Is Your Parachute?
Laura: And I still remember, circa 1986-ish, seven-ish, going through every exercise. And it was a little bit more of a blunt instrument, but it, basically, divided people into three categories. People who wanted to work with people. People who were really connected to place, and people who were connected to information.
So I had this big insight at 22, 23, that I liked to work with people. So I think that was, honestly, I'm belittling it, but it was really a big insight, at that point. And, so, fast-forward 15 years, I was in New York City.
My husband and I, were living in Manhattan, and as it related to his work, we met a woman who was working for the Gallup Organization. And I still remember her handing us this book called Now Discover Your Strengths. Which was, essentially, the first run at introducing the strengths philosophy into the mass market. That Gallup had done millions of interviews around worker satisfaction, and discovered the low ratings of worker satisfaction. And they started to dig, and built this all to figure out what was going to be the key to shifting worker satisfaction.
And, so, in the early 2000s, they put together what's called StrengthsFinder. And then in 2007 they published The StrengthsFinder 2.0, which is the assessment that is being used now. But throughout they kept refining it,
and what's super great about it now is it's much more personalized. Because we could have the same strengths, but it'll show up really differently based on combination, personality, context, a bunch of other things. So now when you get a report, it's much more personalized, which makes it really fun.
But I discovered it really after that New York season. In the early 2000, and it just really resonated because of its particular nature and its positivity.
Alison: So tell us a little bit about what it is. It's a strength-based approach?
Laura: Yes, and that's really critical, it's all based on positive psychology. So the idea that you would try to figure out where you're weak and build up those areas is the opposite of what the StrengthsFinder is. So the words are perfectly apt; Finding your strengths. Identifying, articulating, connecting with how you show up in the world and, essentially, it's a little formula.
They call the first element of the formula talent, but you could call it gifting, or natural abilities, God-given characteristics, however you want to talk about. What just is in you, it's like the raw material. And, then, the second part of the equation is experiences, skill development, training, education, all the pieces that can add value and depth, and excellence, within your naturally born talents, and that equals a strength.
Alison: Oh, interesting. So it's a combination of nature and nurture, in a way.
Laura: Yes, exactly.
Alison: So strength is something you probably have a little bit of naturally, and it also probably was nurtured in you?
Laura: Exactly. And what's fun about it is you can go back. I mean, I've done autobiographical exercises where you go back and you search for the early signs of that strength showing up. And, for me, they show up in childhood.
Laura: Some of them are, incredibly, absent in my childhood and because of some small t traumas, but changes were in the way I navigated the world, they appeared later. But some of them are really they're there.
Alison: Is it possible that somebody could have an innate strength, that didn't get reinforced or maybe was even seen as a deficit early on. And then later they could begin to nurture that and develop a strength that they thought they didn't have? How does that work?
Laura: I think you can. I mean, again, in some ways, it's like the clay, there is a certain set of raw material. And what's fun about this assessment is there's enough complexity to it that you can do a lot with it. So, again, part of how it works is you take this online assessment, and there are 34 possible strengths. The basic assessment puts out five of those strengths that are your top five. But the assessment, if you want to spring for the full 34, will rank the entire set for you, and it's equally as fascinating.
Alison: I do, too.
Laura: But the top five, and really your top ten, really, are your key elements from which you can draw all abilities to interact with your work, your contacts, your relationships. So it just gives you, for me, again, going back to that early assessment, I'm good with people. But in what way am I good with people, and what is my role? And the strengths give me more particularity to where I fit in the people world, if you will, there's a lot of people professions.
Alison: Yes, and, so, as I understood it, as I learned it from you, of the 34 strengths they exist within, essentially, four different categories. I don't think we're going to go through all the strengths, although, let's, definitely, touch on them. But what are the four categories?
Laura: Yes, so they call them domains, and the strengths fall neatly into these four domains. And, so, the first is executing, which is pretty obvious, it's getting stuff done. It's all those strengths that get you to move balls forward.
Alison: What are some examples of those executing strengths?
Laura: Yes, so the executing strengths, one of the ones I love that's in executing is called arranger. It happens to be one of my strengths. But it's the ability to, essentially, move things around. I'll read some of the key characteristics because it's better their words than mine. "You are a conductor." And I love that image of being a conductor. "When faced with a complex situation involving many factors. You enjoy managing all of the variables, aligning and realigning them until you are sure they are arranged in a productive configuration."
Laura: I consider it like running audibles, sometimes as an arranger. So you have your plan, but you also are the one that can make in-the-minute decisions like, "Oh, that's not working, let's shift this way just slightly. Why don't you go over there and you go over here, or let's do this first, and then we'll come to that." That's the arranger, classic example of an executing character.
Alison: Which would make sense because as I got to know you, you were the retreats' coordinator. So you were holding all of the pieces, and you were that person that if something had to change, you could rearrange everything to make it work with the change.
Laura: Yes, you pull the team back together, like, "Okay, I'm reading the room. The room is saying, I'm exhausted, we're going to take a break." I mean, something that simple to, "Okay, that exercise has gone too long. Let's move to this other one, and skip that one we had planned." That's an arranger role.
Alison: So that's executor. What are some of the other common, maybe, strengths that people might be familiar with if they're in that more executor category?
Laura: One of my favorites is responsibility, and this one's so fun because the people who show up in this are the people, I mean, think about the person who has responsibility is the person you rely upon. Because the language is so good that they've put together, "Your responsibility theme forces you to take psychological ownership." So that's deep stuff.
For anything you commit to, and whether large or small and you feel emotionally bound to follow it through to completion, your good name depends on it. And if for some reason you cannot deliver you, automatically, start to look for ways to make it up to the other person and so on and so on.
We all know people with that characteristic and know that that is real.
Alison: And they're going to get the job done. Again in that executive space, they're going to execute because of that high value on responsibility, interesting.
Laura: So if you have someone with responsibility, looking at it in the context of teams, those are the people who are going to just be tenacious about making sure it gets completed. And, sometimes, honestly, and this goes back to your whole theme is sometimes at great expense to themselves.
Alison: Exactly, those strengths, we'll get there, but those strengths can definitely also become our Achilles' heel if we don't know. I have a high responsible in my family and I just have to shepherd her through, "It is okay, we can let this ball drop." And it is excruciating for her to do that.
Laura: It's like a moral failure.
Alison: It's a moral failure, yes, I can already see the ties here. We did the Enneagram last week.So the ties to the Enneagram One.
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Alison: What's this next category?
Laura: The next one is relationship building. And relationship building, again, I ran a social service agency. You'll find most staffing in a social service arena, I'm sure in the counseling arena are high on relationship building. Your strengths end up a lot in relationship building.
Again, like a classic profile given a lot of your roles, and you have a couple that I think you could speak to. One you have is empathy, another is positivity. Some of the strengths, I'll just be honest, I think, some of the words are harder to just intuitively understand. Empathy and positivity are what you think they are.
Alison: Yes, that was a big one for me, empathy was my number one as I tested out. Well, I was a little surprised that it was number one, and it was actually helpful to me. Because like that high responsible, and I talk about this a lot, empathy has been with me, as you said, Laura, I can go back to childhood and I remember the kids in my class that were hurting from first grade. I knew who they were, I remember their names. It still breaks my heart that I didn't know what to do.
It was with me early on. It was also affirmed in me, of course, then I would go on to be a therapist. And as I talk about it, it can also become a little bit of a trap. Gosh, I feel the empathy, and also I have only so much bandwidth. And, so, these strengths, they're very real, and we have to learn to steward them and, then, the positivity is another one of mine.
And, so, that's interesting. The empathy, you bleed for other people, and then positivity, as I understand it, correct me if I'm wrong, it's like you can see the positive in anything.
You can look for the positive. And, so, you're believing in people constantly. You're believing in the best of what can happen. Which is great in my field but, also, you have to learn how to temper that a little bit because sometimes the best-case scenario doesn't always happen.
Laura: Reality interrupts that. It is, you also have maximizer, which is in this category, and that is also a unique strength, as you do particularly personal. I don't think you have individualization, but individualization and maximizer are really ones that you see that people are becoming their best version of themselves.
So, again, I think, positivity can lead to that. But, obviously, our trauma-informed approach to things is also staying with them in the grief, and the pain, long enough to give valid affirmation and empathy to it. So, again, they are inherent in you. But that doesn't mean we don't have control over how they're implemented or engaged in our day-to-day. And as we get more fluent in the particularities of our strengths, we have more control over how we bring them into the world. And, sometimes, for different reasons, we need to temper some of them.
Alison: Yes, I love that. I love just to pause here, for a second, the strengths approach, what it does is it help you, and you touched on this at the beginning. When I looked at those five strengths, I'm like, "Yes, this is really a picture of who I am at my best. "I certainly have to learn to temper it. And it doesn't mean I discount those bottom five, because I have looked a lot at my bottom five, and that's actually been very helpful to me.
Because it's not that I'm not responsible for those. But I think, correct me if I'm wrong, the strength-based approach suggests that leaning into your strengths and learning how to really steward the strengths is more productive than trying to become those bottom five things that are the hardest things for you to ever become.
It doesn't mean you don't have some responsibility for them. But if you're trying to fit yourself into a role that requires those strengths that are literally at the bottom of your list. Sometimes, I talk about you want to work with the grain of who you are. You don't want to be working against yourself. And if you're in a position, or a role, or a job, or a relationship where you are required to constantly show up at those bottom five of your strengths. You're working against the grain of yourself, and it's really hard.
Laura: Absolutely, again, if you go back to one of the motivators for developing this was around job satisfaction. And if you start to move from the individual analysis to how you operate, particularly, in your work or with your team. The evidence is just in the realm of miraculous about what it feels like and the satisfaction level that happens, when your role in your work is aligned with your strengths, this whole thing just breaks open.
We've heard the work on flow, we've heard the work on geniuses. When we are aligned with the things that give us energy, it just keeps giving you energy. I agree that we need to know, I would call them maybe our blind spots, the things we just don't naturally pay attention to rather than calling them weaknesses.
One of mine is context, and as far as I understand context, often it shows up in people who really hold to the past and the historical connections. I don't have a very good memory and I'm just on to the next thing. And in the Enneagram I'm that type, I'm just going forward and, obviously, sometimes, it gets me into serious trouble. So, again, a blind spot is-
And, then, when I'm working with groups, and just to fast-forward, one of the contexts that I work in is in disaster recovery. And in disaster recovery, most people are actually very connected to place and past. And when you lose everything, you can be all positive about the future, but they have not released whatever it is that binds them to the past.
And, so, I have to be ultra-sensitive to giving room for that. Even though, "My family home is gone, I don't care. It was bulldozed 30 years ago, I don't care." But I'm weird that way. That's an anomalous characteristic for most humans, they're very connected to place.
Alison: Yes, I love how you're talking about it as a blind spot. Because now that you're aware of the blind spot. You're aware, "Oh, that makes sense. It's not in my primary line of focus, but I can be aware. I can be more sensitive to it, knowing that it's there, knowing that it's not going to be in my primary line of focus."
Laura: Right, which leads me to the next domain, which is strategic thinking. And, although, I have a lot of strategic strengths, again, back to the Enneagram, I'm a gut type. So I'm always going to push into moving things forward. And strategic thinking says, "Stop for a minute, imagine that you might actually be answering or solving the wrong problem. Let's collect more information, ask more questions."
I always think about, my husband and I call it going to the ground floor. He loves going to the ground floor, which means dismantle everything and start again. And I'm like, "Oh, my gosh, we're doing this, again."
But, man, if you're just a fraction off the right angle, as you're going to solve a problem, by the time you get there, you're so missed the mark. So we need to push into folks with strategic thinking. Or if we have strengths in strategic thinking, we need to bring them forward before we start executing.
Alison: Yes, so true, wait, so you're more of an executor and your husband is more strategic?
Laura: Yes, he's totally strategic, and, actually, mine is influencing. So not only am I executing, but in the fourth domain, I'm rallying the troops to move forward. I'm getting everyone excited. I'm the cheerleader and I've got the megaphone, and I'm like, "Okay, everybody, let's move to the right side of the room."
Alison: I'm laughing because I hear you on that strategic one.
Laura: Yes, well, it's so funny because when I started doing StrengthsFinder in the retreats that we did with Christians in the Visual Arts, and then I'm Leading Wholeheartedly.
So the Christians in the Visual Arts, the retreats were called Doing Good Well. And we brought together young female artists of faith, and with the premise that a lot of their voices were getting lost in the mix.
Whether it was in the church or in the secular context. That we wanted to give them a space to, again, give them some vocabulary and some claim over their unique contributions. That was the StrengthsFinder piece. We worked with Internal Family Systems to help them understand their internal psychological piece. And then we built some real practical skills on how they can, then, show up in their context. And, so, we would start with StrengthsFinder, and artists just are, notoriously, in the strategic thinking domain, I mean, just predominantly.
Laura: So the first thing they do when they get their results is they question two things. They question the entire assessment; they question their results. And, so, I figured this out after doing it a couple of times and I'm like, "All right, you people, I understand that, so question away. Just bring me all your, 'No, I don't like this, and this isn't working, and I don't think this is'"
And the way I would understand it is talking to my husband, who I adore, but he immediately goes into finding, he's an academic, strategic thinker. That's what you do, it's his craft. And it taught me to appreciate that, whereas before it felt very, I want to be honest, a bit annoying.
Like, "Why do you have to poke all these holes in it? Let's just go. Why are you getting in my way?" But now I see, oh, again, blind spot, I don't do that long enough, and I don't do it carefully enough. And, so, I'm learning to say, "Bring that and I'll hold myself down and don't do something, yet."
Well, I want to get through these four categories. But this is just such a fun conversation, we're getting to the strength-based approach and everything in this series, and I love that we're having on this. It's not just about this individual, "This is who I am. This is the way it's going to be. These are my strengths; it's my way or the highway." They actually help us live better in community, and that's what you're saying. It's like if we're only looking at our own gifts and "Everybody should be just like me, and if you're not just like me, you're annoying, or that's bad."
It's, no, actually, we start to appreciate what happens when we come together and we look at things from that larger perspective. We get to play our role. But my role is going to shine even more brightly when it's brought into partnership with someone that's going to help me pause, see the big picture. Make sure we're building on the right foundation, and then let all that empathy, and that maximizing, and that positivity shine.
Laura: Yes, so the fourth domain, just to finish that structure, is influencing. And you have a couple of your top strengths in there, and I have three of my top that is really my domain. And, again, back to my lovely artist friends, to use an old phrase, they think outside the box. Which is exactly what we want our artists to do, and they create, amazingly, beautiful things.
So they often will be able to execute at that level. But where they really have blind spots is around what we might just call marketing. Or telling their story to another outside world, and getting people, essentially, to follow them.
And they need influencers to be their town criers, to be their bringers of others along. I always say to people, "If you want something that you'd love to get out into the world, tell me. If I like it, I will tell everyone I know." And I don't do that because it's my job. I do it, I now call it hobby. I love sharing cool things or connecting cool people to cool people, who are doing cool projects.
Which I think one of the fun strengths under influencing is what they call WOO, which is a tricky strength. You and I both have it, and it stands for this is unusual in the strengths vocabulary, but it stands for Winning Others Over. So the best scenario to describe WOO is you go into a party, in fact, I just did this. I flew to L.A., on Sunday, for a party of a really dear friend of mine, and I knew no one.
I knew one person at the gathering. And someone with WOO walks into a situation like that, and I just started with the husband of the one person I knew. Then I talked to the one other person I knew. And by the end, we're all sitting around a big table as if we were all friends, since high school like they all were, and making connections between one person and another. So in its best version WOO connects people. It makes people feel comfortable.
I mean, nothing makes me happier, at my own parties, then you come in the door and I'm like, "Oh, Alison, I really want you to meet Joe." And then you guys get in a conversation and then I go on to the next thing, that just makes me excited. Obviously, the downside of WOO is it's a little flitty and it can be seen as a bit like you work the room and that starts to put humans in categories that aren't superhuman, more transactional. So I don't like that part of WOO, but, again, I think that's a good example of what influencing looks like in the strengths.
Alison: So we have this idea of influencer, today. We think about social media influencers, people influencing, there is a sense in which it's influencing others. But in this context, what I like about what you're saying about it. What I relate more to with it is there's an ability to win people over in the sense of earn trust. There's ability to inspire. What are some of the other qualities under influencer? It seems like there's an ability to inspire, to encourage, to bring in, to gather, to connect, to earn trust.
Laura: Yes, I mean, I have three of influence. So I have activator, communication, and WOO. And the more I sit with those, I see how they all work together. So communication is my top strength, which doesn't mean I'm a great preacher. It's not about production, it's about an incessant attempt to communicate, to make ideas clear. And to, in this sense, for the purpose of change behaviors, change thoughts, moving people together, moving people in a direction.
I love teaching, I love training. I'm obsessed with that because I believe that people can, actually, move and change. So an activator, again, is somewhat like arranger, but it's really more of a catalytic role, is another way of looking at that. But with activator and, then, I have arranger.
Alison: Meaning you can make things happen. You can make things happen, then you can rearrange them and you communicate. So you're in what's your zone? What's your zone of work where you're, interpersonally, just thriving?
Laura: Yes, again, last night, I was with 30 people, training them on fundraising and identifying who their best prospects were. So I'm using communication. I'm giving them tools, and I'm giving them a tool. Someone will ask a question like, "Should you ask for a specific dollar amount, or range, or just open ended?"
And I say "Yes." And that's how the arranger goes because you're in a certain context, it's relational. You have a particular sense, you know your project, and here's the advantages of each way. So I'm able to say, "Yes, these are your choices."
And, so, that's that fluidity. It's not like, "Okay, this is how you do fundraising." No, it's relationally bound, so your relationship dictates your path not transactional in that sense. So that draws on my perspective, which is adaptable, responsive. Although, I don't show up in my top five a lot, in relationship building. I'm very keenly aware of how we don't use people, we empower people, we give them agency, we're equal footing. There's dignity. Those principles of life run through how, most of the good days, I show up.
Alison: Yes, I love that. I love how you get a picture of and for everybody listening, you can go take this test? You can purchase it online?
Laura: Yes, you can just go on the Gallup website.
Alison: And you get those strengths, I have everybody do it. Our daughter, right before college, she and her friend, I had them taking it just to get a sense of-
Laura: Yes, gave it as graduation gift-
Alison: That's cool because you do. For me, when I started doing this podcast, I was really surprised at it brought together my strengths because I have a maximizing strengths. I have that WOO strength, which for me is I love a lot of different ideas, a lot of different topics, and this podcast allows me to go broad. I can go deep and I can go broad. It allowed some components of who I am, some strengths that I have that I couldn't bring out in other places, and it was really neat. Just like you said, it's like you're going with the grain of who you are.
The maximizing of ideas, gosh, I can get these ideas out into the world in a much more efficient, more maximized, way than only seeing one person at a time. I still love to do that, too, but it's a process of learning. We don't all, immediately, magically, fall into the right line of work. I think about, Laura, and I'm curious about this, with how this all applies into our families, into our relationships, into our parenting, into our marriages.
Because that's another area where my husband and I, one of the exercises we did was we looked at each other's top five and then we looked at each other's bottom five. And that helps with some of even division of household labor.
If we are looking at me to be the structured, organizational, in our household, we are all just going to be frustrated, and it doesn't mean I don't try. But I'm not one of those people that the forks are always in the exact correct fork drawer. That was the household I grew up in. And, so, we got to work with that. We got to work with that, and here are the strengths.
And, so, we have a lot of conversations about this in our family and it's all play to our strengths. We all have to be sensitive to each other. How about you? How has this also shown up as a mom, in your family, and in your friendships? How has this helped you?
Laura: Yes, absolutely, I think, clarity of who we are and how we show up in a space. Which I've discovered, as I get older, is harder for me to understand how I show up than I think. I show up with a lot of power and influence based on my strengths. But I have my internal persona is gentle and kind, but sometimes I'm not perceived that way.
So now that my daughters are full, functioning adults. I really find that I'm asking them more, and my husband, too, how I'm showing up and, particularly, when I have an impact on them that I can see as negative. I'm like, "What exactly just happened there?" Sometimes I'm really aware of how... I always joke I'm like a lion, I jump in. I'm also a Leo, if that has anything significance for your people. But I jump in, and then, oops, the claws came out, they're really pads. And in my perception they're pads that the nails come out sometimes. But for some, it's like, "Wow, she just shows up."
Alison: Are you an Enneagram Eight?
Laura: Yes, totally, an Eight. And some days I just wish, so badly, that I wasn't an Eight. Again, because I actually do care about humans, so I don't want to just stomp on anybody. But I'm just incredibly passionate, particularly, when it comes to justice issues and when something's right or wrong, I just can't help myself.
Yes, so it's helped me just try to get more clarity around myself. And then, definitely, in terms of understanding how my immediate family shows up as a unit. I mean, we're using lots of tools as we try to navigate this new, completely, adult version of our family. Things that maybe we suffered through, we're done suffering through, and we're saying those things out loud.
So one of my daughters has just incredible empathy. I mean, she shows up super high empathy, but in that like, maybe you can relate to this, so sensitive. And not in the sense of she reacts to all that, but she internalizes it all, and it's just not fair. So we dump on her in the sense of all that emotion that we all have in our big selves. It just hides out in her cellular level and, at 25, she's figuring out that. You were telling about that in terms of the body keeps the score. We got to be really careful that we don't store those things.
And, so, she's learning all sorts of new techniques to work with that and, then, just affirming that. Affirming that she brings that and that's a gift, but at her own personal cost, it's not okay. And both my daughter and my husband are very much on the strategic thinking. My daughter, who is the sensitive one, is more like I am in terms of how she shows up in the world. The other two are very cerebral and very strategic in their thinking.
So it's very common, in conversation, for them to say, "No, I don't agree with that."
Or "It's this or that." And I have strong opinions too, and I'm like, "Whoa, wow." So we're navigating that, and in some ways, in a completely new way and we're all learning. But one of the fun things that we declared a couple of years ago was we're all after the same outcome, which is to build close, authentic, relationship.
And, so, we're going to navigate some of these things, that hurt or we've pained each other, in a way that's always pro relationship. And that's really helped, and I think having that outcome-centered approach really lends itself to working with strengths. Because you can move from a point of personal sense of who you are into vulnerability when you know that the outcome is that you're going to stay together.
Alison: I love that. That's beautiful, and it provides a language, this strength-based approach. When you know, you have a sense of your different kids' strengths, your spouse's strengths, your strengths. And, so, when things go awry and it happens, I can imagine. You're in a heated conversation and it's tempting to go to "You're always judging me."
Or "You're always disagreeing with me." Or some of those irritants that surface in the best of relationships. And we can back up and go, "Oh, this is you being strategic."
"Oh, this is you being an influencer."
"Oh, this is you being high empathy." It helps to just destigmatize everything. It gives a name for things and we can start to name again. It doesn't mean we don't still have to work it out, and we still don't have to learn how to navigate each other.
But it is, I think, it's Adam Grant who talks about giving people, what does he say? He talks about giving people a roadmap to how to treat you. The strength-based approach really does help with that. It's like, "Here's a little glimpse, here's a little picture of who I am. This is how I'm going to be. This is the strengths I'm going to bring to the table."
Again, if I'm really high on strategy and analysis, I'm going to analyze every single thing. And that's going to be great sometimes and sometimes that's going to be hard. It gives us all this destigmatizing language.[00:39:20] < Music >
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Laura: I think this really plays out in the workplace. Whether it's in those of you who work in a particular office setting, like a cohort that just stays together, or those of us who are in lots of different contexts, or doing community organizing. I think we can understand what each of us brings and a little bit of our default settings.
Again, I don't think that gives a carte blanche to always show up like that, but it gives us some, again, shared language. That's why I always do it with boards of directors, teams of organizations. I've used StrengthsFinder in a cohort model of leaders who are being trained in a nonprofit setting.
Again, it helps us make affirmation more particular. It helps us invite other strengths to join our strengths, because it turns out, actually, we're not autonomous beings. We co-depend all the time, we're interconnected.
So if I need the strategics in my world to show up. I'm like, "Hey, we're having a strategic whiteboard session, can you all join me? Because I need you to poke holes in what I'm thinking." We share those strengths like they're assets. Like, "Alison, I need your empathy to show up. I'm, obviously, missing this situation, tell me what I'm not feeling, seeing, or sensing."
Alison: You're so true all the time at work, we need all the different strengths. And when we have a category and we have a way of naming them, we invite people to shine, and what a gift. And, I think, that as a team leader or I was an executive director of a nonprofit, to know everyone's strengths.
And to be able to say, in a moment, in a staff meeting, to say, "Okay, we've definitely been camping out in this realm. I'm interested in what those of you with the other set of strengths might be that we're missing. I need us to stop talking, and I want you all to show up." And as the leader, I also have to lever down. I often look at it as a mixing board, and especially, as I get older. I got to pull my brilliances, as I call it, down in the mix so that others can bring theirs up. And I'm almost 60, and part of that is making sure that in a group setting.
If there are, particularly, young professionals coming up, that we give them all the room in the world to answer the question, just like those of us who have been doing this for 40 years. And that's a discipline for someone,
like me, who has something to say about everything, is to stop talking. Communication being my number one go-to, I just will always default to talking some more or activating some more. Sometimes we don't need to activate anything, we can just sit.
Alison: Yes, there's so much humility in what you're saying. Again, I think, about that h-factor quality, the honesty and humility. And, again, the honesty of I'm imagining now in a work situation where you have all strategists, and know people who are executing. And you bring the executors in the room and they're like, "We can't execute this." Well, then, we got a problem.
And, so, the humility to know whatever your strength is. Same with me, with the empathy, it is such an important gift. And there are times when I need to hear other voices say, "Yes, what that person has been through is really hard."
And, also, "There is a couple of other lenses through which we need to look here." Which is the value of consultation, when you're in my field. It's bringing other people, and I've learned how to invite people in next to me who have different strengths than I do. Because I need that, I need all of the different voices.
Tell me a little bit, Laura, you're also really knowledgeable about spiritual formation. Tell me a little bit about how this model, how knowing our strengths, correlates with our spiritual formation, and our relationship with God?
Laura: Yes, obviously, the whole model is, I think, so closely associated with the idea of the gifting of the spirit. And you did that lovely reading from, The Message, the other day, on your podcast and just that sense of how silly it is that there would just be an eye by itself. I love how Eugene Peterson does his version of that, and it's just a perfect corollary to the strength, none of these exist unto themselves. And, I think, that is one aspect of understanding how God has gifted us; accepting that, celebrating that, owning that.
Again, I think, this false humility, I have learned to celebrate and name my unique contribution. Because turns out that's the asset that I steward as a child of God and if I don't name it, I can't utilize it to its greatest ability. I know that, and having, again, been in enough context where I'm pretty sure had I not been there with my unique blend, we wouldn't be where we are, and I love that. That's just how God works. And that doesn't mean there's nobody else who's important. But I had the opportunity of running this nonprofit for six years, that wasn't the plan.
Working with those experiencing homelessness, and I'm watching the fruit of a lot of what I invested now that I've gone. And just yesterday I got this big pat on the back about how I had built credibility in the organization, and a donor made $100,000 gift. And he said, "You know, ultimately, I did it because of the credibility you invested in that organization." And I thought my unique blend of WOO, and activation, and communication.
It started with the strengths, so it's the first thing we did was to understand my staff, to affirm my staff. And working in that context, what I feel most proud about is I also took this to the folks who we were serving. And when you look at a person on the street, who so many people walk by and say "He or she is worth nothing."
The things people say about folks living on the street, it's so appalling to me and so tragic. And instead saying, "No, you are a princess who follows a king. And we know that in the midst of all of that we see with our eyes, that God sees you with a completely different lens." And that is a God-centered positivity. That's a God-centered maximizer.
And that dignity is these are words we can find to help people recover who they are. Because the most tragic thing about trauma, mental illness, and all the things that folks experiencing homelessness are experiencing, is the loss of sense of self. They need to be restored. God does that, and God does it through us, and I can preach a sermon here about it.
Alison: I love that. You just bring tears to my eyes because I so share that with you. And what are the inherent strengths in those person? I mean, my husband and I, as well, have been deeply involved in some addiction recovery centers. Serving folks who have been on the streets for years, and just finding the strengths there, we love it. And naming them, and calling them out, and restoring that sense of dignity. Because we all are made in the image of God, and we all bear some beautiful.
I love that, Laura, and I love what you're saying. I love that you brought your strength. What I love about what you're saying is you brought your strengths to bring in money, to bring awareness. To, literally, build a program that served folks. And, also, you brought your strengths, literally, into the dignity, in every single one of those human interactions. Including, in terms of with the people that you served, I just love that, you're an amazing woman.
Laura: I think the piece that I am most pleased about is I believe this so strongly about how to use our strengths. That I also recognized when I was done making my unique contribution in that setting. And, I mean, again, from the beginning to invest in the staff around me. That was just, again, we were stewarding their lives, however long they stayed with us. But one of the leaders that was there when I got there is now the executive director. And a few years into my tenure, she said, "I think one day I'd like to be an executive director."
And I said, "All right, let's get busy." And working with her strengths, working with her blindsides, we prepared her for that role. And, so, when I sit and see her on the front page of the paper getting awards from the city and all these things, and getting that $100,000 gift yesterday, I just smile. Because she grew as part of that journey, and she is getting to make her contribution. And it doesn't take anything away from mine, nothing. In fact, I get a little extra little pat in the back, even for that, and it just feels like this is the body of Christ.
Alison: Preach, this is it. When we are leaning into our strengths, and I love even the claiming of the strengths. I love what you're saying, "These are my strengths, I'm going to steward them. It's better for everybody." Laura, you are amazing. Tell everybody who's listening how they could find you? How they could work with you, what you offer? I'd love to hear more.
Laura: Yes, so my business name is Good Well Consulting. And I renamed my business about eight or nine years ago. Because that word combo, Good Well, is really the crux of what I care about. I love working with people who are interested in making a contribution in the world, doing a good, whatever that purpose is.
But I'm also, because of my executing strengths, I really care that we do that well. For some, like when I work with nonprofits, a lot of that's capacity building, leadership development, infrastructure development. Thinking how the long-term is going to need a certain set of baselines so it can flourish. So not building a locomotive on a toy train track, trying to square that up.
It shows up in individual coaching. Where I'm looking to help people who are trying to find their voice, their contribution in the world, or maybe they're coming into a new role. I work with a lot of executives who are stepping into the role for the first time. They're not really sure how to navigate those waters. And then I have a third part, which is what I call the academy, and I'm putting courses online and I do live training as well.
I just launched a course on how to be an effective board member. A lot of your listeners, I know, are either on boards of directors for nonprofits, or they're contemplating making a contribution in that way, stewarding their strengths in that way.
But what I find when I get in boardroom after boardroom, that assembling a group of individuals who are cool does not a team make. So, again, how do we use the strengths? How do we use other personal work to show up in a team, in a productive way, serving the organization's good? So that's a fun thing, you can find that all on my website goodwellconsulting.com.
Alison: Do you ever work with churches, church leadership boards?
Laura: I do work with churches.
Alison: I could imagine that'd be a ripe, just helping the leadership teams.
Laura: Lots of faith-based organizations, churches, missionaries, teams, I've done a lot of work with all sorts. At this point, and 30 years in, I've worked with a lot of groups.
Alison: You're the best, Laura. Laura, you're the real deal. I love everything you do. What is bringing out the best of you, right now?
Laura: Because I live in the corner of the planet that has had some really severe disasters. We are rebuilding a county that we had the largest, most destructive, fire in California, in 2018. And because of where I was in the county, at the time of the disaster, running this nonprofit, and because of my strengths, I've been very prominent in the bringing together of people from each of the corners of nonprofits, local government, state government, and then just humans who are in recovery.
So I'm really pushing into opportunities to build up the capacity, the health and well-being of our area, and then also looking for opportunities nationwide to work in disaster recovery. I think I'm really passionate about that because it really speaks into the vulnerability that is just beneath the surface for so many humans, in our country.
Alison: And that's bringing out the absolute best in you, I have no doubt.
Laura: Oh, yes, it's super fun.
Alison: Thanks so much for being here, Laura, thanks for taking the time. We'll link to everything that we talked about in the Show Notes, today, including if you want to take that StrengthsFinder test, reach out to Laura. Do you do individual coaching?
Laura: Absolutely, and that's on my website as well. If you need to sign up, it's right there.
Alison: All right, thank you, Laura.
Laura: Thanks, Alison.[00:12:18] < Outro >
Alison: Thank you for joining me for this week's episode of The Best of You. It would mean so much if you'd take a moment to subscribe. You can go to Apple, Spotify, Amazon Music, or wherever you listen to podcasts and click the Plus or Follow button. That will ensure you don't miss an episode and it helps get the word out to others. While you're there, I'd love it if you'd leave your five-star review. I look forward to seeing you back here next Thursday. And remember, as you become the best of who you are, you honor God, you heal others, and you stay true to your God-given self.
Now, Discover Your Strengths
What Color Is Your Parachute?
11th May 2023