Embracing the change in my Talent DNA


In a leadership role, I’m a believer in playing to one’s strengths – including my own.  I’m also a believer in building upon one’s strengths, and that true balance comes from harnessing your strengths both personally and professionally.  That said, I’m a fan of Gallup’s CliftonStrengths Assessment. It defines strength as “Your Talent DNA – the ways you most naturally think, feel and behave,”   and it follows one simple formula:  Strength = Talent x Investment. I recently took my strengths assessment for the second time in 3 years, and my talent DNAhow I naturally think, feel and behave – changed.  I took the time to reflect on how and why strengths change and what it means for me and my team.

My Talent DNA in 2016

I took the CliftonStrength Assessment (aka StrengthsFinder) for the first time in 2016 and told me I lead with Strategic Thinking.  In 2016, my top 5 strengths were:

  1. Achiever – You work hard and possess a great deal of stamina. You take immense satisfaction in being busy and productive.
  2. Strategic – You create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, you can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.
  3. Relator – You enjoy close relationships with others. You find deep satisfaction in working hard with friends to achieve a goal.
  4. Includer – You accept others. You show awareness of those who feel left out and make an effort to include them.
  5. Maximizer – You focus on strengths as a way to stimulate personal and group excellence. You seek to transform something strong into something superb.

I’m a believer in the power environment has on the way one thinks, works, and relates to others.  When I first took the assessment in 2016, my environment was much different. My kids were in their mid teens.  Our 1 year old chocolate lab puppy became a tripawd.  We were in the middle of completing a home remodel and I was traveling 3 weeks out of the month – everywhere from Seattle to Singapore.  I had just changed employers. I moved from an established large, publicly traded technology manufacturer with three competitors to a software start-up one thousandth the size in an industry with thousands of companies competing for buyer mindshare. I moved from being a relatively remote worker to an environment where I was physically sitting side by side with my marketing peers. I was a people leader for the first time. My team was a team of 2 – myself and 1 direct report. The pace was a thousand times faster and in my new role, the stakes were higher.  No wonder I thrived on being busy and productive, quickly spotting opportunities for improvement and making sure I included and maximized the strengths of my team. I was playing to my strengths.

My Talent DNA in 2019

Fast forward to 2019, and my environment was much different. I have a daughter in college and one touring colleges. My chocolate tripawd was still an energy sucking lab at age 4.  I was traveling much less but working much longer hours (my love can attest to that). In the 3 year span, my team grew from 1 to 4 to 8 direct reports. We were still finding ourselves and our groove competing for mindshare in a security software space that is crowded, complex, and wrought with chaos.  I was filling in for my boss who was on maternity leave. I was speaking up more, directing & delegating more and forcing myself to focus on execution because time was not a luxury. We were on the cusp of something big –  waiting to be sure we dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s was not an option.

Needless to say, my environment had changed. I took the CliftonStrengths assessment a second time in 2019,  and my top 5 strengths shifted, some quite dramatically. I went from being a Strategic Thinker in 2016 to being Execution-minded with my top 5 strengths being:

  1. Achiever – You work hard and possess a great deal of stamina. You take immense satisfaction in being busy and productive.
  2. Consistency – You are keenly aware of the need to treat people the same. You crave stable routines and clear rules and procedures that everyone can follow (moved up 26 positions in the 34 CliftonStrengths).
  3. Learner – You have a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve. The process of learning, rather than the outcome, excites you (moved up 6 positions in the 34 CliftonStrengths).
  4. Competition – You measure your progress against the performance of others. You strive to win first place and revel in contests (moved up 22 positions in the 34 CliftonStrengths).
  5. Includer – You accept others. You show awareness of those who feel left out and make an effort to include them.

Being an “Achiever” and an “Includer” remained core strengths in my top 5 which is not surprising given my personal discomfort  with downtime and a lack of acceptance.  I’ve always been curious, so “Learner” moving up 6 spots feels right. (Heck, I titled my blog myndfuel 5 years ago for a reason).  What surprised me most were the dramatic shifts relative to my needs for “Consistency” and that I thrive on “Competition.” Incidentally, my strengths as a “Relator” and a “Maximizer” – what feels like the opposite of competitiveness – shifted from my top 5 to my bottom 10 in the 34 Clifton Strengths. What the hell is going on!? Have I become less of a team player? Have I lost focus on the growth and development of my team? Is it all about me? That was my immediate reaction and in all honesty, harsh opposition to my new found “strengths.”

I shared my results with my team and reflected on the 3 year span between assessments.  A lot happened in 3 years.  My very environment changed. I had a larger seat at the table – a table of decision makers, drivers, directors, delegators.  I was forced to adapt to this new environment and establish new strengths that centered on getting sh*t done.  I came to the realization that I had a team of rock-star marketers that I could trust and confide in. I was given the luxury of not having to be involved in every single decision they made. I reflected on the fact that in my 3 year journey, my team would tell me, “give us more, we got this, and we got your back.” My very strengths around being a relator, includer and maximizer actually paved the way for my team to want to take on more.  They allowed me to get a lot more focused on getting the sh*t done that I believed mattered most – and that required full focus.

Full Focus.

Focus is defined by Clifton as “the powerful ability to prioritize, set goals and work efficiently, avoiding time-consuming distractions and staying on track toward an overall objective.” A big part of my  journey included adopting Michael Hyatt’s  Full Focus Planner – a Christmas gift from my previous manager and now friend.  I started the Full Focus Planner in January 2017 and have committed to it every quarter since. I established a rigor around breaking down annual personal and professional goals into quarterly, weekly and daily goals – the little wins.  When it came to getting sh*t done, I had to prioritize, commit, drive and track to results and outcomes on a daily, weekly and quarterly basis.  No wonder the “Focus” strength climbed from #21 in 2016 to #6 in 2019.

In January 2019, I went through a similar reflection and committed to some things that needed more focus:

  • Balance – from working on work to working on me.
  • Meetings – from meetings taking time to making time for meetings.
  • Rituals – from letting things happen to making things happen.
  • Leadership – from wanting perfect strategy to executing imperfect plans.
  • Teamwork – from prescribing their path to trusting their journey.
  • Growth – from adding up little wins to little wins that add up.

Looking back, I did pretty well staying focused on four of my six guiding principles. Admittedly, I still have a lot of work to do in the time department. I’m a bit off-balance. That said, following Chris Brogan’s lead, I’m committing to my three words for 2020:

  • Build – from my personal to our personnel brand
  • Believe – from seeking all the answers to trusting all the work
  • Balance – from working all the time to timing all the work.

As leaders, our environment is in a constant state of change. If it wasn’t, then we would never challenge ourselves, push ourselves, grow or develop as leaders.  The same is true for our teams.  Leadership is not only about embracing the change around us. It’s about guiding our teams through that change and embracing the change in each individual team member – starting with yourself.