Leading Change from Strengths (Part 1)

Once, there lived a scorpion and a frog.  The scorpion wanted to cross the pond, but alas, couldn’t swim.  

So, he asked the Frog to carry him across.

“I would,” replied the frog, “but, it is inadvisable, I must refuse.  You might sting me as I swim across.”  

“Why would I sting you?  You would die and I would drown.”

Against the frog’s better judgment, he was persuaded.  Perhaps this once the scorpion would be different.  So the frog agreed.

The scorpion climbed on his back and they set out.  About halfway across the middle of the pond, the frog felt the scorpion swing his tail around and sting him!

“Why did you sting me?  Now, I will die and you will drown,” cried the frog.

As the scorpion sank into the pond, he cried, “But, I have to sting you.  It’s in my nature.”

So, we must create a system focused on our strengths and natural talents.  Then, we can leverage all of our strengths, building a powerful team, for the sake of students.  That kind of team moves through change together.  

Here’s how.

Discover the strengths of your individual team members.  

Strengths are what make you naturally powerful and unique.  It’s the perfect place from which to work.  To discover my team’s individual strengths, I used the Clifton Strengthsfinder.  And, sometimes I’ve used the DISC, Kolbe, or other personality profiles. Additionally, you could also build a profile through one-on-one interviews, self-reports, and observation.  What’s most important is that you’ve identified strengths for yourself and your teammates.

These strengths are the innate talents and ways of being that come naturally to someone.

Use strengths-based language.  

Brené Brown quotes, “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”  When we focus on people’s strengths by naming them, rather than their weaknesses or gaps, we shift the culture.  We will never have the school culture we want by trying to ameliorate weaknesses.  Instead, let’s notice and name each teacher’s talents.

One of the teacher-leaders on my team had an innate Positivity strength. I worked with her for over 15 years and she was my go-to person when I needed optimism, best assumptions, and re-framing for anything in our community. It was wonderful to name this strength of hers and lean into it.

Distinct talents create teamwork.  

School leaders are catalysts.  In other words, we speed up the reaction between the teachers’ gifts and the school’s change-making objectives.  Ushering them through change by leaning into their strengths expedites the process.

For example, I love it when the Information-Technology lead is focused on tasks, can execute, and delivers.  I need teammates who are highly relational to help diffuse disgruntled parents.   Strategic thinkers need to be doing more of that work in leadership team meetings.  

Ultimately, “people change best by feeling good, not by feeling bad,” writes BJ Fogg. Strengths language helps us focus on the strengths side of every team member. It’s a ‘culture’ thing. It’s a lens on change-making in schools.