I know the blue glow of the smartphone isn't the best thing for helping me sleep, but let's face it: email follows me home, usually because I willingly lead it there. Late yesterday evening, I opened my Inbox to find a message from a colleague that kept me up most of the night. But this morning after talking with her, I realized I had missed the mark on a key principle of strengths-based workplaces -- leading with positive intent.
Here's a quick overview of what happened:
I was working with a colleague on an important project and was excited because I knew we had the sort of great partnership that made the most of what each of us does well. My job was to create something that she would turn into the finished product. I sent her my final draft -- a piece I had poured a lot of thought and effort into. Three days later, she sent back a short, direct response in the form of a question. She asked if what I had submitted was really the right way to proceed. I read her message late in the evening, got offended and replied with, "I'll call you tomorrow." I spent the rest of the night telling myself I was right, she was wrong, and her dominant theme of Command was to blame.
As planned, I called her first thing in the morning and, suddenly, everything changed. I could hear the smile in her voice as she greeted me and asked whether I had my favorite coffee brewing in the background. Then she gave me the floor to discuss why I had presented the work in the way I did. "Wow," she replied, "That really must have been a lot of work. It sounds like you've already thought through all the potential downsides. I'll take it from here." Now there's Command I can't wait to work with again.
What I had read as doubt in my work was really just assurance of her own quality. What I felt was a negative reaction that upset me was really just my colleague's ability to cut through the noise and ask direct questions. Had I led with positive intent, I would have saved myself an evening of stress and more quickly and efficiently moved our project forward.
Leading with positive intent means admitting each person has a different filter on the world and preparing yourself to receive this reality with open arms. This strengths-based principle goes beyond the others because it is more than an assertion; it's also a practice. I could have stopped in the middle of my negative assumption, asked myself what positive intent my partner had, and saved us both some turbulence.
So how can you apply leading with positive intent to your coaching? You can start your day practicing positive intent by reviewing what is great about a client you are about to coach. You can invest in your knowledge of talent by asking better questions of people with different themes to understand not just what they do, but how they provide value.
The Five Principles of Strengths-Based Development are listed below. Often we use these to guide clients, but I encourage you to study how well you practice them in your daily interactions. They can be something you learn once and move on, or they can be the spotlight to turning your entire day -- and even your nights -- around.
- Themes are neutral.
- Themes are not labels.
- Lead with positive intent.
- Differences are advantages.
- People need one another.