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Relying on Others' Strengths to Build Powerful Partnerships

Relying on Others' Strengths to Build Powerful Partnerships

by Adam Hickman and Tonya Fredstrom

Remember when your school teacher would say, "For this next assignment, you'll be working with a partner. Please find a partner now." What happened next? How did you feel? Had you and your best friend already made a lifelong pact to be each other's partners whenever the need arose? Or, if your best friend wasn't in this particular class, did you worry about who you'd get stuck with? Once paired up, did you find it easy or hard to work with another person?

Your reaction way-back-when to the "find a partner" prompt may still be influencing your thinking today. To find out, ask yourself this question, "How would you feel today if you were new to an organization and were told you would be leading a very important project in partnership with a more senior member of the team starting tomorrow?"

This was the case for me, as soon as I joined Gallup. I was eager to lead a project on my own. I was not excited about being assigned a partner. My raw Command theme has always kept me from partnering with others on projects, because a request to partner seemed more like an insult than a smart career move. And my Analytical theme had me convinced a partner would only distract me and slow me down if I had to explain all of my thinking. I was thrilled to be working on something big and important right away, but quite leery about the partnership. Now, I'll turn it over to my partner to voice her initial thoughts.

A note from Tonya, Adam's partner: At Gallup, when someone new joins the team, it's an incredibly exciting day. Growing the team means that the important work we do with our clients is thriving. We add people to our team because we want to more efficiently meet the current needs of our clients and be ready to respond to anticipated future needs. When Adam and I were asked to partner together, we were both working 100% remotely, 1,000 miles apart from each other. We hadn't met in person, but I knew his Top 5 (Ideation, Command, Analytical, Competition, Individualization) and recognized that if Gallup hired him, he was good! That's how much faith we all have in the rigorous selection process we use at Gallup. Once you join our team, you're not new anymore. You're one of the team -- and we're eager to help you put your talent into play! I was ready and willing to work with Adam and be part of helping him get up to speed at Gallup.

Well, what happened next for me was very unexpected. The talent Tonya brought to our partnership was eye-opening and refreshing. Even working hundreds of miles apart, I began to trust her completely, and we began to rely on each other's strengths almost immediately. In the book Power of 2, the authors discuss the importance of trust in partnerships and lessons learned from Robert Axelrod's strategy to start friendly and reciprocate your partner's actions often. This is exactly what we did, and my thoughts about partnerships began to change.

Tonya: Partnerships are most powerful when the specific performance outcome is very clear and the partners possess complementary strengths. Here's how it works: Every project requires some degree of Executing, Influencing, Relationship Building, and Strategic Thinking. These are Gallup's four domains of leadership strength. When I charted Adam's Top 5 (Ideation, Command, Analytical, Competition and Individualization) and my Top 5 (Maximizer, Strategic, Achiever, Learner and Individualization) across the four domains, we had each area covered. When we charted our Top 10 strengths, it became apparent that Adam had big power in Influencing, I had big power in Executing, we both shared Individualization in Relationship Building, and together we had lots of horsepower when it came to Strategic Thinking. We had our bases covered.

Our project is currently in the development phase and we are making steady progress toward the goal. Just as importantly, we are both totally engaged in the project, because it allows us to do what we do best every day and we know it will eventually help our clients in areas that are paramount to them. Over the last few months, we have forged a "Power of 2" built on complementary strengths, a common mission, fairness, trust, acceptance, forgiveness, communicating and unselfishness -- the eight elements that make or break a partnership. While neither of us got excited about "finding a partner" in school, we have discovered that our partnership at work is incredibly energizing because it starts with and is sustained by our strengths. As a result, the following truism has become one of our favorites.

"Chances are your strengths are stronger and your weaknesses weaker than you realize. You need help. You are also precisely the help someone else needs." -- Power of 2

Where are you strong? How could you be precisely what someone else needs? Where are you weaker and where could you benefit from the help of a partner? As you coach others, do you look for opportunities to help them think about complementary partnership? Do you have clients who could benefit from coaching conversations about complementary strengths, common mission, fairness, trust, acceptance, forgiveness, communicating and unselfishness? Humans are made for collaborating -- and life is so much richer and more fulfilling when we do!

Learn more about using CliftonStrengths to help yourself and others succeed:


Adam Hickman's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Ideation, Command, Analytical, Competition and Individualization.

Tonya Fredstrom's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Maximizer, Strategic, Achiever, Learner and Individualization.

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