As a sustainability advocate, I've always looked to nature for inspiration. After all, she possesses the formidable evolutionary advantage of three and a half billion years, and has had more time to try and test ideas better than the best R&D laboratories, management consultancies, and business schools of the world. Of the several leadership, organizational, and life lessons she can teach us, one thing stands out: Nature has always relied on the unique strengths of species to evolve.
As Albert Einstein once said, 'Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid." How often do we go about judging children in schools, young adults in universities, and working adults in workplaces using a "one-size-fits-all" approach, and most likely one that "fixes" weaknesses? Nature would probably remark, "Why focus on failure? Why focus on the things you can't do well?" It's important to learn from and manage failures no doubt, but learning from and honing strengths is the key way to evolve to the next level and achieve optimal performance.
Biodiversity is another tenet of nature that allows for beauty, richness, adaptability, and resilience. A monocultural world is a recipe for civilizational ruin. Just the same, monocultural human behavior is also a recipe for an insipid and unhappy world. Diversity needs to be celebrated and encouraged. Just as each species carves a niche for itself in a tropical rainforest, we too as human beings need to carve a niche for ourselves based on our unique combination of talents. This biodiversity allows for the emergence of a metaphorical forest that grows, innovates, and thrives in a synergistic manner.
I had chanced upon the book called Strengths Based Leadership by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie earlier this year. It made such a lot of sense for leaders to focus on what they're naturally good at, and on what their managers are naturally good at, instead of zooming in on what they are not naturally inclined or capable of doing. It was by sheer coincidence that when I checked out the Gallup website recently, they were offering their first ever Accelerated Strengths Coaching Program in Singapore. I signed up without hesitation, as the philosophy of the strengths-based approach resonated so well with me. The last five years, in particular, have undoubtedly been the happiest years of my life since I switched from a career in finance (which I never really enjoyed much) to one based on training, speaking, writing, and coaching. I now understand that the source of my happiness emanates from using my natural talents in service of a higher mission, the greater good of the planet and that of future generations.
My wake-up call in 2008 to the ecological crisis facing the world was really a key turning point in making that switch. It must have been the call of the universe! Perhaps Connectedness ranking as my sixth strength helps explain my mental filter in seeing that, in the last few years, many things have "flown" my way without me "rationally" doing much! The Gallup CliftonStrengths Accelerated Strengths Coaching Program is definitely one of them. In hindsight, and "rationally" speaking, the program was well worth the investment, replete with wonderful insights, new friendships, fabulous study material, and sincere support from our dedicated facilitators, Purva Hassomal, Ehssan Abdallah, and Saurav Atri.
During our 4 1/2 days of strengths coaching, the realization that we are so diverse as human beings descended on me like a beautiful revelation, as each one in our group got an opportunity to "flex" his or her strength muscles, borrowing Joseph Tan's words.
I have always understood the diversity in human beings, but more often than not, on an intellectual level alone. It was intensely profound to learn that we can really be who we are, and that we don't have to be someone else -- and all this is validated by 50 years of research. Imagine how empowering it would be to tell managers at our companies, children in our homes and schools, or our leaders in the community, that not all of us have to do things the same way or behave in the same fashion. I know a few introverts, for example, in my circle of friends and within my group of relatives. How liberating it would be for them to know that they don't have to "force" themselves to behave like extroverts when the pressure is on to behave contrary to their natural selves in schools and in workplaces. Joseph, the natural poet of our cohort whom I mention again, spoke of strengths as energy. That suddenly switched on another light bulb. Our highest talents are a sustained source of energy, whereas our lesser talents drain us.
Our group was indeed special, and I was really honored to participate in what was a historical week from Gallup's perspective. We were the pioneer batch in Asia, and that fact isn't lost on us as a group. In a sense, it is a great responsibility for us to use these tools wisely and create a ripple effect for the strengths-based philosophy in the region. We're already prolific on WhatsApp and are inspiring one another and sharing our insights with the group selflessly. It is with much gratitude that I express what it is to be a part of this wonderful community of coaches, my brand new family whom I can count on for support, and for whom I'm there to contribute to the best of my ability, or should I say to the best of my strengths!
A society that harnesses the unique combination of strengths is more likely to allow for human beings to flourish. A person with low motivation is unlikely to do much for himself or herself, let alone to try and help the community or world at large. Using strengths is about fulfilling one's true potential to enable one to go beyond oneself and think of collective well-being. Having said that, using strengths alone may not be enough. It takes people and organizations to be courageous enough to point in the right direction, do the right thing, and create the products and services that are beneficial to society and the environment in the first place -- then create conditions for people to find meaning in their work and optimize their performance.
I personally look forward to bringing my own strengths of Positivity, Strategic, Maximizer, Woo, and Futuristic into my work with leaders to help them envision a sustainable future, one that's based on profits with a purpose. I hope to be able to help them rally their managers and teams based on the individual uniqueness and talents they can bring to the table, and contribute toward this evolving business narrative. In the bigger scheme of things, this is not the time to be bogged down by our failures and the things that we can't do well. The time has come to claim our natural talents and deploy them effectively, not only to lead our own lives, but to take leadership in creating a better world for all. And the Positivity in me says, "Yes, we can!"
Bhavani Prakash's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Positivity, Strategic, Maximizer, Woo and Futuristic.