on how to lever­age your strong­est at­tributes.


Very of­ten peo­ple tend to em­pha­size weak­nesses while over­look­ing pos­i­tive traits, be it pro­fes­sion­ally or per­son­ally. This prej­u­dice to­wards im­prov­ing neg­a­tiv­ity can ad­versely af­fect per­for­mance. Bill Munn sug­gests ways in which we can iden­tify our own in­nate strengths and those of oth­ers.

Have you ever seen an ea­gle fly? If so, then you un­der­stand why peo­ple tend to de­scribe it as a mag­nif­i­cent sight. Have you ever seen an ea­gle swim? A lot of folks do not even re­al­ize that an ea­gle can swim. The bird only does it when nec­es­sary and it is a sight more fre­quently de­scribed as awk­ward or clumsy, as op­posed to those awe-strik­ing soar­ing skills.

Now, let us say you are man­ag­ing a team of ea­gles. How do you think you will help them achieve great­ness? By forc­ing them to swim laps or by help­ing them take those stand­out fly­ing skills to an even higher level?

“Well, I’d fo­cus on fly­ing, of course,” most of my clients chuckle when asked this ques­tion.

If this is so ob­vi­ous with ea­gles, then why is it not clear that we should do the same with the teams we man­age, the bosses we work for, and the spouses and chil­dren we love? Why are we so de­ter­mined to fo­cus on neg­a­tives and chal­lenge ar­eas when deal­ing with hu­man be­ings?

Let us come back from the an­i­mal world to drive this home.

Imag­ine that you are in 7th grade, com­ing home from school with your re­port card. On it: three As, two Bs, and a C. When you show it to your par­ents, which grade do

they want to talk about first? I have been ask­ing groups this ques­tion for three decades and 97% of peo­ple have re­sponded the same way: “The C, of course!”

This bias to­wards the neg­a­tive has be­come so in­grained that we not only see it as a fore­gone con­clu­sion, but we also do not stop to even con­sider how back­ward this type of think­ing ac­tu­ally is.

From a lead­er­ship stand­point, it is not neg­a­tiv­ity that is an is­sue here. The prob­lem, rather, is the sub-op­ti­mized per­for­mance that the neg­a­tive bias cre­ates.

What if that ea­gle, as he soared over wilder­ness lakes search­ing for fish, was pre­oc­cu­pied and dis­tracted from fly­ing be­cause he wished he could swim like a duck or peck like a wood­pecker? Would he thrive if he traded in his wings for a pair of flip­pers, in an at­tempt to get bet­ter at the things that chal­lenge him? Could he even sur­vive? Per­haps. But life might be a lit­tle rough.

Like it is for Paula who is a nat­u­ral peo­ple per­son. She strug­gles with any­thing an­a­lyt­i­cal, so she spends her lunch breaks try­ing to un­der­stand spread­sheets on sales fig­ures and crit­i­ciz­ing her­self for not be­ing more data-ori­ented.

What if she in­stead spent that time en­gag­ing with peo­ple? Lead­ing meet­ings, mo­ti­vat­ing teams, or selling? Could not she achieve so much more—and feel more ful­filled?

What about Ben, a big-pic­ture vi­sion­ary with a strate­gic mind? His whole life, he has been told that he is not de­tai­lo­ri­ented, so he ‘works on that,’ to min­i­mal ef­fect.

What if he redi­rected that ef­fort to­wards en­trepreneur­ship, mar­ket­ing strat­egy, or cor­po­rate vi­sion­ing? To­wards the type of work that lever­ages his strong­est traits, rather than his weak­est ones?

Mean­while, Deb­bie—who is very pre­cise, struc­tured, and de­tail fo­cused—could help Ben. But she is too busy read­ing books about big-pic­ture think­ing; in an ef­fort to get bet­ter at the type of ap­proach she has al­ways strug­gled to adopt.

What is go­ing on here? Why are we run­ning our or­ga­ni­za­tions and man­ag­ing our peo­ple in such an in­ef­fi­cient and in­ef­fec­tive way? Why are we all fum­bling around in the weeds of our chal­lenge ar­eas, rather than redi­rect­ing that time, en­ergy, and ef­fort to­ward grow­ing our strong­est traits—the traits that are most likely to lead us to great­ness?

A per­son’s strong­est at­tributes are their power-al­ley at­tributes— traits that come most nat­u­rally to you, and rep­re­sent your most ef­fec­tive path to suc­cess.

power-al­ley at­tributes

At­tributes are in­her­ent traits that af­fect the way we per­ceive and be­have to­ward the world around us. They are like the wiring of our own in­ter­nal mi­crochips.

I call a per­son’s strong­est at­tributes their power-al­ley at­tributes. These are the traits that come most nat­u­rally to you, and they rep­re­sent your most ef­fec­tive path to suc­cess. Un­der­stand­ing the power-al­ley at­tributes of oth­ers will help you bet­ter map a course to team suc­cess as well.

Keep a few things in mind as you are be­gin­ning to rec­og­nize your own at­tributes as well as those of the peo­ple around you.

First, an at­tribute is not a skill. You do not need to prac­tice it to be able to do it. It is so nat­u­ral that you can­not not do it. (That said prac­tic­ing cer­tain be­hav­iors can cer­tainly help you op­ti­mize your at­tributes.)

For ex­am­ple, a nat­u­ral oral com­mu­ni­ca­tor does not need to take pub­lic speak­ing classes in or­der to learn how to com­mu­ni­cate well through the spo­ken word. If he stud­ies pub­lic speak­ing, he will cer­tainly ex­cel, but he has al­ready got the gift. He can­not turn it off.

Sim­i­larly, knowl­edge is not the same as an at­tribute. Knowl­edge is some­thing you learn in or­der to know— whether you use it in prac­tice or not. Again, you can col­lect knowl­edge in or­der to en­hance an at­tribute, but you can­not col­lect knowl­edge to make an at­tribute ap­pear in your­self.

Per­haps you are highly de­tailed and or­ga­nized—what I call the or­derly at­tribute. You can study or­ga­ni­za­tional

meth­ods and time man­age­ment tech­niques to be­come even more of a de­tail dy­namo. But even with­out that added knowl­edge, you are go­ing to grav­i­tate to de­tail. It is the way you are wired.

To help us bet­ter un­der­stand our own at­tribute pro­files—as well as those of oth­ers—I cat­e­go­rize a per­son’s at­tributes into one of three main cat­e­gories: power-al­ley, func­tional, or chal­lenge.

Power-al­ley at­tributes, as we have dis­cussed, are the strong­est and most in­flu­en­tial at­tributes in a per­son’s life.

Func­tional at­tributes are those things that you can do if you want to. This cat­e­gory of at­tributes breaks down fur­ther. High func­tional at­tributes are those things you can do eas­ily and quickly; low func­tional at­tributes take more ef­fort or prac­tice.

Chal­lenge at­tributes are those things that you just do not do well, no mat­ter how hard you try. We usu­ally only have a cou­ple of these, and it is okay to let your­self go on this stuff.

By fo­cus­ing on lever­ag­ing your strong­est at­tributes, you can achieve a more ful­filled and suc­cess­ful life and ca­reer. But the news gets even bet­ter when we turn the lens away from our­selves.

lis­ten­ing for rev­e­la­tion

The real power of at­tributes lies in bet­ter un­der­stand­ing and lever­ag­ing the at­tributes of oth­ers—your team mem­bers, col­leagues, su­pe­ri­ors, clients, prospects, even your friends, and fam­ily mem­bers.

But how can you rec­og­nize an­other per­son’s at­tributes at the speed of life? Af­ter all, you can­not hand a new sales prospect a 60-ques­tion per­son­al­ity as­sess­ment dur­ing your first meet­ing. But it sure would be help­ful to know how that per­son is wired, so that you may com­mu­ni­cate with her more ef­fec­tively.

This is where lis­ten­ing (and watch­ing) for rev­e­la­tion comes in.

Most of us are fa­mil­iar with the enor­mous ben­e­fits of ef­fec­tive lis­ten­ing. Ef­fec­tive lis­ten­ing is es­sen­tial, can be im­proved through coach­ing, and will en­hance the pos­i­tive ef­fects of a num­ber of your at­tributes.

Lis­ten­ing for rev­e­la­tion is an ad­di­tional and ad­vanced lis­ten­ing skill. While you are lis­ten­ing ef­fec­tively to the con­tent of what a per­son is say­ing, you can also tune into what the per­son is re­veal­ing about his or her at­tribute pro­file.

The way he or she re­acts to cer­tain con­cepts, the traits they rec­og­nize in oth­ers, the as­sump­tions they make about the way peo­ple around them per­ceive a cer­tain sit­u­a­tion— all of these things point to cer­tain at­tributes.

As you learn to use rev­e­la­tion lis­ten­ing tools, you will open up an en­tirely new world to your­self.

You will learn how to com­mu­ni­cate more ef­fec­tively— not in ways that best res­onate with you, but in ways that best res­onate with the other per­son.

You will be­come aware that peo­ple you used to clash with are ac­tu­ally the very peo­ple who can of­fer bal­ance and rich­ness to your life and your ca­reer. Re­la­tion­ships that were once de­fined by con­flict be­come op­por­tu­ni­ties for mu­tual growth.

You will reimag­ine and re­struc­ture your teams, defin­ing needs and re­al­iz­ing high-pow­ered syn­er­gies ac­cord­ing to how peo­ple with dif­fer­ing at­tributes can bal­ance and sup­port one an­other.

The list goes on.

All you need to do is be­gin. Some pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment con­cepts take a long time to im­ple­ment. Not this one. Now that you have been in­tro­duced to the at­tributes con­cept, start study­ing it and us­ing it today. You will learn quickly and see re­sults im­me­di­ately. ■

Ef­fec­tive lis­ten­ing is es­sen­tial, can be im­proved through coach­ing, and will en­hance the pos­i­tive ef­fects of a num­ber of your at­tributes.

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