Recently, I enjoyed reading Sal Paolantonio’s book “How Football Explains America.” And as I was reading, I realized that we can also use football to explain Gallup strengths and the various concepts. Here are seven applications I found:
1. Talents Combine Into Talent Themes, Which May Be Strengths
Pretend you own a football team. Think of your top 10 players as your top talent themes. While the actions, thoughts, and behaviors (called talents by Gallup) that each player uses to be successful in his position may share common attributes, when they’re bundled with other talents, they form unique talent themes.
For example, most players share running as a talent. But add in the ability to throw, call an audible, and read the field, and you have yourself a quarterback (talent theme). If that quarterback can consistently execute with near perfect results, we’d call this ability a strength.
2. Raw vs. Mature Strengths
Let’s say you have a young kicker who can kick the ball 60 yards — but sometimes kicks it toward the sidelines. We call his kicking ability a “raw,” undeveloped strength. But through gained knowledge, on-the-field practice, and in-game experience, his ability to kick will improve. Eventually, his long kick will almost always go between the uprights for an extra point, and that’s when we would call that strength “mature.”
When we discover a talent theme in our top 10, we want to ensure we’re adding knowledge, building skills, and practicing it to take that strength from a raw to a mature level. One characteristic of a “mature strength” is that we’re using it to help others, not just ourselves. In other words, In other words, we’re taking it from a me-focused strength to a we-focused strength. Think of it like that player who aims his “competition” strength to take his team to the Super Bowl, rather than to earn himself an MVP award.
3. Investing in Your Strengths vs. Lesser Talent Themes
Would you tell your quarterback that you aren’t going to invest in improving his ability to throw and, instead, move him to a lineman position? Of course not! But companies do that kind of thing all the time. They ask employees to get better in areas where they lack natural abilities, and unsurprisingly, the ROI is low and the employee gets frustrated (as does the manager) when performance doesn’t improve.
You can’t place people in positions that aren’t a natural fit, then wonder why they don’t excel. Instead, get a quarterback coach for your quarterback and a lineman coach for your linemen to help them accelerate the development of their natural abilities. They will practice differently — with separate drills, training regimens, and even dietary plans.
It’s the perfect example of taking one’s top 10 talent themes and developing them into powerful strengths. This takes time, but you’ll achieve accelerated results by investing in your top 10 talent themes. You may even discover a latent ability you didn’t realize could be a strength.
4. Strengths on the Balcony vs. in the Basement
A linebacker who’s excellent at finding sack opportunities and making the sack is using his “linebacker strength” at the so-called “balcony” level. We say the “balcony level” because the results are favorable — it’s like basking in the sun. However, take his sacking ability and apply it at the wrong time (“off sides”) in the wrong way (“face masking”) to the wrong person, and it could result in injury or a penalty. At this point, tackling has become a “basement level” strength.
Ideally, we want to keep our strengths at the balcony level. Otherwise a strength could reach a tipping point and actually hinder our performance.
5. Powerful Combinations
When your offensive lineman buys your quarterback more time to throw and the receiver catches the Hail Mary pass, you’re combining multiple strengths into a superpower. That’s exactly what you do with your top 10 strengths.
Yesterday, I spoke with a client who can turn Futuristic, Harmony, and Achiever strengths into a superpower by helping team members envision the possibilities and efficiently move forward to get the job done. Strengths are powerful alone, but they’re even better in clusters. As a manager, you want to combine the different strengths on your team to make difficult accomplishments possible. And because teammates are working in their strengths, they’ll be more engaged and satisfied by the work.
6. Stars as Individuals, Diversity as a Team
Your football team wouldn’t do well if it consisted of only quarterbacks or receivers. You need a diversity of strengths to win games. You need a center to snap the ball and a quarterback to hand it off while others block, catch, and run. While individuals can have focused excellence, you need diversity as a whole team to win.
Likewise, don’t worry if someone’s top 10 strengths cluster in two of the leadership categories like relationship-building and executing. As long as you have others on the team who cover the influencing and strategic-thinking groups of strengths, you’ll have what you need as a team.
7. Greatness Takes Time
Your football team and its individual players didn’t become superstars overnight. It took time and hard work. You don’t just throw a playbook on the table, say “there you have it” and never bring it up again. It takes time and practice to refine the execution.
The same is true for your strengths. If your teammates can’t name their strengths, if they don’t intentionally think about how to use them each day, if you don’t discuss them in your coaching conversations or team meetings, and if members aren’t intentionally partnering with others to produce powerful combinations, then you’ve wasted time on that playbook. But if you ingrain them in your culture, you can realize 10% to 20% improvements in performance.