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Podcast: Leaning into your strengths

22 September, 2020
clock 17 MIN READ

Episode 6: Leaning into your strengths

In the sixth episode of The Intersection, Leslie Wojcik, Head of Global Communications, sits down with Lisa Penn, Director of Coaching at SEI, to chat about the CliftonStrengths assessment, which helps individuals uncover and develop their innate strengths. Lisa discusses why people who understand their own top strengths are more engaged, more productive, and happier and healthier. She also explains how CliftonStrengths can improve team dynamics.

“You are never more effective, efficient or engaged than when you are in a natural talent zone.”

Enjoy episode 6.

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Host: Hey everyone. Thanks for joining us back at The Intersection, a podcast that brings you candid conversations with members of our community and leaders in our industry. Our next guest on The Intersection is Lisa Penn, Director of Coaching at SEI. In today's episode, Lisa sits down with Leslie Wojcik, our Head of Global Communications, to discuss the CliftonStrengths Assessment, which allows individuals to discover and develop their greatest strengths. Lisa discusses the value of understanding our own top strengths, in addition to learning about the top strengths of our colleagues. Take a listen. 

Leslie Wojcik:  Thanks so much for joining us today, Lisa. It's great to have you with us.

Lisa Penn:  Great. I glad to be here. Thank you so much for asking me.

Leslie Wojcik: And, we're talking about something that I find super interesting and love. And, it's around how we can uncover people's talents to help them work better, connect with people easier and really, essentially, change the way that they look at themselves. It's called CliftonStrengths and some of our listeners might not be familiar with them. But, before we dive into strengths, you had a very interesting career journey.

Lisa Penn: Yeah.

Leslie Wojcik: Can you share with everyone your path?

Lisa Penn: Yeah, sure. I'll share a little bit. So, I hate to say how long I've been working, because then people are going to figure out how old I am, but I'm coming up close to 30 years at SEI, which is amazing. And, I actually worked at a bank before that. So, I've only had two jobs since college. So, obviously it's very unique, today. Obviously people worked in a lot more different places then, too.

So, when I started at SEI, I started in private banking and I was an account representative there. And, I guess you could maybe even call a little bit of a matrix career, where I did many things, had a fabulous career in banking, couldn't say enough about it. But, in 2000, I still remember this, a very dear friend of mine, who still works at SEI, suggested that I watch this talk show and a coach happened to be on it. And, I had no idea that coaching was a career, not a clue. When people would talk to me or I would go out on client dinners, they would start talking to me about their career and not about the SEI agenda of why I was there. Like, "Why aren't people talking to me about their careers?"

But, when I realized that coaching was something that people did for a living and actually got paid, I was intrigued. I had no desire to leave SEI at all. So, I pursued it and went through a coaching program in my office hours with SEI. And, then at the time I was working for [Linda Curve], who suggested that maybe I should get involved in an Employee Development role. And, I did. And, it was during that time then that we did to work with Gallup. And, that's where I discovered the CliftonStrengths Assessment. And, one of my strengths is "individualization," which you and I share. And, that is the natural way of how I am totally intrigued with uniqueness of people. And, I was just like, "Wow." And, then to speed up the time frame here, is in 2015, I actually attended Gallup training, became a certified Gallup Coach.

Once that happened, I think people at SEI already knew that I was a natural Coach and I love coaching my team members. I did [inaudible], I coach some of our clients. And, then a senior member of SEI asked that I come and work in the [SWP] Organization at SEI and start coaching some of our technical managers. And, it has been an absolute dream job for me ever since.

Leslie Wojcik: I think it's extremely powerful how a passion emerged and you followed that passion and now you're such a joy to work with. 

Lisa Penn: Oh, I love it.

Leslie Wojcik: So, about Gallup's Clifton Strengths, can you talk about that a little bit? Explain how it's a tool in the workplace?

Lisa Penn: Yeah. So, I think what's interesting about it is... I'm just going to give you just a quick little snippet about how the assessment came to be, because I think this is interesting.

So, Donald Clifton, who's now since passed, he was a World War II Vet that came back to the States after the war and started doing work on people. He was really intrigued with individuals, and found that a lot of... Back then there were only libraries, no internet, this is in the forties or so. He started reading, but he didn't get a lot of great information about how people succeed. So, him and colleagues, many colleagues, over many years, interviewed people about how did they achieve success, et cetera. And, as they were having these conversations, they started hearing themes, reoccurring themes. And, these reoccurring themes became the 34 talents of the Clifton Strengths Assessment. So, the mindset behind this is that you are never more effective, efficient or engaged as when you are in a natural talent zone. So, the definition of talent, ala Gallup, is a natural way of how you think, feel and behave.

So, when you take the assessment and the assessment actually... All 34 are computed, but the initial report only gives you back your top five. So, when you look at these talents, people are like... It's almost like a huge affirmation happens, like, "Oh my God. I know that I've been good at this all these years, but I've never been able to explain it this way." So, it really is almost like this gift that you received, that this is really what you're good at and what you're meant to do. It's just a fabulous experience.

Leslie Wojcik: So, what are some of the common strengths and domains of team strength?

Lisa Penn: Okay. So, what's interesting about the Gallup Assessment, is that when you take it and [inaudible] your top five, the top five is unique to you. So, sometimes when I coach people, they think that there are maybe hundreds of people walking around with the same five, in the same order. But, this is a Gallup stat, there's a one in a 33 million chance that somebody on the earth is walking around with your top five, in your order.

So, there are some common talents, though. For example, the database now... I haven't checked the number, I think the last time I checked, 20 million people in the world had taken it. I'm sure it's much higher now. But, 'achiever' is a very popular talent that we see, which I know, Leslie, you have. "Achiever" is all about that natural stamina, working hard at all hours, emails at four o'clock in the morning. Another common talent that we see is 'responsibility', which is psychological ownership for anything. I actually had somebody tell me once, that I was coaching, he had said, "If you asked me to produce a huge sales pipeline report, that is just as important to me as if you asked me to go pick you something up at McDonald's the next morning." That's psychological ownership. There's no difference.

Also, something else that we see is 'learner'. 'Learner' is about continuous improvement, reading, learning, attending seminars, whatever. So, those are three that we do see a lot of, but I think what the most important thing for the listeners of the podcast to remember, is that your top five are unique to you. That order belongs to you. Oh, you asked me about domain. So, what's interesting about the 34 talents is that the assessment is like many other assessments. There's always four quadrants. And, so CliftonStrengths does the same thing. There's executing talents, influencing talents, relationship oriented talents, and then thinking talents. We tend to use this more when we are talking about teams, because what's interesting is that... There's also a quote that I learned in my Gallup training, is that "People can't be well-rounded, but teams can." So, what's so important about knowing the different talents of the team, is that who brings the best to the table?

Sometimes there's a dormant talent that a team member might have, and if you pull into that, it can make all the difference on the team. For example, there's a talent called 'futuristic'. Now, I'm not saying these people have crystal balls sitting on their desks, but I've had somebody who has 'futuristic' that worked for me. And, I will tell you, it is unbelievable how they can cut through the crap and see five to 10 years out to be like, "I think this is where fill-the-blank is going." And, that is to be incredibly valuable on a team.

Leslie Wojcik: It's absolutely right. And, I'm obsessed with it. So, I look at our entire team and figure out how we can leverage each other's strengths, because we balance each other out.

Lisa Penn: Yep.

Leslie Wojcik: Fascinating. So, managers and employees, how can they use strengths in order to work efficiently together, communicate better, especially in this type of environment that we're in?

Lisa Penn: Oh, I totally agree. Leslie, especially with this virtual reality that we're in. Where it is so impactful is, not only do the talent are a huge validation for us personally, but I often heard someone say, "We don't come with instruction manuals." And, I'm sure for the parents that might be listening, they wish their children came with them, sometimes. But, what's so helpful about this, is that often when I coach people, I'll say, as we're talking about the top five, "If this is true for you." And, about all the time people say to me, "It's true for me." They'll say, "It's true for the people that work for you." So, what's important about this is, it does allow an authentic view into who works for you, and also for you to look into your manager. And, at a time like this, where sometimes it's reality, where even though it's so wonderful to see your face, it's not the same as being with you and seeing your whole body language.

You're being able to pick up on your energy. But, if I know that you have "strategic" and "achiever" and "individualization," that might help me understand why if I work for you, is why you might be sending emails to me at seven o'clock in the morning. Not because you're trying to emerge me and be like, "Why aren't you working at seven o'clock?" It's because you're an "achiever" like, "I'm ready. I got to get this stuff," etc. It helps us to understand each other. And, it helps us with the respect factor, that this is who Leslie is. It's not because she's trying to push something through, this is her natural talent. It also gives us a lexicon, which I think is really important. Is that before the assessment, if somebody was trying to express something about themselves and couldn't, the assessment allows you to be able to lean in to what you're good at or what might frustrate you and talk about it in such a way that you don't become defensive or the person that's speaking to you, or you're speaking to, doesn't become defensive.

Leslie Wojcik: And, I think it's incredibly helpful tool, in this environment, with engagement as well. [crosstalk] How to engage each other virtually, because we all lean on strengths in different ways and our talents really need to be fed and it's harder to do it in this type of environment.

Lisa Penn: It's harder to do. And, for example, quite a few colleagues that have 'woo', which is win others over, which is a very interesting talent. A lot of people talk about it, who have taken the assessment, but people who have that talent are very influential and really do to enjoy either meeting new people or interacting with others. So, sometimes in this environment "woo"' is tough. If there's not a lot of phone calls or Webex or Zoom calls, "woo" can get deflated. So, it's like, "How do you work with somebody who feels that way?" But, it doesn't mean that they're not liking their job, et cetera, but it allows a respectful platform to talk about 'woo' might be feeling a little not "woo-y."

Leslie Wojcik: So, it's obviously super effective in the workplace. How does that translate personally? I know, for me, it's made me a lot more self-aware and there's different ways that I lean on my talents. And, at home, how can people use it in their personal life?

Lisa Penn: Yeah. I think this is [inaudible] now, since we're all working at home, we're talking about bringing our self to work. I've always been a student of like, "It's not eight o'clock. And, I checked myself in and I'm somebody different than SEI, I'm still Lisa Penn all day long," just like you're Leslie all day long. So, it does help immensely from a personal aspect where I see with CliftonStrengths. Anybody can go out today and purchase the StrengthsFinder book right off the Amazon. It will be at your front door in the next two days.

But, I've had people actually come up to me after facilitations and like whisper to me, "Can my significant other take this?" And, it's just like, "Of course they can." And, so much of life is based on relationships. It doesn't matter if you're at work, it doesn't matter if you've got the coffee at Wawa, it doesn't matter if you're trying to talk to your teenager about where they're going to go to school. So much of it's based on relationships. So, when you have that, again, that authentic kind of look-see into someone else and then understand how they might be doing something or approaching something, it's just so incredibly helpful. And, that's why it's just not an eight to five setting. It really is like a life thing that helps tremendously about investing in our relationships.

Leslie Wojcik: Couldn't agree more.

Lisa Penn: Yep.

Leslie Wojcik: So, as a Strengths coach, what does your day-to-day look like?

Lisa Penn: Oh my God. That's such a great question. I was actually reflecting, like what kind of day I had today. But, obviously I do coach at SEI and I love it. And, I'm just so thankful that I can coach leaders at SEI. But, also to some [inaudible], like a workplace consultant. There are times, since I've been at SEI for so long and there's a lot of the ins and outs that I understand about the company, etc... But, there are individuals that might come to me for 15 minutes or for half an hour that they just need to talk through with somebody that's objective, may not be close to the situation. I ask them a lot of empowering questions, they get their answers and are on their way.

I'm happy to do meetings like that. But, also, something that I do is, I do do like team engagements, where right now I'm working with a team over in London. So, they had some sales training in the spring that I participated in. And, then I coached all the sales professionals after the training, so we could like deepen the learning and that they could form some questions and form some like outcomes from that training. It was really unbelievable. I was really happy to be included in that. It's a sales team, so obviously they're very important to the company. But, also, what came from that is, I'm also doing some work with their client group, working with their current clients that they have.

So, yeah. It's neat that I can do one-on-one coaching, but then I can turn around and also do things with teams. So, it's really gratifying work.

Leslie Wojcik: Have you had to adapt your coaching techniques at all in a virtual environment?

Lisa Penn: One of the things I want to say, which I think is a shout-out to Coach Kim, when we all went virtual, within, what, 24 hours, all of my SEI coaching clients, except for one person who just had to get their legs about them, nobody... We didn't skip a beat at all, not at all, which was pretty darn neat. I didn't change any of my techniques. One of the things that I will say is, I feel like I've become a little bit more intuitive. I've had to really lean on my intuition, because even though I can see the clients, we're doing everything virtually. I'm not in the same room with them.

So, I may not be able to sense something that I could if we were physically in Oaks or even when I was traveling to London and during coaching in London. So, my intuition has to be a little bit sharper, so I might be able to... I have to listen to things that really aren't being said in the coaching meeting.

Leslie Wojcik: So, what are your five strengths? And, have you leaned on any talent more so in this remote environment?

Lisa Penn: So, my top five are: My number one is "empathy." And, then I have "belief," "connectedness," "individualization," and "developer." So, "empathy" is all about intuition and feeling how others feel. "Belief" is... Even though I have it, sometimes it's hard to describe, but it's all about your value system. Usually people who have "belief" have values that are non-changing.

So, I believe obviously very much so in what I do, and also believe in the talents that people have inside of them. 'Connecting', this is all about connecting maybe [inaudible] thoughts, like when I coach with people, they might say something at the beginning of the call, in the middle of the call, at the end of the call. And, then I connect all three dots and I say, "This is what I'm hearing." They're like, "Oh my God, that's exactly what I meant." 'Individualization', as you know, Leslie, is all about the uniqueness. It's so easy for me to see why someone's unique. And, then last but not least, is 'developer', the potential. It's very obvious to me when I coach people, the potential that they have. Which is why I absolutely love to coach. And, that's why I also love leading a team.

It was really fun to see the people that report to me grow in their careers and go on to the other roles and jobs within the company or outside of the company.

Leslie Wojcik: And, do you feel that you've leaned on any talents?

Lisa Penn: My number one talent, just like with a lot of people, it's so special to me. I really feel like in this environment, people need to not only be seen physically, like on the screen, but I feel like people need to be seen like what's inside of them, because now, you're not in the office. People can't observe what you're doing. And, just to be able to authentically validate people for what they bring to the table is really something that I respect the fact that I'm coaching with them and that they're bringing their whole selves to the coaching meeting and that I can validate them and the value that they bring as professionals to SEI.

Leslie Wojcik: Yeah. There's a level of vulnerability. Yeah.

Lisa Penn: Huge. Definitely.

Leslie Wojcik: So, we like to give our listeners a little bit of an opportunity to get to know you more personally.

Lisa Penn: Okay.

Leslie Wojcik: And, this is a speed round that we like to call "This or That" that you answer whatever first comes to mind.

Lisa Penn: Okay. Great.

Leslie Wojcik: Okay. Hard copy or Kindle book?

Lisa Penn: Definitely hard copy.

Leslie Wojcik: Have those papers between your fingers.

Lisa Penn: Love the papers, and a good highlighter.

Leslie Wojcik: Summer or winter?

Lisa Penn: Winter. I know. The hot weather gets to me.

Leslie Wojcik: Sweet or salty?

Lisa Penn: All right. Together. I love sweet and salty together.

Leslie Wojcik: That's what I say. Yeah.

Lisa Penn: Yes.

Leslie Wojcik: City or suburb?

Lisa Penn: Probably more suburbs.

Leslie Wojcik: Comedy or drama?

Lisa Penn: It depends, but probably more comedy.

Leslie Wojcik: Who does not like a good laugh?

Lisa Penn: I know. Exactly.

Leslie Wojcik: Thanks so much, Lisa. I'm happy I stuck to script today, because we could have easily talked for an hour.

Lisa Penn: Oh my gosh. I know.

Leslie Wojcik: But, it's fascinating. You are an amazing coach.

Lisa Penn: Thank you.

Leslie Wojcik: I encourage anyone listening, strength, it's a powerful tool. [crosstalk] Look forward to talking more about our 'individualization'.

Lisa Penn: I know. Thank you so much for having me today. I'm very honored to do what I do at SEI. I appreciate the opportunity to do this for the company. And, I thank you so much for inviting me as a guest today.

Leslie Wojcik: Thanks so much, Lisa.

Host: Thanks for joining us again. Stay tuned for more conversations with members of our community until next time stay well. And of course we hope you'll meet us back at the intersection soon.

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