How Strengths Change with the Seasons
Reflecting on the hundreds of people I’ve talked to in the last year, I believe that strengths have seasons just like the Midwest. At Leadership Vision, we have found we utilize our strengths in different ways at different times.
We live in Minnesota where there is a distinct change in all of the four seasons: autumn, winter, spring and summer. Where we live, “the weather” is a topic of conversation from basic small talk to deeper reflections on how the seasons affect perspective, mood and productivity. My preference is any season with a warm sunny day.
In much the same way, Strengths have a season as well, and you may find yourself embracing that season or waiting for it to be over.
Autumn – When Strengths become Routine
Fall in Minnesota is filled with harvested crops, colorful trees, and getting back to a regular routine. It is a time for children to get back to school and when summer fades and winter beckons. There’s a crispness in the air, but then every once in awhile the temperatures climb and everyone talks about the “nice day.”
Last year, I talked to a gentleman whose strengths of Relator, Achiever and Strategic were like both the routine and the bounty of Fall. He was in a season where others were reaping the benefit of what he had sown over the course of the years. He was personally gleaning those benefits as well. His hard work, relational and social capital and ability to make sharp and quick decisions paid off as he moved into a new chapter in life. Those around him watched his unassuming brilliance begin to shine like when a Sugar Maple radiates in the Autumn sun reflecting brilliant shades of orange and red.
Winter – When Strengths seem Frozen
Then come the dark, cold, frigid months of winter when temperature varies from -40 F to a balmy 40F, just over freezing. It seems like everything freezes over from exposed skin or improperly covered toes, to the thick ice that forms on the lakes on which fisherpeople, vehicles and active folks now play. The white of snow covers the growth of the green. But like every season, this one is still important.
Sometimes people’s Strengths are in a season that seems frozen. Their strengths are dormant, in-waiting or latent. Recently, I talked with a woman who had been shut down in her previous context by a mix of empty promises and the insecurities of leaders. She has the Talents within the Strength of Communication to bring ideas to life for thousands of people at a time who like to listen to her. Paired with her Strength of Activator, ready and prepared to move forward, she is a powerful motivator and speaker, inspiring many to action.
Rather than develop her Strengths, she was tasked away from opportunities to speak in her leader’s role again. This environment was not a good fit. She was marginalized as a threat, as sometimes especially talented communicators are to an insecure leader. My greatest wish for her was that in her next season, her voice would have a platform to breathe life into and heal others. With that opportunity, she too would be healed.
Spring – when Talents are Growing
And so, spring beckons after the long winter months. We wait for the snow to melt and make plans to go to warm places for Spring Break. We wait for things to turn green and grow again. Lilacs are in full bloom in the Midwest. The sight and smell of them bring me back to memories the end of the school year. The blossoming purple of the jacaranda trees in California awakened that same joy in me.
When we work with university students or recent graduates, often the expression of their strengths are like moments in spring. There are shades and signs that talents are growing in them. Then, when experience, knowledge and practice are added, their strengths will blow us away.
Earlier this year, I talked with one young man who had been called a “conflict avoider” his whole life. Throughout the conversation, I realized he was very in tune with conflict, and removed himself from the situation if it was “unproductive arguing.”
It was as if in our conversation, the snow melted, the ground thawed, and new life would be birthed in this awareness that his relationship with conflict wasn’t bad. The way his talents of Harmony worked is that he could sense the tension in the room, know what needed to be improved to help a group move through conflict and cultivate healthy environments which demonstrated the “excellence as measure” of his Maximizer. Just like how purple blooms remind me of Spring, I challenged him to recognize when his talents of Harmony paired with his Maximizer were “on”.
Summer – When Strengths are Active and Alive
Summer is a season I wait for the whole year. Not because school is out, but because of the rhythm and light of these months. I love being in muggy weather, wandering around or splashing in the lakes, and eating dinner outside. With early sunrises and late sunsets, sunlight is plenty throughout April-August here in the 45th parallel north. Things are growing and firing on all cylinders. People take time to work hard and play hard enjoying the long steamy days of summer.
This past summer I had the privilege of talking to a woman with radical and bright life-giving strengths of Responsibility and Achiever. She was reliable, bright, and driven. People counted on her and turned to her to help in chaos. As her colleagues attested to, every year in her decades in the workforce, she took on more and more work and helped more and more people.
Her strengths were “on” and “in full bloom”, but I began to wonder, what really made her flourish? Why did these strengths look so bright? After further conversation I noticed the generative, beneath the surface strengths of Empathy and Intellection were picking up emotional cues and refining thoughts in a manner that allowed her hard work to be illuminated like the sun lights up the world.
And then after summer, all of a sudden it’s the Fall again…”turn, turn, turn.” Our Strengths never arrive and rarely get stuck in just one season. We are always growing and changing and hopefully maturing our talents in our Strengths to be gifts to others.
Think about your own themes of Strength. What season are you in with them? Which are latent, and which are alive? Which ones do you simply need more knowledge and skills to hone? As you think about your colleagues or those close to you, can you recognize their seasons?