Strengths and Team: What are your Back-Up Singer Strengths?

Recently I watched the 2013 music documentary, 20 Feet From Stardom. The film highlighted the stories of back-up singers to famous singers, pop stars and rock icons. Many themes emerged. These back-up singers were highlighted as unsung heroes who contribute to rock stars’ successes. These back-up singers had a story of their own which was revealing and powerful. They spent parts of their careers leading from the back with others, giving dimension and complexity to songs. These sought after back-up singers didn’t upstage the lead vocalist or try to steal the show. They knew their role and purpose was crucial on the team.

The documentary made me pause and wonder out loud, “How do my strengths serve in the shadow of the headliner?”

In the Shadow of a Headliner

As leaders, sometimes we get on a stage with a bunch of rock stars and we have to take turns, leading, and shining. Sometimes our role is just to sing back-up with a few ‘oooh’s,’ ‘ahhh’s’ and voice trills. But sometimes our role is blasting out a radical harmony that builds and multiplies the intensity of the lead singer’s impact. And then sometimes you are the lead singer and you rely on others to play their part and bring their strengths to the table to help you shine.

At Leadership Vision, we are often asked, “What are the strong strengths?” or “What strengths would make me be good at this or that?”  These questions usually derive from an inner fear, hope or sincere question to find the best fit for someone’s life. We often answer those questions with other questions trying to get at the genesis of the question.

The Strengths movement has helped us move away from a deficit model of living when instead of accepting the gift of our strengths, we question the gift of who we are, we excuse our liabilities, and we try to erase our weaknesses. We want to be more than just “not deficit based.” We want help others live into a strengths based framework, accepting both when we are strong, and when we can make others’ stronger. Yes, we are strong, but we want to take the focus off of ourselves and help others be stronger too.

When we talk about being generative or life giving with our Strengths, the real question is how can you make others’ shine brighter with their strengths? What if we started asking the question, “How can I use my strengths to be a great back-up singer?

Bottomline, we really can’t be out front, strong, “on,” or bright all of the time.  A song would be boring if we were all singing the same tune, same notes, and at the same intensity. Even the star spangled banner has good harmonies.

A Simple Exercise

Have each person on your team answer the following question using his or her own Top 5 Themes of Strength:

“How can I use my Strengths to be a great back-up singer on our team?”

For me, when I figuratively sing back-up, my motivation is rooted in my StrengthsFinder™ Theme of Individualization that craves to see someone else beam in the spotlight. My Themes of Connectedness and Empathy notice the disconnect of the story and song and find ways to infuse emotion, connection, and life into a story. My Strengths of Adaptability and Strategic are present in the moment and help others make decisions quickly, or spark a leader into action by disarming the audience. I crack jokes, make a splash or infuse a quip to get people laughing to put the audience at ease and prepare my team member, the ‘rockstar,’ to deliver the main point. I try to pave the way then fade into the distance. With those same two Strengths I can leverage them in a way where I deliberately show restraint, slow something down, hold back my preferred way, and let another radiate in the glow of their stardom.

Your team or group may have synergy, but for a compelling story, there is turn taking. When it’s your turn to be the back-up singer, how can you leverage your strengths to make someone else shine?