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A focus from the ASTD Conference 2011

Last week’s 2011 ASTD Conference featured many industry thought leaders. One keynote, in particular, brought a “back to the basics” logic to his presentation on leadership. Marcus Buckingham is known for his research and expertise in teaching people to lead from their strengths, rather than focusing on improving their weaknesses. He mentioned that the focus on weakness mindset typically comes from a place of fear.  

For example, I know a leader that is extremely focused on quality when it comes to client deliverables.  And while that’s important, at times it can get in the way of allowing her team to own their roles.  The shadow side is her fear of the unknown, fear of losing control, and fear of letting a client down if something goes wrong. The result? Her team is likely frustrated, and being so focused on the details is mentally draining. But most importantly, it keeps her from working from her strengths, and those of her team.

As a leader, do you have those moments where you’re focused on weakness, instead of strength?

If so, flip the coin, and instead amplify your strengths.  How would that change the way you work with and lead your team?  If your team knew and capitalized on their strengths and those of their team members, imagine how differently a project might be run or a client interaction might be planned.

Also, how would it change your approach to training and development?  These were the thoughts that were going through my mind as I listened to Marcus.  Here is what I came up with:

1. Find out how your audiences learn best, and share those findings with a learner’s direct leader.   An individual contributor might say, “What if my leader knew that I’m at my best when learning on the job with a mentor?  Or, that I take to learning via video or audio podcast?  Or that I like to talk through a scenario and its outcomes?”

Before creating individual development plans, find out how a person learns best. Survey them, and then share that with their leaders.  Then every formal and informal learning opportunity can be tailored as much as possible to that person’s learning strengths. This also helps to put T&D in a business partner role, taking an active part in working with lines of business.  There are many tools out there.  I’ve personally used VARK.

2. Provide your leaders with the tools to know their strengths, and the strengths of their direct reports.  In his keynote, Marcus shared his latest strengths-based assessment, StandOut.  It identifies nine key strengths. Through the process, you are able to see your top two strengths, plus how the remaining rank.  While I could predict my top two strengths without the assessment, I gained insightful information on how to put those strengths to work.  How would your team be different if everyone knew and relied upon the strengths of the others?  There would be much more collaboration, trust, energy, and productivity.

3. Stop trying to create training the same way, each and every time. This is a tough one on a few fronts. We often have hundreds or thousands of people we’re responsible for training. We have to reach our audiences in ways that are financially feasible, and we’re usually strapped for time and resources.  But with challenge comes opportunity, and these challenges can also help T&D partner with the business units they serve, collaborating on the best ways to work with that audience.  With that said, how do we stop creating training the same way, each and every time?

At the macro level, begin with your existing training curriculum. Create a matrix of the various ways the content may be delivered for each course or topic. This will open your mind to variety, rather than having a long list of courses with just one or two methods (i.e., classroom or e-learning).   Use that same process to evaluate follow-up methods for each topic.

At the course level, scrutinize the design.  Some questions to ask:

If you’re looking for a place to start with any of these ideas, begin with your team or even with one project.  You will see how understanding and applying your team’s behavioral and learning strengths makes a difference.  From there, take what works and amplify it by approaching another business unit or team in the organization.


Ready to learn more?

Visit for more information about custom blended training solutions and professional development services offered by Impact Instruction Group. Amy Franko is a 2010 Apex Award of Excellence winner for training design.

© 2011 Impact Instruction Group

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