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Bar President's Message


Nicole J. Benjamin, Esq., President, Rhode Island Bar Association

The Power of Strengths

Nicole J. Benjamin, Esq

President, Rhode Island Bar Association

“What I have come to learn is that the task we must perform is not what matters. What matters is our reliance on our own personal strengths to get the task done.”

 

In 2013, I was introduced to the power of Strengths. Now, make no mistake, I do not mean strengths in the physical fitness sense. After all, I might be the only person you know who, in the mid-1990s, was at risk of failing middle school gym class. What I mean is those personal strengths that allow us to be our very best and to contribute our very best.

Through the work of Leadership Rhode Island[fn 1] and decades of research by Gallup,[fn 2] I learned that there is a direct correlation between a person’s utilization of his or her strengths and that person’s engagement, happiness, and success.

            In 2013, Gallup released a report on the State of the American Workforce: Employee Engagement Insights for U.S. Business Leaders. The study concluded that the vast majority of workers in the United States are not engaged or are actively disengaged at work. According to Gallup, actively disengaged employees cost the United States between $450 and $500 billion each year in lost productivity.

            And, here in Rhode Island, Gallup concluded that our workforce was made up not only of disengaged employees but actively disengaged employees—meaning those who were actively trying to hurt their employers through missed workdays and negative energy, among other things.

            Gallup set out to turn that measure around, and through a partnership with Leadership Rhode Island, set out to show employers that focusing on and investing in employee strengths in the workplace can lead to increased personal engagement and higher-performing teams.[fn 3]

            The underlying concept is simple—when people focus on utilizing their strengths rather than improving their weaknesses, they are happier, more successful, and more engaged. By emphasizing strengths, people are able to become better at what they are already great at.[fn 4]

            Through years of scientific research, Gallup has added much more to the metric, allowing people to not only understand their strengths but to also understand other variables like how to maximize their potential through reliance on strengths, how their strengths interact with other strengths, and what to watch out for when relying on certain strengths.

            Over the past 10 years, I have watched as Leadership Rhode Island, with the help of its Strengths coaches, has helped tens of thousands of Rhode Island employees identify their strengths and has further helped many of them also learn the strengths of their colleagues and how to leverage their combined strengths to build higher-performing teams.[fn 5]

            While I have watched countless businesses in Rhode Island transform their workforces through an emphasis on strengths, it was not until I began serving as Bar President that I dug deeper and began thinking about how lawyers, law firms, and the Bar Association can also benefit from an emphasis on strengths.

            The practice of law is undoubtedly different from a business that makes widgets, where each person in the workforce plays a different and clearly defined role in creating each widget.

            In many instances, a lawyer must play the role of a scheduler, a salesperson, a marketer, an accountant, a Human Resources professional, a strategist, a negotiator, a choreographer, and a stage director—sometimes all in one day. Those in small to midsized firms can surely relate to the many roles a lawyer must play.

            What I have come to learn is that the task we must perform is not what matters. What matters is our reliance on our own personal strengths to get the task done.

            Gallup classifies 34 different strengths in four domains—executing, influencing, strategic thinking and relationship building. While “two leaders may have identical expectations, the way they reach their goals is always dependent on the unique arrangement of their strengths.”[fn 6] Awareness of one’s own strengths, coupled with the ability to apply those strengths to the task at hand, leads to better outcomes, a stronger sense of accomplishment, and a happier and more engaged leader.

            According to Gallup, people who have the opportunity to use their strengths in the workplace are six times as likely to be engaged in their job, six times as likely to strongly agree that they have the chance to do what they do best every day, and three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life.[fn 7]

            So how exactly do strengths apply in the practice of law?

            Take marketing, for example. Someone with communication as a strength might choose to write an article about a cutting-edge issue, while someone with command might choose instead to take the stage at a conference to talk about that same cutting-edge issue, while someone with relator might choose instead to take a small group to lunch to talk about how that cutting-edge issue affects each person in the group. Each effort has the potential to lead to business, and each is successful because the person doing the marketing is leaning into his or her strengths.

            Negotiation is another example. Someone who leads with influencing strengths might approach a mediation very differently than someone who leads with harmony. And, perhaps what is most important for the mediation to be successful, is to understand the strengths of the person(s) with whom they are negotiating.

            In those circumstances where we are fortunate enough to have the benefit of a team, whether in the workplace or in our outside endeavors, an awareness of not only our own strengths but also the strengths of those with whom we surround ourselves can have a profound effect on outcomes. According to Gallup, the most effective leaders surround themselves with the right people and then maximize their teams.[fn 8]

            Earlier this year, I learned of an associate attorney whose top strength was significance. What that meant to her was that she wanted to fully understand not only the significance of each assignment but also the significance of her role on the team. For her colleagues, having that awareness was powerful because they knew she would perform at her very best so long as she knew and understood the significance of her role.

            Finally, in workplaces or organizations that focus on strengths, employees learn a common language and vocabulary that allows them to become known for what they do best.[fn 9] And when employees are understood and valued for their unique qualities, they feel welcomed and appreciated, and their workplaces necessarily become more inclusive.[fn 10]

            All of this is why we chose to kick off this year’s inaugural Rhode Island Bar Association Leadership Academy with a Strengths-training exercise. The participants in this year’s class were able to learn about their own unique strengths, as well as the strengths of other class members. Through various exercises, members in our class answered questions such as “you get the best of me when” and “I need this to succeed.” And through that shared experience, the relationships in our class became stronger.

            It is my hope that those in our Leadership Academy class will bring the power of strengths back to their own workplaces and that the power of strengths will spread throughout the legal community as it has already in the business community.

            The practice of law can be demanding, but when we lean on our strengths and those of others, we can achieve greatness.

 

Endnotes

1 https://leadershipri.org/.

2 https://www.gallup.com/cliftonstrengths/en/home.aspx.

3 https://leadershipri.org/make-ri-stronger/.

4 https://www.gallup.com/cliftonstrengths/en/253850/cliftonstrengths-for-individuals.aspx.

5 Id.

6 Tom Rath and Barry Conchie, Strengths Based Leadership 26 (2008).

 

The Bar Journal assumes no responsibility for opinions, statements, and facts in any article, editorial, column, or book review, except to the extent that, by publication, the subject matter merits attention. Neither the opinions expressed in any article, editorial, column, or book review nor their content represent the official view of the Rhode Island Bar Association or the views of its members.