Tag Archives: Leadership development

Factors underlying exceptional expertise and creativity

I am a Strengths Coach and I firmly believe that exceptional creativity and expertise is demonstrated only when you are working in your strengths zone.

What do we mean by strengths? Gallup defines  Strength as “the ability to consistently provide near-perfect performance in a specific activity”.  This is distinguished from Talent, Knowledge or Skills required to perform well that activity or in that domain, and even from Investment or Commitment to that particular activity or domain.

To make it simple, lets take a (self-reflective) example ; assume the activity is niche blogging in the domain of leadership development. What would exceptional creativity and expertise look like: would a blogger be able to cement his / her reputation by a just one blog post that went viral; or to be acknowledged as an expert blogger he needs to consistently churn out viral posts on a day -to -day basis? Also the blogging ‘strength’ or muscle is developed over the years due to following factors:

  1. Talent: The blogger simply has a way with words or is naturally gifted in simplifying and communicating lucidly complex concepts . Perhaps he has the ‘communication’ theme as one of his signature themes as per Gallup CSF assessment.  Also, maybe growing others and developing them comes naturally to him, aka he has ‘developer’ as one of his Gallup CSF themes, which provides him an undue advantage when developing leaders .
  2. Skills: Perhaps he has practiced writing on a daily basis and words come easily to him when he sees a blank page/ screen; he need not suffer from writers’ block because he has made writing daily a part of his routine and has practiced the craft of writing beautifully and eloquently well.  Maybe he has attended multiple creative writing workshops that have enabled him to acquire the writing skill. Equally important he may have spent time facilitating leadership development (his niche topic) and has some practical skills and experience related to that domain.
  3. Knowledge: The blogger perhaps has a lot of knowledge about how to blog, how frequently to blog, when to blog to drive traffic etc (this is knowledge related to blogging) ; he has perhaps a lot of knowledge related to his domain of leadership development too that gives him material for his posts on a constant basis.
  4. Investment/ Commitment / Diligence : Perhaps the blogger is doggedly determined to make best use of his writing/ leadership development talent by investing systematically in learning and acquiring skills related to the same .

Only if all the four factors come together in the same blogger, will he have a chance of him consistently producing almost-always-viral posts.

The above can apply to performance in any domain, be it dance or music or academics or sports.

Elucidating the process further, what we note is that instead of falling in the trap of whether expertise and creativity is elicited from Nature (Talent) or Nurture ( acquired Skill/ Knowledge) or Effort (Investment/ Diligence);  we need to take a holistic approach where innate factors (about which we can’t do much)  like Talent may also be important and  agentic factors (which are more or less in our control)  like Commitment and Diligence may also be important.  Similarity, expertise will typically constitute of some ratio of  learned knowledge and some practiced and acquired skills.

I consider Talent as an Aptitude to Learn and Practice in a domain; Skill as the sum total of (experiential) Practice in the domain; Knowledge as the sum total of (at times theoretical/ cerebral) Learning in a domain; and Diligence/ Commitment as an attitude to Learn and Practice in a domain no matter what the odds.

So real Strength consist of having the right aptitude and the right attitude towards learning and practicing in a domain to provide consistent near-perfect performance.

We can summarize it with two equation:

Expertise/ Creativity = Developing Strengths and being in the Strength zone

Strength= Talent x Skills x Knowledge x Diligence.

The above also correlates with my ABCD model whereby Talent is innate like Affect; Skills is more Behavioral in nature; Knowledge is Cognitive while Diligence relates to Motivation/ Drive.

So if you want to develop your strengths muscle don’t stop at just identifying your talent; after identifying your talent, acquire skills and knowledge related to the domain and become passionate/ committed about mastering that domain.

As as Strengths Coach, helping the client discover his talents is just the first step: then comes the long path to encouraging the client to become passionate, skilled and knowledgeable about his chosen domain of excellence.

Leadership Distilled

Leadership (Nigeria)

Leadership (Nigeria) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Traditionally two main functions or orientations of leaders have been task-orientation and people-orientation and even different large scale neural networks in the brain have been hypothesized to underlie these different focuses.

However if one takes a more closer look at the roles and responsibilities of a leader, they tend to fall into four distinct buckets.

The first bucket is related to what Gallup calls as strengths and talents in the  Strategic Thinking domain.  An apt metaphor for the same, as per Barbara’s Change Intelligence (CQ) model is Head. These abilities are intellectual and startegic in nature, concerned with understanding and shaping  the future and with defining a  vision that can inspire self and others. In transformational leadership context this would be the ability to create and define a vision. This too is task like in nature but more involves complex systemic thinking too rather than immediate task focus.

The second bucket of abilities lies in what Gallup calls the Influencing themes or domain. An apt metaphor, that I have come up for the same is Voice/Mouth. These abilities are the ability to inspire and motivate people, to influence large groups even though one may not have a direct control over them.  In transformational leadership context this would be an ability to motivate and inspire people to achieve that vision. This is similar to being centered on people, but is a different flavor as the emphasis is on not just connecting with people one-on-one, but to move and influence people and large collectives.

The third bucket of abilities are what Gallup calls Executing themes and talents. An apt metaphor, derived from CQ framework is that of Hand. These abilities include the ability to roll up the sleeves and lead from the front. In transformational leadership context, this includes delivering on the vision and managing the myriad problems that may come en route. This is the traditional task or production focus.

The fourth bucket of abilities are what Gallup calls Relationship building themes. An apt metaphor, derived again from CQ model is that of Heart. These abilities enable deep connection and concern with the team members and peers. In transformational leadership context, this includes the ability to coach and build a team to achieve the compelling vision. These are indeed the typical people abilities.

Its important to find out what your signature strengths are and to leverage them fully to achieve in all four domains.  Its also important to remember that strengths in any one domain can be used to achieve outcomes in any other domain, if used properly and intentionally (and which is where caches come handy).

Also remember, that much of leadership is situational:  there is a time to tell (head/vision) , a time to sell (voice/inspire) , a time to participate (hand/ execute) , and a time to delegate (heart/ trusting the team). Know your strengths and also the assess the situational needs to tailor your responses accordingly.

Everyone has a Head, a Voice, a Hand and a Heart- some may be more driven by Heart than by Head but a good leader knows what his unique strengths are and leverages them for the benefit and optimal functioning of the group.

The ‘n’ most important Leadership Traits


We, at Flourish, believe in developing leaders for all stages and walks of life. Leadership, however, means many things to many people. While our leadership development workshops and executive coaching interventions are tailored to suit individual and organizational needs, it is important to articulate for our clients a clear vision of what we mean by leadership.

With that in mind, we have come up with a list of traits we consider are fundamental to the leadership practice – this is what we believe leaders should do and this is where we would focus our time and energy, while working with a leader to take her from good to great.

At the outset, let us clarify that we do believe that there is a difference in outcomes , expectations and traits expected of a great leader vis-a-vis a great manager. We have chosen to focus on leadership development for  the time being.

So, here are the traits we believe a good leader should cultivate (the list is in no particular order):

  1. The troop master: ability to engage, motivate and drive employees so that they are willing to do all that it takes to achieve the mission.
  2. The loving gardener:  ability to coach, mentor, groom and grow employees to help them flower into the best version of themselves.
  3. The knowledgeable guide: ability to formulate and communicate vision and road-map so as to move an organization from where it is to where it needs to be.
  4. The change catalyst: ability to execute on the vision, with the help of others, and managing change and uncertainty during the whole process.
  5. The cultural evangelist: ability to foster and role-model the culture of innovation, risk- taking and collaboration by being its most visible embodiment.
  6. The air traffic controller: ability to make fast, quick and tough decisions and the ability to juggle and prioritize amongst many competing priorities to keep all the balls in the air.
  7. The chess grandmaster:  ability to think strategically and be two steps ahead of the competition.
  8. The shrewd businessmen: ability to understand deeply the business and technologies involved with one eye always fixated on the bottom-line.
  9. The moon seller: ability to influence, persuade and get on-board different stakeholders even if its for a possibly one way trip to the moon.
  10. The casting director: ability to recruit and build a strong team, with complimentary and diverse skill-sets, and enabling exceptional teamwork and productivity by matching people and roles.
  11. The role-model: ability to inspire others as a result of having impeccable integrity and a strong work ethics.
  12. The pied-piper : ability to charm and woo large groups of people so as to leave them excited, enthused and energized.
  13. The courageous warrior: ability to take cudgels on the team’s behalf and fight uphill battles to ensure safety, security and well being of her people.
  14. The buffering shield: ability to stay calm and emotionally stable under immense pressure and the willingness and capability to not pass on that pressure downwards.
  15. The corner psychologist: ability to understand people in all their complexity – their emotions, their motivations and the lenses from which they filter their realities.
  16. The catcher in the rye: ability to take a backseat when needed and ready to support and pull back his team members when someone is not able to cope with the work/ life pressures and providing the necessary safety net. (this insight is courtesy my 8 year old who looking at the photo accompanying this post asked who the leader was: when I pointed to the one in front, he said but shouldn’t it be the one at the rear who can catch and prevent others from falling, if need be? )

Of course, like all lists, this is bound to be incomplete and subjectively biased.  The purpose of putting the list on our website is to be aware of that bias, by soliciting feedback and additional traits that you think should be on the list, and at the same time, be very transparent about which lenses do we see leadership through.

Your comments/ suggestions will be very valuable and help  us in refining our theories of leadership and tailoring our programs  to better suit our client’s needs.