Feel as if Your Strengths are Fluffy?

Were you initially disappointed you didn’t get the “good” strengths, or embarrassed what others would think? Hear from Joanna Ferrero, who shares her insight into how she came to appreciate her strengths and how she effectively leads with Harmony.

An Interview with Joanna Ferrero, Director Of Manufacturing Operations at Takeda

Joanna StrengthsWhat are you paid to do?

I’m the Director of Manufacturing Operations at Takeda, so I head up manufacturing for our Lexington, MA site. My organization has about 185 people. I’m also the leader of the cross-functional leadership team responsible for overseeing the entire site.

OK, so you’re a bigger deal than I thought you were!! What are your top ten strengths, and what was your initial reaction to your profile results?

My top ten strengths are: Harmony, Context, Consistency, Developer, Positivity, Empathy, Responsibility, Arranger, Connectedness, Relator

I took the assessment a few years ago at a previous company. Honestly, I was despondent when I saw the results. My first response to my strengths was the word “fluffy,” and I was so disappointed that my natural talents were Harmony and Positivity. Other people began to list their strengths in their email signatures or post them on their door, but I didn’t want to share my strengths with anyone. I was embarrassed.

I heard that when you saw your strengths that it meant you were boxed out of leadership.

Oh absolutely! In biotech, you need to be data-driven, and you need to execute on time. You have to be thinking five years down the road, and you need to be innovative. It’s all about processes, execution, and data. I wondered how I fit – especially as a woman in manufacturing and leadership!

I thought my strengths made me a cheerleader, and because I have Futuristic, Command and Strategic in my bottom 5, I thought I would never advance as a leader. Strategic is my #34 – dead last. My profile made me feel like I didn’t have the right natural talents to be taken seriously as a leader at a level higher than I had already achieved. But that’s just not the case. In fact, I think maybe I’m a stronger leader because I’m strongly relationship based.

What do you now see as the superpower in your strengths?

Initially, I didn’t understand the power of my strengths, and it took some coaching and mentoring for the light bulb to go off. I had just assumed that everyone could do what I do – that it was easy for everyone – so my strengths were not unique. I have six relationship-building skills in my top 10 — that’s a lot! I use those skills to help mediate situations and pull people together to make more substantial collaborative decisions. And I can be strategic but do so most efficiently as a member of a team. Together we come up with a better pathway forward.

There can be misunderstandings about the Strategic theme. It’s a thinking theme, so even though somebody might be able to see a way forward, if they can’t get people on board, it doesn’t matter, right?

Exactly. Instead, I do pull the right people together who have the proper Context (which is my #2) to come up with the best decision based on everyone’s perspectives. And because I’ve brought people along with me, it’s easy to say, now let’s get this done! I use my relationship-building skills to get the right people involved and provide input on decisions I need to make. Then I use my execution skills to deliver.

This makes me think about the Q 12 engagement survey and key markers like “my opinion matters” or “there’s somebody at work who cares about me as a person”. You are probably knocking it out of the park with your employee engagement scores.

On my team, people have a voice, they are heard, and they contribute in a way where they can tangibly see the results. I give them latitude to speak up, be creative and come up with solutions – even crazy, out-of-the-box ideas because sometimes those are the best ones! I think people know it’s a safe place to fail. There is natural inclusivity on our team, and people know there’s no shame, there’s no backlash. There are no bad ideas! I finally own my leadership style and see how it is helping me and my team be successful.

Was there anything you did, activity or exercise, that helped you shift your perspective on your strengths? I worry that someone who hates their results might sit there for years and years and discount their value. What should people do when they have a bias about their strengths?

It was during my strengths coaching training that the light bulb went off. I realized that my strengths had already made me successful. I was a manager, so I decided to lean into what came naturally to me — building relationships, including others in coming up with solutions, mentoring, and people development.

One activity that helped me was making a pie graph of my top 10 strengths — like a wagon wheel. It helped explain where I get my energy and see my strengths in relation to each other. Yes, I have Positivity and Harmony, but I also have Responsibility which explains why I’m driven to produce high-quality work. I would really encourage people to think beyond the Top 5 and start pairing their strengths together to see how those combinations can be really powerful.

Finally, you’ve had the opportunity to have a strengths workshop with your team. What were the takeaways from your perspective?

It was really powerful on an individual basis for each person to appreciate their natural talents and, at the same time, recognize what the other team members bring to the table. We could see where we complimented each other and where we have some potential “watch outs.” I don’t necessarily consider them gaps in our collective strengths, but things to be aware of. For example, we are lighter in influencing strengths, so we talked about using the influencing skills we do have and considering our team’s brand of influencing up, down, and across the organization. It was valuable for me to see how prominent the Deliberative strength is on our team – it is in the middle of my pack.

This activity in the workshop allowed me to share with the team that I am not naturally thinking about risks first and foremost, so I encourage others to bring that into the conversation. In that way, we have a more holistic view of situations we encounter. The workshop allowed us to talk about what we bring to the table and how we can more deliberately rely on others to get something different.

I love that because the team grid conversations can expedite the learning and bypass misunderstandings and the inefficiency created because people don’t know how to use the talent around them.

It also helps you appreciate why certain people need space to decide and someone else may need information quickly. As a manager, it helps you better understand each person such that the working relationship is much easier to navigate.

Thank you for sharing your story, strengths, and suggestions for others struggling to recognize the full value of their unique profile!