Universities South Africa (USAf) News Update

Focus on your strengths to bring about change in your environment

Looking at where we are globally, the uncertainties we are constantly facing including disruptions caused by the corona pandemic, tapping into our strengths could be the anchor we need to keep us going. That was the gist of the message that Dr Norah Clarke, Director: Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE), shared during Day Two of the recent EDHE's Kick-off event on 25 March. The day was dedicated to a series of workshops focusing on Understanding Team Strengths as a tool to empower staff at public universities who are involved with the entrepreneurship programme.

Dr Timothy Hodges

For that day, Dr Clarke had invited Dr Timothy Hodges (left), Executive Director of CliftonStrengths Institute and Assistant Professor of Practice in Management from the University of Nebraska in the United States. Prior to taking up his current role with the university, he had worked as a research associate at Gallup, an analytics and advice consultancy group that helps leaders and organisations solve their most pressing problems. Gallup also conducts CliftonStrengths assessments for individuals who want to learn about their strengths and how they can use them to thrive. Having worked alongside Dr Don Clifton, the pioneer of positive psychology and strengths, Dr Hodges went on to share the Consultancy's experience at the University of Nebraska's business school -- specifically in their entrepreneurship programme.

In South Africa, Gallup collaborates with Being Human Group, their only licensed training partner in Africa.

At the EDHE training-of-trainers workshop of 25 March, targeted at entrepreneurship lecturers, entrepreneurship co-ordinators and members of various communities of practice, Being Human had deployed two of its directors -- a Mr Yendor Felgate and Ms Magriet Mouton, to also facilitate training.

In his keynote and opening address, Dr Hodges gave an overview of the importance of understanding one's strengths, emphasising how those can help build an individual's confidence. He also stated that people constantly find themselves frustrated because their focus is solely on what they lack - their weaknesses.

He then elaborated on the four domains of the CliftonStrengths assessment. These are: executing; influencing; relationship building; and strategic thinking. These domains share 34 varying characteristics among them. However, of the 34, the assessment only picks the top five to better define an individual – why and how they do what they do. Surprisingly, a person can have characteristically defined strengths from just one or two of the domains or across all four. The trick is to be able to complement the top five strengths, whether in individual undertakings or when working within a group. The table below distributes those 34 characteristics or strengths across the four domains:

Executing Influencing Relationship Building Strategic Thinking
Achiever Activator Adaptability Analytical
Arranger Command Connectedness Context
Belief Communication Developer Futuristic
Consistency Competition Empathy Ideation
Deliberative Maximiser Harmony Input
Discipline Self-Assurance Includer Intellection
Focus Significance Individualisation Learner
Responsibility Woo Positivity Strategic
Restorative   Relator  

Dr Hodges said he had discovered in the many years of studying the CliftonStrengths, that an individual's top five strengths may alternate, influenced by the current circumstances of that person. He did add, however, that the characteristics are unlikely to change drastically.

To get a taste of this approach, each attendee at the training had an opportunity to take the assessment. For the benefit of readers, the writer shares below, an overview of her own top five strengths as the assessment identified them, and what they each mean.

  • Individualisation: People who are especially talented in the Individualisation theme are intrigued by the unique qualities of each person. They have a gift for figuring out how people who are different can work together productively.
  • Responsibility: People who are gifted in the Responsibility theme take psychological ownership of what they say they will do. They are committed to stable values such as honesty and loyalty.
  • Maximiser: Those identified as Maximisers focus on strengths as a way to stimulate personal and group excellence. They seek to transform something strong into something superb.
  • Learner: Learners have a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve. In particular, the process of learning, rather than the outcome, excites them.
  • Futuristic: Futuristics are inspired by the future and what could be. They inspire others with their visions of the future.

The next exercise entailed uncovering in the attendees, what type of leaders they are.

I am a leader who...

Yendor Felgate

The Being Human Group took the audience through a series of exercises that were intended to further explore their identified strengths. Through these exercises, Mr Yendor Felgate (left) and Ms Magriet Mouton (right), both licensed coaches of the CliftonStrengths, prompted the audience to look primarily at how they could use their strengths to achieve their goals for the year - applying them intentionality with each undertaking. Secondly, the exercises were demonstrating to individuals, how they could complement one another in their respective communities of practice for the success of EDHE -- sharing a common sense of purpose.

Magriet Mouton

In the middle of all of these, Ms Mouton asked who, among the attendees, felt that their assessment results were accurate. By show of hands, the majority agreed that they were indeed accurate. Amongst those were Ms Karen Snyman, Student Life and Projects Manager at Nelson Mandela University and Co-Convener of EDHE's Studentpreneur Community of Practice, who said she was fascinated to learn of her strengths and also by the accuracy of these assessments in bringing out her character.

In the next exercise, Mr Felgate spent more time sharing more insights on the CliftonStrengths for the benefit of the delegates who still appeared uncertain about their results and the accuracy thereof. The more exercises the group participated in, the more pleased they became with what they were learning about themselves.

In her introduction of the CliftonStrengths assessment, Dr Clarke had mentioned her personal experience of it and its tremendous value, hence bringing the technique to EDHE's champions. The aim was to enable the key role players in the EDHE programme to cope with the volatile and complex environments in which universities operate. "We hope that this information…and today's activities have helped you rediscover your top five strengths and the tools with which you can change the world, and overcome against all odds this year," she said.

About CliftonStrengths

CliftonStrengths is a body of work that was started and extensively studied by Mr Donald O. Clifton, a psychologist and co-founder of Gallup. The rationale of the study was: "What will happen when we think about what is right with people rather than fixating on what is wrong with them?" According to Gallup, the assessment, consisting of 177 paired questions, is taken by over a million people each year. More than 90% of Fortune 500 companies have used it. This assessment intends to encourage people not to focus on what they lack but maximise the strengths that they possess. Over the years, the scientifically proven results have found that people who focus on using their strengths are three times more likely to report having an excellent quality of life and six times more likely to be engaged in their jobs.

Founded in 2016, the EDHE programme is widely acknowledged in the higher education sector as an answer to developing holistic graduates who are able to hold their own in society, through the products they invent and services they start as part of knowledge gained in university education. It is anticipated that as they enter the world of work in society, these holistic graduates will create their own livelihoods while solving South Africa's high unemployment.

The writer, Nqobile Tembe, is a Communication Consultant contracted to Universities South Africa.

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