Pre-Gaming with Santa: Harnessing His Strengths for the BIG DAY

Like so many long-time clients, Santa appreciates a bit of coaching before a major event. After a few years of experimentation, we’ve finally found that it works best to have two pre-scheduled strengths coaching calls during the year. We normally connect at the beginning of THE MOST IMPORTANT MONTH (and most wonderful time) OF THE YEAR, December, and again in mid-June when things are less harried.

While the exact details of the entire coaching call with Santa are privileged information, Santa – a huge CliftonStrengths believer – encouraged me to share an excerpt from our conversation, with the hope that others could similarly use their strengths more intentionally to be successful when the stakes are high and top performance is imperative.

Santa, always interested in helping others, gave me the ok to share his “Top 5” strengths. In the past, I’ve been hesitant to share Santa’s strengths, for fear this information might be inferred to be “the ultimate gift-giver’s best strengths” but let’s never forget that being authentic is what really makes a difference – in strengths and in gift-giving. With that said, I’m sure you’ll quickly agree that Santa’s “Top 5” are fantastic strengths for the world’s most busy Christmas present procurer and deliverer: Individualization, Strategic, Woo, Relator, and Restorative.

SKR: Santa, so good to reconnect with you! Please give me an update on everyone.

Santa: Well, Donner and Blitzen have had a tough off-season. They’ve both had issues with their hooves (Donner’s right front and Blitzen’s left rear). We found some terrific specialty doctors who performed small surgeries on each of them. Since then, these two great reindeer have really dedicated themselves to their rehabilitation exercises and seem to be 100% – just in the nick of time.

Mrs. Claus and I took all of the elves on a cruise this summer. What a blast. They work so hard all year long and the 10-day cruise was just what they needed to relax and celebrate their amazing work.  The best part was that there were so many different activities and options on the cruise that the elves could tailor each day to their own interests. Mrs. Claus and I really appreciated having some good individual time with the elves in a relaxed environment as well.

SKR: I see so many of your strengths at work in these stories, Santa. Of course, your Individualization strengths seem to motivate most of your actions. Whether you are finding each reindeer the best doctor or picking a vacation that allows individual expression for the elves, your #1 strength seems to always be at work. I know it’s hard for you and Mrs. Claus to get away, but it sounds as though you were able to strengthen your already strong bonds with the elves. I know those authentic relationships – Relator #4- are so critical to you.

Tell me, what’s been going on at the malls? Are there lots of long lines this year? Have you had any particularly interesting gift requests?

Santa: How I love meeting with all of these kids every year! It just gives me so much energy and excitement to hear all of their stories and, of course, learn what they really want for Christmas. I try not to look at the lines . . . I just want to be present for each precious child who makes his or her way up to my lap. It’s impossible to single-out the most interesting gift request, since I consider each request magical and important in its own right.

SKR: I love hearing your Woo and Individualization at work here. I’m amazed at your stamina but you actually gain energy by being at the mall and meeting all of these children. Wow.

Let’s talk logistics. Have you started checking weather patterns yet? Can you discuss your route?

Santa: HoHoHo, Sarah, you know I can’t reveal my route! However, I’ve been looking at weather patterns for the last few weeks. I get a lot of enjoyment out of considering the many possible ways to get these presents delivered on time and to the right house in the most effective and efficient way possible. I, honestly, cannot believe people consider it difficult. It’s a very intuitive process for me.

SKR: Santa, just about everyone I’ve ever talked to with Strategic seems to say something along the  lines of “the multiple paths seem so obvious,” so I guess I’m not all that surprised by your response.

Ok, last question, what was your biggest obstacle or challenge last year, Christmas Eve 2017?

Santa: As you know, I’m a fixer. When I realize that a chimney has been bricked up, or that the front door is double latched and triple bolted, I always smile. In my mind, these are not problems – they are opportunities! Some people think that keeping the pets quiet during a delivery might be difficult. But I love pets! It’s great fun to meet so many friendly animals on the big night. I honestly cannot think of a big obstacle last year. As they say, “It’s all in a day’s – or I guess in this case – a night’s work.

SKR: This is a great example of how you use your Restorative strengths to address delivery challenges that pop up along your way. My guess is that, of your Top 5, Restorative might be a surprise to folks. However, year after year, you’ve shared some Houdini-like stories of how you got yourself and your big bag-full of gifts into a house that was locked up tighter than Fort Knox.  I know you find that rewarding and fun.

Santa, just keep doing what you are doing! You are putting your strengths to great use. You never cease to amazing me and I know many other people feel the same way.

Santa: Sarah, thanks for reminding me of how I’m using my strengths during the busy season and throughout the year. I know a big part of why I love my job so much is that I get to flex my strengths every day!

Being Vulnerable Takes Strength

My work as a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach leads me to frequent discussions about focusing on one’s strengths. I know what you’re thinking, “Well, duh.” But hang in there with me for a moment. This simple shift toward focusing on strengths and away from concentrating on weaknesses is profound for many, who, like me, have previously thought that the best/easiest/most direct way to “win the game of life” was to convince the world that they were weakness-free. The revelation that a weakness-free life is neither realistic, nor attainable, is actually a huge relief for many of the people that I’ve had the privilege to coach.

No one wants to appear frail or unsteady. However, we connect on a human level with our friends, family, neighbors, spouses, and workmates when we can be authentic. Authenticity means seeing the good and the bad, the strengths and the weaknesses, the highs and the lows in a person’s life. Many of us are unaccustomed to sharing the negative pieces of our lives: the bad, the embarrassments, and the lows. However, as the quote above aptly reminds us, the courage to show vulnerability, and speak the truth, is a strength in and of itself.

Vulnerability Enhances Leadership 

Notable business leaders have used their vulnerability to better connect with their team and the public.  Howard Schultz and Cheryl Sandberg are two well-known and revered leaders who have both shown vulnerability when they encountered a crisis – a historic business decline and the unexpected death of a spouse, respectively – and emerged better leaders for their trials and tribulations, honesty, and openness. Sandberg has acknowledged that while most leaders do not seek out ways to show their vulnerability, since her husband’s death she is “much closer to the people around (her) than (she) was.” (

How can you be courageous and vulnerable? How can you recognize your strengths while simultaneously speaking the truth and sharing your weaknesses?

  • Admitting a mistake
  • Making amends
  • Giving credit where credit is due
  • Sincerely apologizing

These are all skills that take leadership and strength but, also, take vulnerability and authenticity. As we approach the holidays, let’s try to take the lead at work and at home and practice these skills that depict strength, courage, and authenticity.




Without Highs and Lows, We Are Dead

This great video says it all. Whether you’re in the midst of a personal low point, helping a friend who is bottoming-out, or parenting a child who is down-in-the-dumps, this too shall pass. The highs are on their way. Both highs and lows let us know we are alive. A life devoid of these highs and lows is a flat-lined, non-emotive life. Such a line represents death.

During the low times remember:

Be patient. Be open to learning something new, Be good to yourself.

During the high times remember:

Milk it for everything it’s worth. Be generous and spread your joy. Capture and, then, file away all the goodness in your (figurative) memory box.


Change, Like Growth, Can Be Painful and Gorgeous

The other week I worked with a team that was in the midst of tremendous change. They were past the hard part and smack-dab in the middle of the messy part. The gorgeous part of change seemed light years away for some of the team members. The really optimistic ones thought it was in the distant but conceivable future. Tough times.

We dove right into the mess and discussed how our strengths can both help and hinder change. It was a difficult discussion but it was honest and real. We were touching on the team’s shared nerve ending – it was alive and exposed in the middle of the table as we discussed each person’s struggle.

Change is a sign of growth. We cannot grow – physically, cognitively, emotionally, or spiritually – if we stay the same. As kids, most of us experienced growing pains. I vividly remember the achy-ness, the throbbing dull pain, that plagued me one summer when I was 13 years old. I complained about my aches and pains to my parents but they were mostly dismissive. Growth, they assured me, should not be and cannot be stopped. The pain was just an unpleasant but necessary part of the greater picture – the picture of me developing into the full-grown person I was meant to be.

This perspective is worth remembering as we continue to grow in our adult years. The pain of growth, whether it comes from learning something new, changing our standard operating procedures, or taking a risk of some kind, can be hard. Even when we think we are through the tough times, it can be messy. Should we go back to our old ways? Is this change worth the hassle?

Hang in there. It’s gorgeous at the end. Allow yourself to slip back into your old habits only long enough to realize that you are better for the changes you’ve made whatever they may be: forcing yourself to study for that certification you’ve always wanted, getting up at 5 a.m. to workout a few days a week, or eliminating some unhealthy vice from your diet. You’ll never know just how gorgeous it might be without taking the plunge.



Positive Feedback, Negative Feedback, or No Feedback

Some say feedback is the most important form of communication that occurs at work. Feedback is a term frequently referred to in the academic world of organizational behavior as well. Feedback has two purposes: 1) it can help us to understand how well we are achieving goals; and 2) it can help us discern if we have understood a message.

Leaders should not be shy about giving positive and even negative feedback. Feedback of both types is a critical component of improving performance and engagement. This might be hard for some to believe – especially the idea that negative feedback can increase engagement.

We question if negative feedback could possibly be linked to increases in engagement because no one enjoys getting negative feedback. It can hurt our fragile egos, make us worry about our job security, and wonder if our boss values our contributions. Remarkably, a 2009 Gallup poll found that employees who received negative feedback were 20 times more likely to be engaged than employees who received no feedback at all. 

Most workers thrive when given positive feedback because it can have the opposite effect of negative feedback: it can positively impact our fragile egos, increase our sense of job security, and underscore our feelings of being valued. Less surprising is the fact that employees who receive positive feedback are 30 times more likely to be engaged than those who received no feedback at all. 

The obvious conclusion that can be drawn from this research is that feedback of ANY kind is important to improve work performance as well as engagement.

If we personalize the somewhat tricky issue of negative feedback and ask ourselves, “When am I most apt to accept negative feedback?” I think we would find that we are MOST ABLE to accept negative feedback from those we trust and those we believe, ultimately, value us.

It is for this reason that I encourage leaders to build trust and increase the likelihood that employees feel valued by them. The easiest way to do this is to provide regular comments that specifically address the good works of employees (or in other words give regular and specific positive feedback). When a concern pops up, address the concern in the same prompt and direct manner (or in other words also give negative feedback).

And above all else: DON’T SAY NOTHING. When employees are operating in a void, questioning what is good and what is poor performance, and wondering whether their boss even notices the work they do, the organization loses.

Frequent feedback is key to reaching your organization’s performance and engagement goals.


Harnessing Your Strengths – Best Practices

Sometimes it’s nice to get a quick reminder of the way we can, and should, direct our attention to our strengths. Below are 9 strengths-based best practices that can help you to grow your business, develop your team, or even improve your life satisfaction.

  1. Don’t focus on your weaknesses. It’s ok to be aware of your weaknesses but you don’t want to spend too much time trying to improve them. Your greatest areas of potential success lie in your strengths.
  2. Learn to partner with people who have strengths that are complementary to your strengths. Turn your strengths-envy into a strengths partnership. For example, if you wish you could Woo (Win Over Others), find a Woo who needs your Strategic mind.
  3. Challenge yourself to use and grow your strengths every day. We experience 10,000 individual moments every day. What if you used 5 of those moments to use and grow your strengths?
  4. See the strengths of those around you and be a positive force in their lives. Nine out of ten people say they are more productive when they are around positive people. Be the person who others get a jolt of positive energy from! It will benefit both of you.
  5. Surround yourself with strengths champions. Do you have people in your life who are frenemies (friend + enemy)? Fire them. People who act like a friend but who subtly undermine you or diminish your achievements are preventing you from using your strengths and being the best you that you can be.
  6. Recognize those who are doing good work. 56% of Americans received no recognition in the workplace last year. Compliments from a colleague, customer, or stranger can make a person’s day. Recognizing the good work of others and praising that work will help you build a positive network.
  7. Don’t underestimate the power and importance of your strengths. It is common to misunderstand how some strengths can be used productively. For example, do you think Empathy has no place at work? Or that Harmony means you are unable to handle conflict? Or that your need for Context is holding your back in your future-focused organization? Learn the power of every strength. Draw confidence from knowing that Empathy allows you to understand and diffuse the negative emotions of others, that Harmony allows you to see both sides of an issue, and that Context prevents your team from making the same mistakes that were made 10 years ago.
  8. Get gritty with your strengths. Using determination to achieve a goal in a proven way to make any goal a reality. Directing your grit towards your natural way of thinking and behaving (your Strengths) is time well-spent because it will make working towards your goals a natural process that feels right.
  9. Don’t imitate others, be the real YOU. Don’t try to be someone you are not. The chances that you will ever find another person with your “Top 5” Strengths in your order is 1 in 33 million. You are unique and special. Let your uniqueness shine.

To learn more about harnessing your strengths, see Unstuck at Last: Using Your Strengths to Get What You Want.

Don’t Be a Work Martyr: Take Your PTO!

I get it! You’re busy! You have commitments! But don’t be a work martyr.

Make sure you carve out time for yourself, your family, and your friends. Don’t succumb to the temptation to become a work martyr.  It’s not in your best interests personally or professionally. Studies show (Project Time Off has a corner on this niche market of research) that PEOPLE WHO DO NOT TAKE TIME OFF are about 25% less likely to receive a promotion and approximately 80% less likely to receive a raise as compared to their peers who actually allow themselves time to enjoy life and relax. Hmm. These figures might seem counter-intuitive to many who work in highly competitive environments, but let’s look deeper at why taking time off promotes productivity and success in all environments, and is critical to long-term success in highly competitive environments.

  • You gain perspective when you step away from work.
  • You’re relationships improve when you are less pre-occupied with work.
  • Your productivity improves when you give yourself a mental and physical break.
  • Giving up (some) control over work is good for you.

Effective leaders need to model the right behaviors by taking vacations and by praising individuals who take time to enjoy life while showing an appropriate commitment to work.

Here is a summary of the fascinating statistics Project Time Off has compiled and presented in the video below:

  • American workers taking vacation time has been on the decline since 2000, with a small increase in 2016.
  • In 2016, 54% of workers left vacations days unused.
  • Vacations promote productivity and profitability and decrease accidents.

Summer officially starts in ONE WEEK: Thursday, June 21. Plan a great vacation this summer. It will help you and your workplace.

Work-Life Balance: 4 Tips For Today’s Crazy World

It’s Friday. Are you thinking about your plans for the weekend or the work you’ll be doing over the weekend? Work-life balance is tough to navigate. The demands that beckon us to work more (like the expectation that emails will be responded to before, during, and after working hours and that we will be responsive to teammates and customers who live in a variety of time zones) are many times inconsistent with the demands felt on the home-front.

Below are a few tips to help you set reasonable boundaries at work and at home:

  1. You Do You – Only you know what balance will ultimately be right for you. Considering your long and short-term goals related to work, happiness, income, and relationships will help you to construct a framework that will almost certainly have a different look at various times over the span of your life. The priorities of single person with a cat and an apartment to care for may be vastly different from the priorities of a married person with a house and triplets. There is no  magic formula for either of these people but looking to someone else’s metrics for happiness will only guarantee failure. Look to the inside of you and what makes you feel happy and proud today and discover the outcomes that give you long-term joy.
  2. Health – Your body has physiological and psychological needs. Proper nourishment, rest (including sleep), activity, and social interaction are all elements that play a role in your overall health. Ideally, your job can play an active and positive role in your health by giving you meaningful activity and social interaction. Unfortunately, the opposite can also be the case. Relationships that are unnecessarily stressful, working conditions that are emotionally or physically straining, and demands that prevent you from getting the right amount of rest should be evaluated. Your body can be fairly vocal if you decide to stop listening to its subtle messages: illness and accidents are most likely to occur when you ignore the signs of an unhealthy environment.
  3. Be Engaged at Work and at Home – Being fully present and tapping into your unique talents whether you’re at work or at home is good for your colleagues, your family, and you. “Engagement at work” is today’s buzz word for the human resources department. But both work and home benefit when you are engaged. The ‘old school” way to think about work was that working used us up, drained our energies, and exhausted us physically and mentally. We needed our weekends to recharge and relax because our work week had tapped us out. The opposite is actually true. If you are using the best parts of yourself at work, you should not be depleted at the end of the week. Instead, if you are engaged at work you’re empowered and proud. For example, let’s say you are a fantastic planner and enjoy arranging complex projects. Your boss finally allows you to take the reins and organize a three-day event involving your business and three high profile clients. You knock the project out of the park. Your boss and the clients are all thrilled. You feel happy and energized by the work and the results. At home, this could translate into planning that big surprise birthday trip your spouse has always hinted at wanting. Instead of needing to rest-up after your big project, keep the momentum going and build on this already-established skill set.
  4. Technology Hiatus – Our lives are more dependent than ever on technology. But our well-being and happiness should not be. Exercise the power to take a technology hiatus on a semi-regular basis. For some people that means no phones at meetings or meals, for others that means taking breaks from social media for specific periods (say Lent or the month of December), for others that means having no-phone and no-email vacations. It is only by disconnecting from our technology that we can re-connect with the people who are sitting across from us. Checking your phone during a meeting or at the dinner table says loud and clear “you’re not as important as what might be on my phone.”

Work-life balance is not easy but it is also not impossible. Good luck.


June 7, 2018 – Find Your Strengths

I am honored to be speaking about Finding Your Strengths at the Successful Women Made Here event on June 7 from 9 a.m. -11 a.m.

Please check your calendars and sign-up using the link here. I hope to see you and your daughter or mentee there!

Define Your Meaning of Success


What is success to you? Watch Matthew McConaughey’s five minute talk and he will give you a framework to think about this question. He believes that before we can determine what success means to us we must first know who we are. Knowing precisely who we are is a more difficult than knowing who we ARE NOT. McConaughey suggests that by discarding the people, paths, and activities that make us feel less than, we make more space and free up more time to to be more than – meaning more who we really are. Once we know who we are, we are more able to become the true architects of our lives and pursue our individual definitions of success.

Another way to look at this same question is to consider what we do best and value most. Our strengths and our values help us to define success. How can we do more of what we love? How can we quit chasing weaknesses? How can we align our abilities with our goals?

Whether you define success as an accomplishment, achievement, fame, family, happiness, prosperity, or victory is not the issue. The real issue is that you create a life filled with abundance and joy on your path to this success.

For more about creating a life filled with joy and success, see Sarah Robinson’s Unstuck at Last: Using Your Strengths to Get What You Want.