Stronger together – Using what you are and aren’t good at to benefit the team

—By Storme Spencer, from 2018 Spring GRAD 5134 Interdisciplinary Research Class

Immediately upon hearing that we would be taking Gallup’s CliftonStrengths® test that would identify what our strengths and weaknesses are, I was reminded of my time in ROTC at Clemson.  Between the 5 a.m. workouts and the high stress combat training exercises, it becomes quickly apparent what you are and aren’t good at.

ROTC is a training program for college students who want to commission as military officers upon graduation.  Obviously, this means a lot of early mornings and long days of training.  At the end of a 14-hour day we were on our last squad training lane.  During these we would be given a set of map coordinates for our objective, a list of what to expect at that location, and the job we have to do when we get there.  This particular one happened to be an assault lane, where it was our task to clear out some point held by enemy forces.  It had been raining non-stop and everybody was as close to ready to quit as you can get.  Luckily for us, the assigned squad leader was a friend of mine named Andy.  Andy had a natural gift for taking people who were ready to quit and giving them a reason to get excited for what was about to happen.  He was the embodiment of the influencing leader described by Gallup.  Meanwhile, I, Andy’s assigned assault team leader and second in command, was the exact opposite.  At the early morning workout sessions, I was more likely to just be quietly pushing myself than to push the people around me.  I wasn’t known for being someone to get everyone excited when there seemed like no reason to be, so I left that up to Andy on this day as well.  His strength was motivating and energizing people, which happened to be a strength I lacked.

Up until this point the lanes had been straightforward and routine, as was the norm for a squad in their sophomore year.  When things were going to plan, Andy was able to thrive.  We put together a straightforward operation, set up roles for each member, and were able to easily navigate our way through the woods to our objective.  Unfortunately for Andy, the leadership decided that to end the day they would throw in an ambush situation.  When we got to our objective and began to plan the assault, they set it up so that we were attacked during what would usually be a calm planning period.  It went from completely silent to yelling in every direction.  People from our squad were going down left and right and before we knew it we had more people on the ground than standing.  Thankfully, we were eventually able to stop the ambush and set up security in each direction.  After what seemed like hours of screaming commands, I finally had a moment to look over at Andy.  Andy, the leader who was normally so composed and cheery was obviously shaken and had no idea what to do.  I had been around Andy for long enough at this point to know he wasn’t the best at acting quickly under pressure, so I walked up and asked him if he wanted me to take over.  Being the humble guy that he is, he agreed that was for the best.  While I am a weak influencer, I am a strong executor.  I can see a problem, know what I have to work with, and come up with a solution even when tensions are high.  I had been watching all day to see what each member of my squad was good at, so I knew immediately what role to throw the limited number of people we had left in.  We were able to clean up the mess and finish for the day, which was a huge relief for everyone.

This situation reminds me of what Gallup is trying to convey with their Strengths philosophy: That to be a good team, we need to have people who are playing to their strengths and can balance each other out.  If we had started the day with me being in charge instead of Andy, no one would have wanted to do the training in the first place and would have most likely been caught completely off guard when the ambush happened.  We needed our influencers to get things going and to keep spirits high when everyone was tired and miserable.  On the other hand, we also needed our executors to take control and work under pressure to keep things from unraveling completely and solve the problem at hand. If Andy had not been humble enough to know his weaknesses and admit he needed help from another team member, things could have easily gotten much worse before the situation was over.

This Strengths philosophy applies to the military just as easily as it does to a research environment.  In interdisciplinary research we are required to work with others, and to do this in the best possible way we need to develop teams with members who compliment each other to improve the overall team.  When we admit our weaknesses and know our strengths, we can come together and become something better than if we tried to do it all ourselves.   We need to remember that the purpose of Gallup’s strength test isn’t to make us feel good or bad about our strengths and weaknesses, it is to help us identify what we can do best when we are in a team.  I needed my friend to start things off, he needed my help to finish it, and together we were able to handle an unexpected and stressful situation.  That’s the purpose of knowing each other’s strengths and being humble enough to admit we need each other to succeed.

Image obtained from NBC, Parks and Recreation

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