Interview #5 with a strengths based leader: Philanthropist Kristin Pass


Philanthropist, Kristin Pass

Kristin is an active member of the community I work in as the Executive Director of the United Way. Her latest venture, GenNext, is an important one; it helps young professionals bring their unique strengths into the world of philanthropy and governance.  Imagine if young adults in every industrialized nation gave of their time to an agency where they could make a difference? Now, that would be something…

Here’s what she had to say about GenNext and how it relates to strengths-based leadership.

1. How does a program like GenNext help young professional learn about and tap into their strengths?

GenNext is a team of young people in their 20’s and 30’s who are committed to giving back to their community in new and diverse ways. Our GenNext supports the Brant United Way and our funded agencies through volunteering, giving and action. GenNext is learning about the issues in our community, and exploring and participating in different to volunteer opportunities.

In April, GenNext is hosting a session with a goal to inform and inspire young professionals to volunteer at the leadership level as a board member on a local non-profit board of directors.  There will be a panel discussion and facilitated networking event.  We hope this will help young professionals identify their strengths they have to offer and further explore volunteering in a more senior role.

2. How can sitting on a board of directors support leaders’ growth?
Sitting on a Board can strengthen the professional skills you have (e.g., accounting, human resources, legal, finance, social service) and develop others (working as a team, risk management, communication, knowledge of issues and the community).  It helps you to develop your critical thinking and exposes you to other volunteer leaders in our community.

4. When you think about leaders that have been mentors and role models to you, what were some of their most notable strengths?

They were caring leaders, whose kindness was paramount.  They were passionate and lead with great conviction.  They lead by example.

5. If you had to recommend one or two books on governance or non-profit sector, what would you suggest?

Two great ones are:


Thanks Kristen! Looking forward to joining you at the GenNext event!

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Interview #4 with a strengths-based leader: Entrepreneur Mark Fernandes

In your experience, what separates truly strengths-based leaders from their peers?



Entrepreneur, Mark Fernandes

Strengths-based leaders understand themselves from the inside out giving them a high awareness of their personal core values, principles, beliefs and purpose. When these are well aligned with those of the organization, the leader is better able to live, lead and work from a place of authenticity, their best self. It also allows the leaders to surround themselves with people who fill the gaps in the areas where they may not possess the needed strengths to achieve the mission, vision, strategies, goals and objectives of the enterprise.

How does understanding your values allow you to leverage your strengths as a leader?

Our values represent our most cherished beliefs about what is right and good. They guide our thoughts, emotions, actions, behaviors and decision; and serve as the filters through which we view the world. In the book Primal Leadership, authors Goleman, Boyatzis and Mckee wrote;

“What people value most deeply will move them most powerfully in their work.”

When we understand our values and make conscious choices that align with them, we feel good about our work and are best positioned to help others do the same. Our emotional resonance is at a premium.

How do leaders balance the values of their organization with their personal values?

Leaders balance personal core and organizational values best by understanding and embracing their freedom and power to choose in that moment between stimulus and response. And the need to pause between the two (stimulus and response) just long enough to ensure they respond consciously around what values to best align their response (action, behavior, decision) to.

When you think of one of the most significant moment in your career (a highlight or low point), what role did strengths play in it?

Strengths that are grounded in our values, principles, beliefs and purpose are at a premium when a situation calls for character and courage. Working from a place of strength (alignment) raises our competency, commitment and conviction to stay “True North” during the toughest of times.

Can you think of a time in your career where your strengths and values were not honoured and what did you learn from this experience?

In most any instance when I am working counter to my strengths and values I am not the best version of myself and subsequently struggle to lead others. We believe deeply in the idea of finding your voice first before you can help others find theirs.

If you had to give advice to a new leader, what would you share?

To begin by gaining a deep understanding of who they are from the inside out and spend their time with people, in places and inside organizations that celebrate their authentic self. To invest in themselves by attending to their own mind, body, spirit and emotions. And ultimately to live, lead and work in alignment with their personal core values, principles, beliefs and purpose which will best position them to ignite the extraordinary potential in those around them.

Visit Mark’s website, connect him on  Image@MarkSFernandes or via his blog.

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Using the Kata method to engage people and teams

Using the Kata method to engage people and teams

In the last post, we explored if it’s a leader’s role to solve the problems presented to them or to empower staff to trial solutions to the problems they identify. For many of you, I suspect you try to do the latter, resisting the temptation to tell people what to think or do. After all, you’ve realized it’s how you get sustained results or a motivated team.

Now, despite best intentions, we may not stick to this 100% of the time. How can we be more consistent? Making it a habit.

Here’s a way of asking questions that not only empowers people but encourages disciplined problem solving, It’s called Kata. Where I work, it’s becoming the automatic structure for discussions, from small problems to strategic issues.

The Kata framework is as powerful as it is simple:

The 5 Kata questions:

  1. What is your target condition?
  2. What is your actual condition?
  3. What obstacles are stopping you from reaching your target condition?
  4. What is ONE thing you want to try next?
  5. When can we GO AND SEE this one next step? (that’s right, leaders have got to get out of our office!!!)

If you try this approach, I’ll share with you some additional questions we’ve learned help with further exploring actual condition:

  1. What was the last step taken? 
  2. What did you expect?
  3. What actually happened?
  4. What did you learn?

I am so glad I was introduced to this approach. It’s forever changed me and the leaders and teams I work with everyday. The Toyota Kata book is one of the best LEAN books I’ve ever read, but it’s applicability to everything from running a meeting to everyday problem solving to strategic planning makes it valuable for any organization or leader. Enjoy!

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Is our job as leaders to fight the fires or to build an army of curious problem solvers?

Building capacity in individuals and empowered teams is accomplished in part by supporting people to identify, understand and trial solutions to the problems they uncover. Taking away the opportunity for people to grow from these moments is often a result of a mistaken interpretation of our value as leaders.

If you’re honest with yourself, how would you answer these questions:

  • Do you believe it is your job to fix the problems people bring to you, using the experience you have garnered over the years (after all, you were hired for your experience, weren’t you?)
  • Do you sometimes catch yourself jumping in because it’s faster than teaching someone how?
  • Do you reflect on missed opportunities to explore with people how they could fix a problem or trial a solution because you felt so rushed?

We’ve all been there. It’s not easy to take a step back. Especially when we see our value is in fighting the fires (and if we’re honest, isn’t it a pretty good rush?!) Image

I’d still suggest that as leaders, we need to pause in that moment we’re about to do for rather than understand with. We need to become more versed in the art of asking questions rather than giving the answers or fixing the problem. That’s why another book on my reading list is the newest book by a great author, Edger Schein, called Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Rather than Telling.

What do you think? Is our job as leaders to fight the fires or to build an army of curious problem solvers?

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Choice Map

Originally posted on The Strengths-Based Leader's Toolkit:

I am reposting the Choice Map post as I have just discovered this video of Marilee Adams explaining the Choice Map – check it out here and enjoy!

Choice Map

From the book I just recommended, the Choice Map. Google it and check it out yourself! Check out Marilee Adams’ blog:

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10 Essential Books for Any Leader (and Organizational Development or consulting professionals who support them!)

1. Go Put Your Strengths to Work

Why? To be your best self and leverage the best of others, you need to focus on strengths (but you know that already…you’ve visited this blog after all!)

2. The First 90 Days

Why? Provides framework to determine what to focus on right away, and essential tips and tools to expedite new leaders’ transition. Trust me, it works!

3. Difficult Conversations

Why? It outlines three (completely accurate) stages of difficult conversations. Drives home why it’s essential to ensure you’re having the deepest level conversation necessary for the situation.

4. Getting to Yes

Why? It’s negotiation and mediation 101 – who doesn’t need to know how to do this quickly and easily?

5. The Mediator’s Handbook

Why? A fabulous step-by-step guide on how to facilitate a successful mediation (and believe me, it’s so good, you don’t want to skip ANY steps!)

6. Change Your Questions, Change Your Life

Why? Reinforces the power of mindset, and the Choice Map is a concrete tool to help with mindset shift (yours, staff, peers, customers…)

7. Do More Great Work

Why? Through exercises, helps you to determine what is your bad, good and great work (and why doing mainly good work isn’t good enough!)

8. Crucial Confrontations

Why? When conversations are really, really tough, this book provides additional strategies on how to work through them.

9. Influencer

Why? Concrete and powerful examples of how changes (that seem nearly impossible) can happen, but need to influence people’s ability and motivation differently depending on which of the three levels you are at – individual, team/group, organization/system

10. Co-Active Coaching

Why? Best coaching book I’ve read – some theory, some exercises, and a lot of wisdom…the CD of examples of actual coaching conversations was fabulous.


Oh and one more….for the consultants out there

11. Flawless Consulting

Why? It’s the consultant’s bible. Absolutely essential. Nonnegotiable. End of story.