Do you consider yourself a leader? With the help of the 2nd Annual StrengthsFinders Leadership Conference, it was the Dux Center’s goal that every participant’s answer would become a firm “Yes.” Everyone from freshmen to graduate students gathered on the morning of Saturday, February 7th to attend the conference, themed Lions, and Tigers, and Strengths, Oh My! The foundation for the conference’s curriculum is the Gallup StrengthsFinders Program, which itself is based on 50 years of research that included thousands of interviews, studies, and polls.
Interestingly enough, Gallup initially conducted this research to determine the core set of themes that would predict prime candidates for leadership. They thought that all leaders would have naturally recurring themes, but as it turns out, their premise was wrong. Michael McCleve, Associate Director for the Dux Center, spoke of how tremendously powerful it was for him to learn that, “[Gallup] actually found out that there are leaders that come from all of the themes, that there’s not a set of themes shared by leaders universally across the board.” Gallup also found that the most effective teams were well-rounded ones, with individuals and their strengths balancing and complementing one another.
The Gallup philosophy is that the most effective leadership is built upon identifying and capitalizing on your greatest strengths, rather than focusing on your weaknesses. Concentrating on someone’s weaknesses will make them lose confidence, but focusing on their strengths will allow them to specialize in what they’re best at doing. As StrengthsFinders Leadership Conference Director Carrisa Jeffers said, “You can’t really bank on your strengths because they don’t become assets until you really utilize and develop them.”
To participate, students first had to take the Clifton StrengthsFinder Assessment, (named after its creator, Donald O. Clifton) to determine their top five strengths. There are 34 possible leadership strength themes total, and four domains in which they are categorized: executing, influencing, relationship building, and strategic thinking.
Three core sessions comprised the Saturday conference. In the first session, participants became familiar with the “language” of strengths and came to understand their personalized results from the assessment. The second session moved on to how they could build upon those top five strengths and apply them in the real world. The third session then capitalized on this learning process and taught those in attendance how to best use those strengths in a team setting.
Junior communications major and conference attendee Nick Sydow talked of his reluctance to view himself as a leader, despite having previously held leadership positions. His girlfriend, Jessica Mitchell, on the other hand, thought otherwise and encouraged him to attend the conference.
“I feel like now I’ve gained perspective,” he said, “now that I know myself a little better I know how I can best collaborate with others using my strengths.”
Mitchell, a junior health sciences major, felt similarly about herself, saying “my entire life I’ve been a follower, not a leader, and I wanted to evolve. And now I’ve realized I don’t even need to.”
Dux Center Associate Director McCleve declared that his first interaction with the StrengthsFinders material completely changed his view of leadership and allowed him to be true to himself even as a leader, explaining “there’s a myth people have about great leadership that great leaders are all things to all people. The reality is that’s just not true. It doesn’t matter that I’m an introvert and I like to spend time in my own head, because I can still lead from that position,” he said, and as a result, “my leadership perspective took on a whole new dimension that I’ve never realized before.”
The Dux Center LEAD (Leadership Education and Development) Team facilitators all had equally potent experiences with the StrengthsFinder material. These student employees keep the Dux Center running by creating, developing, and delivering the many programs, seminars, and workshops hosted by the organization throughout the year. These ambitious undergrads endured an extensive application and training process to become certified to teach StrengthsFinders to the 80 students who attended the conference.
International affairs major Cameron Young, now a senior, was the first hire for the Dux Center LEAD Team in a “trial by fire” he said. Young wanted to “contribute to the JMU campus while developing his leadership skills” and obtained his chance when he solo-presented the Gallup StrengthsFinders material during all three sessions of the 2013 International Student Leadership Conference.
The newest Dux Center LEAD Team hires, Dustyn Vallies, Molly Jacob, and Roy Boyd, got their chance to do the same with this conference. These student facilitators all spoke of the intense passion they had for the material, for the sense of empowerment, growth, and confidence it gave to the students as well as themselves, and of the overall enjoyable experience.
The participants also had an overwhelmingly positive experience, which generously included free lunch, shirts, and prizes! But, they also learned a great deal about themselves and about leadership. Freshman Emily Brubaker said, “My number one theme was empathy. I didn’t realize that was a quality of leadership before, I just thought it was a personality trait. But I now know that it is valuable to have as a leader.”
Junior health sciences and Spanish major Joe Kacedan also contributed saying, “leaders can come in all shapes and sizes. It’s ok to let your leadership style reflect who you are, because that’s where you’ll be the most successful.”
Though only the 2nd Annual StrengthsFinders Leadership Conference, it was clear that Dux Center’s efforts did not go unnoticed. The 80 students who relinquished a portion of their sunny Saturday to attend were proof enough. Yet perhaps the most striking aspect of the conference is how it developed not only those attending, but also those facilitating. Equally valuable for both parties, the conference taught the participants about the StrengthsFinders philosophy and about their own unique abilities to lead. It was also an opportunity for the Dux Center LEAD Team members to test out their own leadership styles, and mature from their experience.
Interested in learning more about the programs offered by the Dux Center or want to see if you have what it takes to join the LEAD team? Visit their website.
Want to learn more about Gallup StrengthsFinder? Check out their website.