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Business Officer Magazine

Boost Strengths, Tailor Message

Monday morning options included a variety of concurrent sessions designed to encourage personal professional development. Here are a few examples.

Double Down on Your Assets

In "Leveraging Your Strengths at Work and in Life," Mark Saine, senior director of executive and leadership development at TIAA-CREF, identified myths related to personality and engagement—namely, that as you grow, your personality changes, and that you will grow the most in your areas of greatest weakness. In fact, said Saine, over time you will become more of who you already are, and you will grow the most in your areas of greatest strength.

Why, then, do most of us in our own professional development focus primarily on improving areas in which we are weak? Conventional wisdom suggests that by improving a weakness we somehow become more whole. However, from a more practical standpoint, noted Saine, wouldn't it make more sense to identify others for your team with strengths to fill your gaps?

Saine drew from Strengths-Based Leadership by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie. They argue that the most effective leaders invest continually in strengths, surround themselves with the right people, and understand their followers' needs. In fact, leaders who invest in boosting strengths enjoy a 73 percent level of engagement from employees versus 9 percent engagement from employees whose leaders focus primarily on improving weaknesses. "As leaders we have a unique role in helping people find and capitalize on their strengths," said Saine.

And the payoff is real, he added. Saine points to the business case made by Marcus Buckingham in his book Discover Your Strengths. According to Buckingham, teams that play to their strengths every day are 50 percent more likely to have low employee turnover, 38 percent more likely to be high-productivity teams, and 44 percent more likely to earn high customer satisfaction scores.

Tailor Financial Message Takeaways

"Your main communication goal is to predetermine the message your audience will ultimately remember," said Lorraine Arvin, associate vice president for finance and administration and treasurer, University of Chicago. During the presentation "Communicating Financial Information Effectively," Arvin, along with Howard Teibel, president, Teibel Inc., described the steps of the communication plan used by the university's financial team.

  • Determine your goal. Many presentations, explained Teibel, are not so much about conveying the institution's finances as they are about establishing a two-way dialogue with the audience.
  • Assess your audience. Student interest, for example, would center on rising education costs, tuition prices, and how finances tie back to the student experience.
  • Tailor your message. For example, Arvin said, "With a student audience, I always want to talk about financial aid, because tuition doesn't tell the whole story."
  • Choose strategies and vehicles. To report to the board, "it's worked for us," said Arvin, "to provide concise executive summaries presented in a consistent format."
  • Practice. "You can't be effective if you don't practice your delivery," said Teibel. "And, remember to focus on your opening remarks. People will decide within the first minute whether or not they will stay and engage with you."

Define Your Direction

"The job you were hired to do may not be what it looks like today," Diane Fenning, senior consultant at the Human Capital Group Inc., told attendees during her session, "Top 10 Strategies for Managing Your Career." Most professionals have in mind what they believe to be the right trajectory for their career; however, this may cause many to miss capitalizing on opportunities. While keeping the everyday workload moving forward, you also need to keep at the forefront where you want your career to excel, and to be thinking, "What's next?"

Fenning offered nine other strategies including:

  • Education. Is more education the answer? Yes may seem like a biased answer, but Fenning reminded attendees, "This is our product." Whether in the form of an advanced degree, certification, or other designation, business officers need to stay well-versed and current. 
  • Enlist a mentor and/or champion. You need to have three to five diverse individuals with whom you feel comfortable having candid conversations.
  • Raise your hand. Get yourself out there and volunteer—it's good exposure, and others will get to know you in different roles.
  • Define and craft your network. Fenning advised, "Make friends before you know you need them."
  • Become a mentor and/or champion. Giving back what you have gained creates and stretches your network.
  • Support your teammates. This is very important to your career, Fenning said, because it will be remembered and referenced.

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