How WE Work – Strengths-based Leadership


I frequent the “How I Work” tag on lifehacker. Some find the habit odd. Why would I care about how people choose to set up their app screen or what productivity tool they use? The means by which we choose to stay productive is important to me because I believe we are getting a glimpse into how people step into the complexity of working with teams and collaborating as the workplace becomes flatter and more disaggregated.

If I were asked, “How do you you work?,” my answers would have to be deeply threaded through how I work with a team. One of the lenses I use to work is through strengths-based leadership. Although this leadership theory has its challenges, I have found it transforming as it helps me better understand my contributions to how “We” work.

A professional WIG (Wildly Important Goal) of mine is to infuse transformational leadership practices and habits in Upper School students, faculty, and parents by expanding beyond a class and into a variety of micro and macro experiences. Currently, the way I am working to infuse this work into the students is largely through the Innovation Diploma program. We have built a module called Transformational Leadership and Design, a module that creates opportunities for students to explore the foundations of technology, engineering, and design, while also intentionally exploring a strengths-based leadership approach. We feel pretty strongly that through working on a series of projects that focus on others while also focusing on our own habits and strengths as leaders and collaborators is critical to truly nurturing the kind of graduate we hope to see – the kind of graduate that is full of compassion for others and is excited to use his/her strengths to create a better world. At the start of this two month module, students took the Gallup’s Clifton StrengthsFinder (StrengthsQuest for students) and have chosen to focus on three strengths as they learn to make accessible technologies using 3D printing, hacking a pair of sunglasses and a PS3 camera, and introductory woodworking to create a wheelchair ramp.

Students are beginning to identify their strengths in each other as well as themselves.

“Knowing the strengths of others in my group has helped tremendously in organizing and assigning roles. I think that the StrengthsFinder test helped us to get into groups that were more diverse than before as well. We were able to look at each others strengths and figure out how to organize ourselves into the most effective groupings. For example, one member of my team with the strength of consistency was always able to keep us to our set task. She also would remind us when we needed to keep our focus of the specific needs of our users rather than our own wants for the design brief.” Kiley S.

This is happening partly by design, as students wear their “badge,” showing the strength they are focusing on, and also as a result of micro reflections. Students have used visual note taking to summarize their strengths. They have handed out thank you notes to teammates that acknowledge how others use their strengths positively. And ultimately they will be synthesizing their experience in Transformational Design and Leadership through product and team-dynamic critiques.

When I read Lifehacker and dive deeply into the way these leaders steward their practice I see glimpses of how these leaders know not only the tools they leverage to be ultimately productive, but also that they have explored what motivates them to be their best selves. At Mount Vernon, we bring students to places where they explore their curiosity and passions – and a lot of this exploration is intentionally around work designing for others. They are given opportunities to uncover and practice their strengths testing their efficacy in their leadership. Most importantly they are empowered by an entire team of learners who understand the power of confidence instilled by strengths-based leadership. This intentional teaching around the skills and habits of mind that leaders must possess in order to thrive in a connected and complex world in grade 9 sets these young learners up to be the kind of featured artists, creators and hackers that will be featured in Lifehacker.

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