By Heather Reynolds, Managing Director
Everyone on the LEO team recently took Gallup’s StrengthsFinder assessment. If you’re not familiar with this tool, it’s pretty great. It starts with a 25-minute online assessment that identifies your top five talents—or strengths—based on 34 themes, like Focus, Achiever, Responsibility, Empathy, and Maximizer.
The idea of this assessment is to understand your strengths and those of your team members so you can leverage them to achieve personal and group goals. Early in my career I encountered the idea that if we all stopped focusing on our weaknesses and instead focused on building upon our strengths, we could achieve new heights. I am a fan.
I first took the StrengthsFinder assessment several years ago before I came to Notre Dame. At that point in my life, one of my top five themes was Self-Assurance. I will never forget how disappointed I felt when I saw that on my report. It felt so snobbish to me. And much to my horror, the HR department at my last company suggested that everyone list their top five strengths in their email signature. I remember thinking, “I cannot advertise to the world that I am self-assured!” I felt a pang of envy every time I saw my colleagues’ strengths—Harmony, Includer, Ideation—that seemed so much more creative and collaborative than mine. I felt like I made the right decision to not include my strengths in my own signature.
When I took StrengthsFinder along with our LEO team earlier this year, I had some new strengths in my top five. I was pretty relieved to see that Self-Assurance was no longer there, although I did wonder if that meant being around academics all the time has shaken my confidence. But I digress. One of the new themes that showed up was Command. “Great,” I thought. “I am no longer overly confident, but now I’m controlling.” When I shared my assessment results with my husband, he wondered aloud why I needed an assessment to tell me I’m bossy. Oh well. At least Notre Dame doesn’t require me to put this in my email signature.
In thinking about the LEO team’s strengths, and even my own, I’m reminded of the poem that National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman recited at this year’s Presidential Inauguration. The Hill We Climb ends “For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.” I’ve thought a lot about what it means to see the light, to be the light. And I see it every day in our work at LEO. This was made even more real to me as I started learning about my team’s strengths, calling out what everyone is best at.
At LEO, we approach our work with an unapologetic sense of courage. You see this from our researchers when they take on hard projects and navigate what sometimes feels like an impossible path forward to get the data we need to answer complicated questions. So many compounding variables with any one project can make doing this work so darn hard. But they persist, because answering these complicated questions about what works to get people out of poverty is also so darn important.
You see this courage from our partners, too. One of the unique aspects of our research work is that we do it with on-the-ground partners, those on the front lines of solving poverty. We use the light of what these provider partners can accomplish to illuminate our research with better understanding, more important questions than we could come up with ourselves, and the strength that these innovative and compassionate partners bring to the table. And I see this courage in philanthropists and policymakers, who are desperately looking for answers so that they can make investments that are prudent and impactful.
“For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.” I love that Amanda Gorman pairs the light with bravery. Our light—embodied in our unique strengths—is something we have to choose to let shine. Every day. This bolsters me against discouragement in our shared purpose to reduce poverty through evidence-based programs and policy. If doing this was easy, our country would have made more progress by now.
It is certainly not easy. But it’s the brave choice. And my passion for this work is flamed as I see so many people who don’t typically come together now working in unison, bringing their unique strengths to the table to bring about change for people in poverty. Academics, service providers, philanthropist, and policymakers—leveraging their own strengths to bravely see the light and to be the light.
As you continue to engage with LEO, starting with reading this edition of our newsletter all about the power of the question “What’s your why?”, I ask you to reflect on the strengths that you have to offer—even if those strengths are confidence or bossiness. My hope is that you engage with us through your strengths in our collective mission to reduce poverty, and that you are always brave enough to both see and be the light.