Wednesday, December 6, 2017

A Look at Context

People exceptionally talented in the Context theme enjoy thinking about the past. They understand the present by researching its history.

This week our guest blogger is Jay Wright. Jay has worn may hats in TeamMates, including Mentor, Program Coordinator for Bishop Heelan Catholic Schools in Sioux City, Iowa, and most recently, as Regional Coordinator for the Eastern region. His top five strengths are Context, Achiever, Developer, Includer, and Learner. Here’s what Context looks like for Jay:

I can still remember when I fell in love with history.  We were driving to the 1982 Peach Bowl to watch our beloved Iowa Hawkeyes take on the Tennessee Volunteers in Atlanta.  (Relive the Hawkeye win here:  The Hawkeye win is not the moral of the story however.  For me, the highlight of the trip was the stop at Chattanooga to see the Civil War battlefield which was, for 6 year old me, life changing.  I became fascinated by what I saw as we went up Lookout Mountain and learned about General Grant finding a hidden trail up the mountain.  For the rest of our trip I had my dad (a history teacher) regale me with stories of history and wars and Presidents and Kings and Queens.  We had these books in elementary school (all with orange covers) that would describe the lives of famous people in history as kids.  I read every single one of them, and several of them more than once.  I was the “book nerd” as a kid who was always reading when I finished my actual school work.  So, studying history in college and becoming a history teacher was probably not a surprise to many.  Quite honestly, I thought it was just something I enjoyed, but I never saw this as a “strength”.

Jay, 6 years old, at the peach Bowl Game, 1982

Fast forward to a couple years ago when I took my strengths finder.  I was surprised to see Context as my number one strength.  The others on my list I would have picked out ahead of time, but not Context.  As I studied it a bit, however, I realized that Context indeed fit my personality, but I was not sure how that was transferred into being a strength. 

However, as I look back, I can see that strength playing out in numerous ways.  First off, I love that everyone and everything has a story, and that story needs to be told.  I am not really a math guy, but I love data and statistics and what stories they can tell.  At the two schools I worked at I spent countless hours researching school records for football and basketball (the sports I coached) and put them on the school websites.  I even wrote a blog about the football uniforms at Heelan High School that made it on to (one of my favorite websites).  I am one of those guys who enjoys SABR metrics in baseball and all of the analytics in basketball, etc.  I find it really useful to tell the story of a season or a team or a player.  Those numbers also make it possible to compare players from one generation to another.  We can actually have an argument, based on data, about who was better, Babe Ruth or Barry Bonds.  But that is just it, the data and stats are there, but it takes someone to make sense of that data and the story it tells, and that is where a strength like Context is valuable, because I love to tell these stories.

Information is coming at us at lightning speed these days, and so much of it is “Fake news” or inaccurate or misleading.  Again, this is a time when we need more people with a strength of Context, as we have the ability to see the bigger picture and decipher what is true today and how we got to where we are at.  I am fascinated by the Confederate monument / flag controversies.  Yet, it is not about what side of that debate I lay on that I find fascinating, it is rather the history of the debate and the historiography of the Civil War in general that I am struck by.  So many people weighed in on that issue that were simply misinformed, which caused not just bad history to be floated out there, but actual rioting and violence.  Had more people looked to the past for the right Context about this debate, a much more sensible answer could have been found.  But, alas, many people make decisions based on emotion in the heat of the moment, and not on actual facts based on research (which takes time).

My strength of Context is also a benefit in my job as Regional Coordinator for TeamMates Mentoring.  I would say I am a people person, but it takes me a while to warm up to others and feel comfortable around them.  Why? Because my strength is in getting to know others and what their “story” is.  Where are they from?  What do they enjoy?  What is their sense of humor?  Do they like Will Ferrell movies (and if you don’t I am not sure we can be friends).  In this way, I like to get to know others before opening up myself.  How has this helped in my job? Well, I have spent the first couple months of the school year visiting each chapter in my region.  Each chapter has a different story.  From how and why they started, to the different challenges they face to the different size schools and communities they are in.  By getting to know the chapters and the people in each of those schools, I now have a way better feel for how I can serve them in the best way. 

In conclusion, having a strength of Context has been a blessing to me and will continue to be in my new job.  For starters, I have the ability to understand data and stats and put them into the context of a larger story that is being told.  We Context people also have the strength to sort out the facts and real news when needed, and trust me, the rest of you need us more than ever in today’s social media world!  Finally, I think a strength of Context actually helps us get to know other people on a deeper level.  We may not be gregarious and outgoing right away, but we will listen and learn the stories of others, and be genuinely interested, which in turn gives us the ability to serve others in the way they need and develop deeper personal relationships.

Gallup says that with Context, we “like to look back, because that is where the answers lie.”  So, I am now off to listen to a podcast about Persian kings battling the Greeks.  Thanks to Gallup Strengths, I now find being a history nerd is really cool! 

If you are interested in guest blogging about one of your Top 5 StrengthsFinder themes this school year, please email Tess at

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

A Look at Consistency

People exceptionally talented in the Consistency theme are keenly aware of the need to treat people the same. They try to treat everyone with equality by setting up clear rules and adhering to them.

This week our guest blogger is Cathy Hanna. Cathy is the co-coordinator for the TeamMates program at Chase County Schools in Imperial, Nebraska. Her top five strengths are Responsibility, Deliberative, Consistency, Discipline, and Harmony. Here’s what Consistency looks like for Cathy:

I am in my third year as Elementary School Counselor and as co-coordinator for our Chase County TeamMates Chapter.  I went to the Strengths Training this last summer so I am in the beginning stages of Strengths spotting.  We introduced Strengths to our mentors in September and to our mentees in November and have had great feedback from those who have been trained.  

Consistency is my number three strength and defined by Gallup as being keenly aware of the need to treat people the same.  Consistency is achieved by setting up clear rules and adhering to them.  I see this strength when I want to know the rules or guidelines that exist in any given situation so that I can follow them.  I not only want to follow the rules but I want people to live by the rules so that everyone has the same opportunities and the “playing field is level”.  I notice Consistency when I am driving down the interstate in a line of cars passing a slow vehicle and another vehicle zooms by and cuts into the line of cars waiting to pass. I am miffed!  Waiting your turn is a big part of Consistency for me and cutting in line is not o.k.

Years ago, as a young mom, I had a rule for everything.  One of the rules that we lived by was no dessert until you had eaten what was on your plate.  I had tried a new recipe one night and it was bad.  We offered the boys cinnamon rolls and our middle son said “no, I have a lot of this stuff left”.  He knew there was no hope of ever getting his plate of food eaten and no chance that I would forget our rule! 

I do not expect special treatment and am indignant when others do!  I don’t think I’m better than the next guy and don’t ask people to do something that I am not willing to do myself.  I don’t like it when people don’t get a fair shot because of some circumstance in their life that they cannot control. 

I see Consistency “shine” everyday at my job.  As elementary school counselor, I truly believe that people (especially elementary students) function best in a consistent environment where the rules are clear and are applied to everyone equally.  Rules provide boundaries that give kids comfort and a sense of security.  Life is not fair but giving everyone an equal opportunity to succeed is what we strive for at school.  Objectivity and viewing things more matter-of-factly are also characteristic of being consistent.  This serves me well when dealing with students who are at times emotional and seeing things subjectively.  I hold a special place in my heart for the underdog but I sincerely try to treat every student with equal love and respect.

Recess always gives me opportunities to use my strength of Consistency.  One day last year, the students playing four square were having a terrible time getting along with each other and agreeing on how the game should be played.  I asked a few questions based on my limited experience playing four square and quickly decided that we all needed to learn the “right way” to play the game.  The following week, every Guidance lesson I taught was on the rules of four square.  The way I saw it, every elementary student at Chase County was going to know the rules and play by the rules.  Consistency to the rescue once again! 

If you are interested in guest blogging about one of your Top 5 StrengthsFinder themes this school year, please email Tess at

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A Look at Connectedness

People exceptionally talented in the Connectedness theme have faith in the links among things. They believe there are few coincidences and that almost every event has meaning.


This week we have the opportunity to learn about the strength of Connectedness through the eyes of Maurie Deines. Maurie is the Co-Coordinator of TeamMates of Scotts Bluff County and is a mentor. Maurie leads with Connectedness, Belief, Responsibility, Learner, and Arranger. Here’s what Connectedness looks like for Maurie:

I lead with “Connectedness”.  My second strength is “Belief”.  I think that both of those strengths work well together.  Gallup states that “people with Connectedness believe that there are few coincidences and that almost every event has a reason”.  Although “Connectedness” is my lead strength, it is undergirded by my “Belief” which is my foundation.

Connectedness to me means that I often use relationships between people to benefit the common good of mankind.   I have always enjoyed getting to better know people.  In fact, in a group of people I am usually the one asking where they are from, what they do for a living, or where they now live.  In fact, sometimes my inquiry becomes deep enough that I can make a connection with them or someone I already know.  I’m sure I probably go too far with my inquisition as when our time is “up”, I know quite a bit about them but I have not given them a chance to find out about me.  So, when my top strength was identified and defined as “Connectedness”, I knew that was definitely defining me.  It certainly quickly validated the Strengths Finder program for me.

As the Co-Coordinator of our TeamMates chapter my day is filled with “Connectedness”.  I start each day with quiet meditation and Bible study.  So, I connect with my Maker at the dawn of each day.  The expectation of finding mentors, working with school counselors and administrators for finding mentees, to best match the new mentors and mentees embodies the use of connecting people as resources.  Even the closure of a match means still connecting the two in a respectful and humane way and often includes re-matching.  In addition, a big part of my job requires that I connect with consistent and new funding sources.  My other strengths are “Arranger”, “Learner”, and “Responsibility”.  To develop and maintain a strong TeamMates chapter requires the embodiment of stakeholders including school administrators, counselors, parents, mentors, mentees, and donors.

As a youth growing up in a small Nebraska town of 700 people required that it took a significant percentage of people to keep the community viable.  This included teaching the young people their responsibility also.  So, as a youth I was expected to participate in many activities:  sports, music, church, and Scouting.  Boy Scouting played an important part in my life as I attained the rank of Eagle Scout.  And, as an adult and as our own family grew, there was tug at my heart to make sure that I passed on the Scouting program to my family and my adult community.  So, I have been a Scoutmaster and continue to give back to youth through the Scouting movement.

Our chapter has been a Strengths Based chapter for over 5 years.  As such, my wife and I had the pleasure of believing and growing in “Strengths” with Allyson Horne from its inception in TeamMates.  Unfortunately, Peg, passed away in 2014 at the age of 67.  Ally has mentioned that Peg and I had a “Strengths based” marriage.  I would agree wholeheartedly. In fact, from East to West, I feel that Nebraska is truly a “small community” when one looks at it through a “Strengths based” lens.  TeamMates and Strengths are keeping it just that way………….and, I am grateful for just that.

If you are interested in guest blogging about one of your Top 5 StrengthsFinder themes this school year, please email Tess at

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A Look at Competition

People exceptionally talented in the Competition theme measure their progress against the performance of others. They strive to win first place and revel in contests.

This week, our guest blogger is Sarah Waldman. Sarah has been a mentor in the Omaha Public Schools chapter for 12 years. She has served on our program-wide TeamMates Board, and just this year, she took on the role of Executive Director for our organization. Sarah’s top 5 Strengths are Strategic, Maximizer, Achiever, Competition, and Individualization. Here is what Competition looks like for Sarah:

I still remember the day I received the results.  It was about 13 years ago during a leadership program for women at Gallup.  I remember thinking, “Competition . . . really, that’s a strength?”  I was proud of my other top strengths and felt an immediate connection to them – I claimed them.  Competition took a while longer to appreciate.

As I think back to my younger years, I can see how some might think I was competitive.  Being the fastest girl in my class, reading the most books over summer break and making the all-star softball team were very important to me in the 4th grade.  If there was a prize to win or a medal to earn, I was first in line to give it my best shot.  Competition helped me do things I probably wouldn’t have otherwise.   

There were also times when having Competition as a strength was not so nice.  I sometimes stomped off during board games with my sisters if it looked like I wasn’t going to win.  I gave up too easily on things that didn’t come naturally.  I spent more time than I care to admit wondering how I’m measuring up and trying to prove myself.  For me, Competition has never been a “win at all costs” kind of thing.  It’s about knowing how I’m doing, especially compared to the high bar I think I should be able to achieve. 
After years of learning and living with my strengths, I have grown to appreciate my Competition.  Today, it’s about being a better person than I was yesterday.  It’s about being a better wife and mother for my family, a better friend to my neighbors and a better leader for TeamMates.  It’s about a walk to the car with my hubby that turns into a comical speed-walking race because, yes, we’re both competitive. 

Combined with Strategic and Maximizer, Competition feels like my super power.  It motivates me to look for ways to continuously improve an already strong team to have an even bigger impact on our world.  I’m grateful to be part of an organization that celebrates strengths and gives me the opportunity to feed my strengths with new challenges and amazing opportunities to learn and grow.   

A few years ago, during a “bring your child to work” event, one of the kids asked me what I plan to do once I retire.  I responded that I don’t think I’ll ever retire.  Setting goals and finding a way to accomplish them is air for me.  There will always be more to do. 
My mom likes to say I’m her over-achiever.  To borrow a phrase from one of my favorite strengths coaches, I’m uniquely awesome me.          

If you are interested in guest blogging about one of your Top 5 StrengthsFinder themes this school year, please email Tess at

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

A Look at Communication

People exceptionally talented in the Communication theme generally find it easy to put their thoughts into words. They are good conversationalists and presenters.

This week, our guest blogger is Beth Roberts. Beth is the Regional Manager as well as the Regional Coordinator for the central region of our organization. Beth’s top 5 Strengths are Empathy, Woo, Developer, Includer, and Communication. Here is what Communication looks like for Beth:

                Award-winning film composer John Powell states “people may hear your words, but they feel your attitude.”  I love this updated language of “actions speak louder than words.”  Communication is one of my top five strengths and one that I use everywhere I am.

            Communication is simple how I convey my own thoughts, ideas, and beliefs to the world.  I can communicate with my best friend over a three-hour phone call or embrace my son in pure love with no words at all.  Email, social media, texting, talking, reflecting… no matter what I am doing from day to day, I am conveying a message.  One I hope always has purpose.

            As a child, I was frequently known as the girl who talked too much; who couldn’t turn the cheerleader off.  In high school I learned to hate these qualities and only shared them with those closest to me.  Entering my college years, my strength of Communication got a second chance.  I could surround myself with positive and purposeful people that raised me up instead of silencing.  I walked across the graduation stage a young woman who traveled the world meeting new people and gained more leadership experience than I could have ever imagined.

            Today, I get to interact with my TeamMates mentee using my strength of Communication to listen.  She often points out that she knows when I’m listening because I’m sitting on my hands (a sign that I’m a true “hands talker”).  I’ve taught her that it is okay to voice her thoughts and passions.  In turn, she’s reminded me of a valuable lesson in listening to understand and learn.

            When combined with my other top five strengths- Empathy, Developer, WOO, and Includer- my Communication can be a powerful tool.  I’m often described as a social butterfly (WOO, Includer, Communication), a motivator (Developer & Communication), and a listening ear whenever, wherever (Empathy & Communication).  Although, when I reflect on my strength of Communication, I know that I’m just me; someone I’ve loved getting to know for the last 30ish years.


If you are interested in guest blogging about one of your Top 5 StrengthsFinder themes this school year, please email Tess at

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Genn and Millie

I'm really fortunate to work with and learn from Tess, and let's just put it out there that she's 23 and I am not. What our work relationship and friendship reinforces is that I have much to learn from those around me, particularly those who are different.  Whether those differences are in age, season of life, background; we all have a lot to learn from one another when we open up our minds and hearts.

This past year, Tess and I found unplanned strengths conversations often led to some of the most meaningful strengths learning.  Earlier this spring, we decided to share some of that learning from our unique generational perspectives through a video series called “Genn and Millie”.  Every other week, we get together and utilize a strengths exercise while sharing about real life moments.  What often happens is some great strengths spotting and occasionally quite a bit of fun.  Strengths awareness truly comes from everyday moments like this. 

I am a firm believer that conversations with open minds and hearts can change the world. This series has certainly made a positive impact on mine. 


Big thanks to Hannah (our producer and positivity provider)

Subscribe to the TeamMates Strengths Team YouTube channel here.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A Look at Belief

People exceptionally talented in the Belief theme have certain core values that are unchanging. Out of these values emerges a defined purpose for their lives.
This week, our guest blogger is Annette Woodhead. Annette is the Regional Coordinator for the Western Region (or as she likes to say, “the Wild West”) of TeamMates Mentoring Program. Her top 5 Strengths are Responsibility, Belief, Developer, Positivity, and Achiever. Here is what Belief looks like for Annette:

If you possess a strong Belief theme, then you have certain core values that are enduring.  Typically, this belief theme causes a person to be family oriented, relationship oriented, and even spiritual and provides direction to your life.  It also demands that you find work that is meaningful and matters to you….. a purpose.

I don’t think until I discovered my “strengths” through TeamMates, several years ago, did I understand how I was wired, how God made me uniquely.  I also didn’t see “me” from a strengths perspective even though positivity is in my top 5.

Going back, way back, to my childhood is where the foundation of my “belief” transformed me.  I went to church my whole life, that is my whole 6th grade life, so that was nothing new.  It was during that year; my best friend’s mom was dying of cancer.  I can’t remember how long she battled, but I do remember visiting her and reading the bible to her at her request, EVERY time we went.  It didn’t mean much to me, until she died.  When she did, I took my 6th grade self to our tiny little Methodist Church that was opened 24/7 to make a commitment, one like this woman I respected and adored, and wanted that same peace and love she possessed.  One that would be deep, solid faith based, a clinging to Christ that would become the foundation of everything I do, and all that I am.  Ok, so now that you get the picture I can move on.  And, if this isn’t your belief, that’s ok, I just had to share where it all started.  Little did I know that my walk, personally, as a wife, a mother, a friend, a co-worker, and through difficult times would keep me, would cause me to be true to what I know, and who I believe in.  All my decisions big and small have centered around this belief, and the grace that comes with this belief.  Those of you that know me, my favorite thing to say is “grace upon grace”, extending it to others, and to myself.

Fast forward to my job, in the last 11 years with TeamMates.  I so believe in this mission, so much because during my childhood into adult life, I have always had a mentor.  Someone that discipled me, someone that believed in me, and someone that spoke truth and real raw honesty into my life.  It has shaped who I am even further.  My husband is also a product of mentoring as well as my children, so I was a believer in mentoring way before I came to TeamMates.  So naturally, TeamMates mission, it’s values and heart for people is what fit perfectly in to who I am and my belief. 

When I started TeamMates in the “Wild West” we had about 6 operating chapters, and most were struggling.  My strengths worked perfectly together to do this job.  While I so “believed” in the program and that every student should have the opportunity to have a mentor, I also have Positivity, Developer, Achiever, and Responsibility in my top 5.  Those combined, made it possible to do my job.  Because I love relationships, and because my people are so amazing, as well as the staff I have worked with, it was the drive that caused me to achieve and develop programs.   Positivity kept me going, when it felt like we weren’t going anywhere, I could find the good in the hard, and because of this, positivity and excitement became contagious.  My developer recognized each sign, even if small, of improvement and we celebrated it like it was a party!  I have you, Western Region, to thank for all that has transpired, for extending grace to me.  And to our staff, for the same grace, and for how we have grown together.  You are who I believe in, and I am proud to be serving you, and TeamMates as a whole!

If you are interested in guest blogging about one of your Top 5 StrengthsFinder themes this school year, please email Tess at