Finding Our Strengths for Personal Development and Sustainability

meeting with Habiba talking

One of the biggest challenges when you are on assignment to be a part of the change is whether or not what you have helped create is sustainable. This has been one of the things at the top of my mind with all of my project work.  When I leave will this continue to flourish or will it waste away? When I have looked back on my work, most of it has been deliverables such as the IEC materials, the training curriculum, the obstetric fistula client flow at the hospital etc. So the hope is these deliverables will continue to be implemented. I feel confident about these pieces being sustainable as next week we will be utilizing all of them for 2 obstetric training sessions with 2 different community mobilizing organizations and the client flow has been moving along for the past month as we have been doing repairs at the Kisumu County Hospital.

I started to think about the gift that keeps giving; personal development.  This is something we stress at GSK and place on the priority list. We have a set system with our PDPs (Personal Development Plan) and regularly scheduled time dedicated with our management team and mentors to ensure our personal development is a focus. I have found the stress GSK puts on this process to be uplifting and a constant reminder to me to take the time to plan and prioritize my development. How you tackle this time and process with your manager is up to you.  I have always maximized these opportunities because I learned throughout my career the value it brings and if you don’t make time for it you have no one to blame but yourself.

I have been working with the WADADIA team and at one of the weekly update meetings I noted part of my focus would be to update my PDP as part of the upcoming week’s activities. The team wanted me to elaborate on what is a PDP. I took them through our process and what I do on a regular basis for my development. They were amazed at this process and asked me many questions regarding it. This is when I thought about how to help build capacities as part of a sustainment plan.  So, no matter what I have helped develop through deliverables I have introduced something that would allow them an opportunity to continue to develop their own intrinsic abilities. I started to think through what tools have impacted me in my own development.  This is when StrengthFinders came to mind, the book; Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham & Donald O. Clifton, PhD. The key concept of the StrengthFinders approach is to spend more time and energy identifying your talents and building them into strengths vs. becoming an expert in your weaknesses. I also like the team building aspect of this as you learn not only your possible talents but your colleagues as well. If you cultivate these concepts and work together it can really impact an organization. My goal was to introduce this concept and help them move forward in a small way to begin discovering, building and developing their talents.

Lists of strengths on the wall

I gave each of them the book and walked them through the concepts. The most challenging aspect was the actual StrenghFinders assessment you take online. We finally got each team member through the process and their top 5 possible strengths. We then posted the strengths of each team member and identified the common themes and those that were unique. The last thing we discussed was having an action plan. They put together the following plan:

  • Everyone read the beginning of the book for a group discussion
  • Weekly look at behaviors that would align to their talent/strength and share 1 of them at the weekly team meeting
  • If you notice a behavior a colleague has displayed that demonstrates one of their talent/strengths to share it at a meeting
  • Discuss their progress with their talents/strengths during one of their mentor 1-on-1 meetings they are implementing
  • A future vision- maybe in 6 months to a year: create a small version of a PDP to begin capturing their development and development goals

It was a thrill to see their interest and their insights. At the end of the meeting they gave me an appreciation that warmed my heart. Some of the things said truly touched me. It isn’t often the people I have working alongside are even given a book; for many of them this is their first book. It is also a book to help them personally and they found the idea of focusing on strengths instead of the typical thought process of weaknesses inspiring. You could feel the blessing in the room of being thought of and how we spent the day focusing on them. Habiba, the Director of WADADIA, was also praised for her organization making this a priority for her team. So, walking away from this team building activity meeting pic with book   made me realize just how many opportunities are before me for my own personal and professional development. Again, I am faced with a whole new perspective of how the things you may take for granted are truly quite magical if you see them through fresh eyes.

There is an intention I keep in my notebook; “Today I am wide awake to my golden opportunities.”  I believe the WADADIA team was wide awake to their golden opportunities this week and I ask all of you to send them deep support to help them keep their development alive and part of their everyday. If you have a positive message you would like to send to them, please post it in the comments and I will bring up your comments online at our last meeting together to let them know there is a whole group of people routing for them! Just thinking about this gives me goose bumps because we all need this kind of encouragement; we are all connected.

Sending you words of encouragement; especially all of us at GSK managing through change right now. This is the time we support each other, live fearlessly and know everything will work out, it just might not be the way we planned but in the end it usually is exactly what needed to happen for our own growth. So stay wide awake 🙂

In deep munay-



  1. Michelle, very insightful post! We should each be thankful for the development opportunities and resources that we have. Thanks also for the great reminder that we should always find time for discovering how we can build on our strengths. Nice to see that you could implement Strength Finders during your assignment

  2. Hi Michelle,
    Looking forward to seeing you soon. Thanks for your latest blog post. Great relevance as we reflect on our accomplishments for the year and complete our PDPs. Glad to see you are appropriately reflecting on your legacy there and how your good work will continue. You are such a blessing to your team in Kenya. How wonderful to teach them how to construct a development plan and to recognize their own strengths and the strengths of others. What a great way to acknowledge the benefits of each person’s diverse talents. Thanks for the reminder of the value of personal development, and our own accountability for making it happen. Even from afar, you continue to lift my spirits and keep me grounded. Safe journey home.

  3. Dearest Michelle,
    I’m so glad you were able to provide your team with something tangible that they can refer back to and learn that they too can be successful…they just need to know that they are not all the same in their efforts to make change occur. Everyone brings something strong to the group and recognizing that is the first step to sustainability. Behavior change is the hardest and people don’t quite recognize that they are the leaders they are looking for. The ‘take a look in the mirror’ concept also helps to bring that home. Bring a mirror to work day!

    Again, you know how I feel about your work, your passion, and your compassion for all humans you touch. You are working on bringing it all home for them, and you should be proud.

    Missing you as well,

  4. Dear Michelle, thank you again for your insightful posts. I will miss these when you come home – inspiration each week. Something I think you could do for your team is a pretty collection of your blogs and pictures from your project. (At least that’s something I would like, if I had participated in this kind of work.) All the best in your final weeks. Looking forward to seeing you in person in 2015. –sarah

  5. A few quotes for your friends. 🙂

    The best and most beautiful things in the world can not be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart. – Helen Keller

    Nothing in the world is impossible – the word itself says “i’m Possible” – Audrey Hepburn

    The measure of who we are…is what we do with what we have – Vince Lombardi

    Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud – Maya Angelou

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