Paul Kaak on Strengths-Based Teams

My best friend in high school was Paul Kaak. Today, August 10, is Paul’s birthday. (Happy Birthday Paul!)

I thought it would be great in honor of Dr. Kaak’s birthday to share some of his initial insights from a chapter he wrote several years ago on Strengths-Based Teams

In the 1940s, the famous comedy team, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, performed what has become a classic comedy routine. In their performance, Abbott, playing a baseball manager, is helping Costello, a peanut vendor, learn the names of the each player. The names, it turns out, are “unusual names.”

“Say, are you the feller who knows the player’s names on this team?”
“Why certainly.”
“Then go ahead and tell me the player’s names.”
“I’ll tell you their names, but you know, these days, they give these players peculiar names.”
“Funny names, huh?”
“That’s right. Well, let’s see now – Who is on first, What’s on second, and I Don’t Know is on third.”
“Yea, that’s what I’m trying to find out.”

I start with “Who’s on First” because my good buddy Dave and I also used to do this routine. Dave and I enjoyed performing as a team. We had a great time doing magic shows as well as various other comedy acts. Most of the time, we worked well together. Today when I think about it, I can imagine how much better we would have done had we been more clear about our own, and each other’s, strengths.

Strengths are the source of our greatest contribution. Our strengths are what strengthen us and therefore can be our best means to serve others. (I’ll be saying more about various strengths as the chapter proceeds. A list of thirty-four strength/talent themes can be found at the end of the chapter. When used as illustrations here, they are in italics and quotation marks.) For example, my strength of “input” could have been released to help Dave and I to continually identify new illusions for our magic act while Dave’s strength of “focus” could have kept us from getting too far away from the show we’d already perfected.

Thinking about sports teams provides another example. I once thought that when scouts go out to observe young ball players, they were looking for skilled players to fill certain positions: “We need a 3rd basemen.” Or, “Next year we are going to need a running back.” But it turns out that is not what they do. “Scouts are trained talent evaluators who travel extensively for the purposes of watching athletes play their chosen sports and determining whether their set of skills and talents represent what is needed ” [Italics mine] (Wikipedia, 2007).

What a scout does is look at what players do well. They watch candidates as they throw, hit, run, and catch. As they consider the “package” of who a young athlete is, they go back and talk to coaches and front office people and decide if the talents they observed match the needs of the team as a whole.

Too often, work-based teams select the most available people, rather than those who are most capable in particular activities. They tend to look for people to fill positions, not those who do certain behaviors with excellence. The lesson from my friend Dave and I, and from the way in which sports teams make their picks, is to find people who already have the talents that, when linked with the talents of others, will result in success.

Paul Kaak, Ph. D. is Associate Professor of Leadership and Director of the Office of Faith Integration at Azusa Pacific University. Paul teaches and consults on leadership issues nationally and internationally.

Today’s Missional Challenge

Consider the strengths of those on your team and how together you can engage in Jesus’ mission utilizing those strengths.

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Dave DeVries

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Dr. Dave DeVries is a coach, trainer, author and founder of Missional Challenge. He is passionate about coaching and training church planters and missional leaders. With 30+ years of church planting and leadership development experience, Dave brings his passion and encouragement to those he trains and coaches.
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