There was a soft rap on my open office door. “Professor Thomason, can I come in?”
I paused and looked up from my laptop screen while quickly wheeling around in my office chair. “Of course! What can I do for you, Luke?” I motioned for him to enter. Luke was one of my students.
“I was just wondering if you could help me make sense of … one of my strengths. I want to know how I can effectively use it in my leadership endeavors.”
“Sure! I would love to.” Luke was referring to the Clifton Strengths Finder assessment, which all of my students had recently completed. As a class assignment, I requested my students identify specific tasks that would help them to apply their top strengths.
“I am having trouble with my strength of Harmony. I don’t know how it can be beneficial to my leadership.”
“Have a seat and we can talk about it.” He sat down in a chair catty-corner to mine. “How have you experienced the strength of Harmony?”
Luke thought for a moment. “How have I experienced Harmony? Well, I often find myself seeking agreement with people, but I have a really hard time during conflict. In fact, I often run the other direction when I sense conflict is rising.”
I smiled at him. “I can understand that. I think most people generally don’t like conflict. It is normal to feel that way, especially with that strength. I want you, however, to realize that you have a gift for helping people get along. Your strength — when shaped and used well — can make you a powerful leader.”
“Really? What is so great about harmony?” Luke asserted, “For one thing, it really doesn’t sound all that masculine.”
“I assure you, the strength of harmony is very masculine. Some of the great leaders of the United States displayed the qualities of this strength in their leadership and they were considered great men. Exhibit A: Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of the United States. He had a phenomenal ability to help people get along. Doris Kerns Goodwin’s book, Team of Rivals, provides example after example of how Lincoln used his ability to help people of opposing positions work productively together. This was such a strong theme in Lincoln’s leadership that it inspired the title of her book.”
￼Luke thought for a moment. I could tell that he had never pondered his strength in this light before.
I continued, “Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the thirty-second President of the United States, is another good example. As described in another Doris Kerns Goodwin work, No Ordinary Time, Roosevelt also had a tremendous ability to help people work productively together when they disagreed over important decisions. For instance, during World War II, his influence with Churchill and Stalin was vital for the Allied forces as they worked through post-war issues and the reconstruction of Europe.”
Luke stopped me. “Stalin and Churchill and Roosevelt all worked together? Isn’t Stalin a notorious figure in history?”
“Yes he is,” I replied, “but at the time, the extent of his cruelty to the Russian people had yet to be realized. He was viewed as an ally who assisted in containing a Hitler-led Germany. During the summit meetings between the ‘Big Three,’ Roosevelt used his harmonious savvy to get both Churchill and Stalin to agree on issues necessary to help all of Europe rebuild.”
“I don’t think I have ever thought of Harmony being that important to leadership.” I could sense Luke was forging new thoughts about this strength; he was beginning to like the fact he had Harmony.
“I would suggest a quick caveat with the strength of Harmony. What I refer to as the ‘dark side’ of the strength. All strengths have a ‘dark side.'”
Luke looked puzzled. “What could be wrong with seeking harmony?”
I expounded, “Problems arise with the strength of Harmony when leaders shun necessary conflict, or healthy conflict.”
Luke nodded in agreement. “Yes! I get that. I have a hard time with conflict. I try and avoid it at all costs.”
“You mentioned that when you walked in. For individuals with Harmony, I think conflict is especially hard. I don’t know for sure if FDR had the strength of Harmony, but he really struggled when he had to release a subordinate from their civic duties in the White House.”
“Really?” An incredulous look appeared on Luke’s face. “One doesn’t think of the President of the United States struggling with firing people when it’s necessary.”
“And yet,” I asserted, “repeatedly, FDR struggled with terminating or reassigning employees. Now, there were various reasons an official might be asked to leave their position; whether job performance, political alliances, or some other ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼issues that might surface. But whatever the case, FDR usually would send word to the individual through an assistant revealing the termination or reassignment; he did not like confronting people face-to-face.”
“So here is what I hear you saying,” Luke paused, “I need to be aware of the ‘dark side’ of the strength of Harmony by not being so harmonious that I ignore conflict or the need for healthy conflict.”
“Yes. I always find it helpful to think of strengths as tools. A tool can be used in both profitable and unprofitable ways. Using this strength wisely also fits well with the Christian faith,” I added.
“How so,” Luke inquired?
“Christ said that we could know His followers by their love for one another (John 13:35). I think people often associate loving well with constantly being in harmony with others. However, sometimes loving someone well requires confronting issues. In this instance, Harmony, like the concept of love, adopts a longterm view.
“Prof Thomason, I appreciate your perspective. I think I have a deeper appreciation of my Harmony strength as it relates to my leadership opportunities and how it can be important to my faith. I need to catch a ride back to my apartment, but I want to thank you for your time.”
“Luke, it was my pleasure. Let me know if you have any more questions. That’s one of the reasons I am here.”
I stood and shook his hand. He rose, gathered his pack, and walked out my door.
What other historical figures can you identify with the strength of Harmony?