Apr 19

Focusing on Strengths

StrengthsGreat Leaders Focus on Strengths

Research conducted by Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman indicates there are five clusters of strengths that should be developed in order to be perceived as a great leader. In our Effective Utility Management workshops, our participants conduct a Strengths & Weaknesses Assessment  and are encouraged to focus on developing their strengths by completing a  Personal Development Plan.  We don’t ignore weaknesses altogether.  Instead, we encourage leaders and managers to find appropriate ways to compensate for their weaknesses.  Focusing on improving weaknesses usually results in making the leader uniformly average.  Focusing on strengths allows the leader to become extremely effective.

Great leadership is not defined by the absence of weaknesses.  Great leadership is defined by the presence of clearly identifiable strengths.

5 Strength Areas of Focus

To become a great leader, you must spend your limited time focused on building your strengths. The five clusters of strengths to focus on building are:

  1. Character
  2. Personal Capability
  3. Focus on Results
  4. Interpersonal Skills
  5. Leading Change

These five areas can be thought of as the poles supporting your leadership tent.

Leadership TentCharacter

Character is the center pole around which all other strengths must be built.  There are many different ways to define character.  One definition is “the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.” Another one is “the way someone thinks, feels, and behaves: someone’s personality.”  For our purposes, let’s just simplify things and say that your character is who you really are.  How you are perceived by others is a combination of what you think, say and do.


To be perceived as a great leader, we will need to ensure integrity, ethical standards, and authenticity are elements of our character.  We can develop these characteristics by changing our thoughts, words and actions. Each of these three – thoughts, words and actions – work together and influence the others.  To grow into a person of character, make a conscious decision daily to think, act, and speak as an authentic person with integrity and high ethical standards.

Personal Capability

Your personal capability is your intellectual, emotional and skill makeup.  It includes your technical and professional expertise, your ability to analyze and solve problems, your innovation, and your self-development.  All leaders are learners and self-development should become a natural part of your daily life.  What can you improve upon that will give you and your organization the most leverage?  Do you need to work on problem solving?  Are you technically competent in your field?  Remember, you don’t have to be good at everything, but you do need to be great at a few things?  On what few things will you focus on and become great?

Focus on Results

Leaders and managers are paid to get results.  You may be a wonderful person and liked by everyone, but if you don’t produce sustained results, you are not a great leader.  Great leaders have the ability to take responsibility for the outcomes of their teams, establish stretch goals, and drive for results.  Basically, this is your ability to have an impact on your team and the organization.

Interpersonal Skills

Great leaders have good people skills.  Much of leadership centers around communication and its impact on individuals and teams. Interpersonal skills include the ability to communicate powerfully and prolifically, the ability to inspire and motivate others to high performance, the ability to build relationships, the ability to develop others, and the ability to collaborate and be part of a team.  Which one or two areas listed here can you develop and build on?  Remember, it’s always better to start with a strength a develop it rather than trying to fix a weakness.

Leading Organizational Change

If nothing changes, there is no need for leadership.  A good caretaker manager will do.  It’s only when an organization wants to make some positive change on a path toward improvement that leaders are needed.  Leading change is the highest and most difficult expression of leadership.  It includes having a strategic perspective, championing change and having the ability to connect internal groups to the outside world.

Depending on your position in the organization, you may or may not be in a position where this strength is needed.  However, whether or not you are the one responsible for initiating change, you can develop and demonstrate your leadership ability by being part of the change management team.

Fixing Fatal Flaws

With all of this talk about building on strengths, we usually get questions like “what should I do about my weaknesses?”  As we’ve said before, in general, you should find ways to manage your weakness rather than spending your limited time improving them.  The one exception is if one of your weaknesses falls into the category of Fatal Flaws.  These must be fixed immediately.  I’ll address the  Five Fatal Flaws and how to fix them in the next post.  In the meantime, you can click on the link and download list of the flaws and how to fix them.


Apr 05

How to Establish New Habits


Change your habits and you can change your life. This is a strong statement, but it’s true.  The Habit poem is a great reminder of this truth.  I’ve seen it in my own life and I’ve seen it in many of the individuals I’ve had the privilege of working with over the years.  Aristotle said “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

In our Effective Utility Management courses we talk a great deal about the need to take a few of the ideas we present in class and work them into your routine until they become habit.  Then take a few more and implement those.  Wash, rinse, repeat. Consistent, incremental improvements will have a compound effect on your ability to lead and manage more effectively.  Before you know it, you will have grown from a good manager to an extraordinary leader.

At a recent training we did in conjunction with the California Utilities Executive Management Association (CUEMA) at the Rowland Water District in Rowland Heights, CA, one of the participants recommended we provide some type of follow-up to help managers and supervisors keep the concepts we teach fresh until they become habit.  Great idea!  So, I’ll be making a series of posts to help our students – past, present and future.  We’ll start with how to establish new habits and then move on to ideas for how to implement each of the topics we present in class. When you are done with this series, you will not only be able to establish new habits, but you will be well on your way to becoming a great leader.  Let’s get started.

5 Steps to Establishing New Habits

1.    Decide which few new habits you want to develop.

Before you dive in and try to start creating a bunch of new habits you should first narrow the list by deciding which few to work on first.  We recommend you start with the results of your Strengths & Weaknesses Assessment and your Personal Development Plan we started in class.  Take some time to determine which few areas will give you the greatest immediate impact. Try to limit yourself to three or less to start.  Once you get the hang of this, you can increase the number.  Remember, great leaders build on strengths so you will want to pick a habit to develop in one of your strengths areas.  That is, unless you have a fatal flaw that must be fixed immediately. Click the link for a list of the Five Fatal Flaws and how to fix them.

2.    Remind yourself why you want to develop these new habits.

We always encourage our students to start with why. The first step in your Personal Development Plan is to make sure you have a compelling reason why.  If you don’t, you most likely will not stick with it long enough to develop the habit.  What benefits will come to you and your organization as a result of this new habit? Having a strong purpose to motivate you will exponentially increase your likelihood of success.

3.    Set a daily goal and write it down.

Consistent repetition is key.  For a new behavior to become a habit and automatic for you, it must be repeated frequently until your subconscious mind takes over and you operate on auto-pilot in that area. Will you repeat this new behavior once per day? Twice? Once every hour?  Each situation is different and you must decide the best frequency for repetition.  In any event, your goal should be SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound.  The more specific you can be with regard to the new behavior and how you will measure success, the better off you’ll be.  We’ll share more on setting SMART goals in a future post.

4.    Create a trigger or self-motivator.

Come up with some way of reminding and motivating yourself to use the new behavior or habit you are trying to create.  It may be a trigger word or phrase that you say to yourself either mentally or out loud.  For example, if you are trying to simultaneously break the habit of procrastination and develop the habit of getting things done you might use the self-motivator “do it now.”  Repeat this phrase several times in the morning before you head out or while driving to work as well as on the way home and before bed.  Then, anytime you have urge to put off something you know you should do, say to yourself “do it now.”  Then make sure you do it.  Strange as it may sound, you’ll be surprised at how this little trick of talking to yourself will imprint new thinking patterns in your mind which result in new habits if you stick with them.  Click the link for more self-motivator ideas.

5.    Track your daily and weekly progress.

What gets measured gets done.  Get into the habit of evaluating and documenting your progress at the end of each day.  Use the Weekly Behavior Tracker included in the Personal Development Plan to log your daily successes and score yourself at the end of the week. Make adjustments to your behaviors as needed.  Remember to use the continuous improvement cycle – Plan, Do, Review, Improve – to your advantage.  After evaluating how you did each day and each week, make small adjustments to improve your plan.  Then, implement your plan and repeat the cycle.  Continue until you have firmly established the desired habit.

By taking these five simple steps you will create new habits and can literally change your life.  You will be amazed as you grow from a good manager to an extraordinary leader.  Next time we’ll look at how to improve your leadership ability by focusing on your strengths.

Click on the link for more information and current schedule for our Effective Utility Management training program. Note: our fall schedule will be posted by April 30.

Jan 11


Have you signed up for your certification exam? Or are you just thinking about it for now? You may want to act quickly; exam registrations are only open for a short window of time.

Meanwhile, here’s a short video for you to enjoy:


Stay tuned in the coming weeks to see math videos and study tips posted every Monday. Happy studying!

Jan 04

A Whole New Year!

2016Happy New Year! We hope your holidays were full of celebration and time with your loved ones.

What are your goals in 2016? At American Water College, our goal is to help you reach your goals. Whether you’re looking to upgrade your license, gain a new certification, or begin an entirely new career in water technology, we have courses and training to meet your needs.

Contact us to see what opportunities are out there for you!

Dec 18

Turkey and Water

Did you ever wonder how much water your turkey dinner requires?

Wonder no more! Turkeys need between 10 and 17 gallons of water per week. Depending on how large your turkey is, you’re probably looking at between 370 gallons and 504 gallons. Of course, there are environmental factors to consider and the growth of the turkey, but as an estimate, it is interesting to consider.

Water! It’s everywhere!

Dec 16

Knowledge Management History: Part One

knowledge key

This week and next we’ll cover a very brief history of Knowledge Management. The modernly accepted concept of capturing and storing knowledge for workplace development can be traced back to the 1970s, and has been refined over the last few decades. In order for knowledge to be powerful, it must first be captured, implemented and integrated throughout an organization.

However, if we look deeper, the roots of knowledge management have been around even longer than the last 40 years. Apprenticeships are the epitome of knowledge management. A Trade Master would take on an Apprentice to impart his years of accumulated knowledge, after which the Apprentice would implement and integrate that knowledge. As Confucius said, “I hear, I forget, I see, I remember. I do, I understand.”

Isn’t it interesting that the old fashioned method of retaining, managing and integrating knowledge is being applied to entire organizations, rather than just the one-on-one relationship between a Master and Apprentice?


Dec 14

Counting Down…

There are only 17 days left in 2015! It’s hard to believe the year is nearly over, isn’t it? During these last couple of weeks, most of us will take the time to reflect back on our year’s accomplishments and achievements.

Or, perhaps these last few weeks are the opportunity to finish up a few projects or goals. Do you have any continuing education that needs to be finished? Or do you plan on taking your next certification exam after the New Year? Let us help you finish off this year right with our online courses; continuing education or exam prep courses are available 24/7, so you can study when you need to.

Dec 11

Holiday Food Prep

What’s your favorite holiday meal? Are there any family recipes that hold special memories for you? What role does water play in those recipes?

Whether I’m making a JellO salad or a chicken soup with my own chicken stock, or just adding water to a gravy packet, the holidays would be pretty difficult without a reliable water supply. Personally, I’m thankful for the fact that I don’t have to think about finding good water before I begin cooking.

Smells like my yeast is about done activating…these dinner rolls are going to be amazing! What are you most looking forward to eating or making this year?

For American Water College,

~Amy Barkalow

butter rolls

Dec 09

The Power of Knowledge

knowledge key

Knowledge isn’t power until it is applied. -Dale Carnegie

What is Knowledge?

The word knowledge is often confused for information or data. The dictionary defines knowledge as: Fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience or association.

Knowledge management, however, is a program or system designed to create, capture, share and leverage knowledge. This is easier said than done because instituting a knowledge management program requires many changes and support at all levels of the organization. Furthermore, there are different forms of knowledge to contend with and understand.

Knowledge can be tacit or explicit.  Each type requires different strategies to capture. Another challenge is to distill the practice of knowledge management into one neat concept and integrated platform.

Our goal is provide you with the specific understanding you need to take away a good conceptual framework of knowledge management. This way you can successfully communicate, create and manage a knowledge management program.

Dec 07

Work and Holidays

With only a few weeks left before the Christmas and New Year holiday seasons, people often don’t stop to think about the operators who keep the public water and sewage systems on-line and functional during their vacation time. Working through the holidays can be a pain, but we’re all thankful that someone does.

Also, with the holiday season, comes the end of the year, which means Continuing Education requirements for license renewal. Do you need just a few more contact hours for your treatment or distribution license? Or perhaps you’re thinking about taking that next certification exam after the beginning of the year and would like to get a head start on your practice and preparation?

We have the courses for your training needs. So, even though you may find yourself working this Christmas, use the time to further your career. Who knows? 2016 may be very different from this year!water christmas tree

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