The Happy Engineer Podcast

092: Unleash Your Awesome with Daria Williamson | Author | Career Strengths Expert & Leadership Coach

In this episode, we prove that working hard doesn’t have to feel like hard work with strengths expert and leadership coach, Daria Williamson.

For the last decade, Daria has been coaching leaders to peak performance through practical advice and activities designed to help people go from burnout, boredom and stress to power and motivation.

Today we will help you understand the importance of working in your zone of genius, and how to increase the amount of time you invest in genius.

If you want to accelerate your career growth, this conversation is for you.

Daria shows how everyone has the capacity to leverage their strengths and neutralize their weaknesses to move forward.

She has recently published her book ‘Unleash Your Awesome’, which in tandem with her well-known ‘Strengths Deck’ is a powerful resource I encourage you to check out. Click the Full Show Notes link above for the details.

So press play and let’s chat… there’s a new strengths game in town and it’s AWESOME!

Join us in a live webinar for deeper training, career Q&A, and FREE stuff!  HAPPY HOUR! Live with Zach

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The Happy Engineer Podcast






Previous Episode 091: ABC’s with CTO of Cast AI – Leon Kuperman | Artificial Intelligence | Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu | Cloud Computing





Let’s take a moment to dig a bit deeper, just you and me, on something that stood out to me from this conversation with Daria around reputation strengths. 

And before I share these insights and actions with you, I wanted to tell you about a couple of engineering leaders who I had the privilege of talking to recently as they reached out to apply for our signature program, the Lifestyle Engineering Blueprint.

They were looking to advance to the next level in their career, and both of these leaders had reached a point of career stagnation, feeling like they were on a plateau.

There were a lot of things creating frustration in their careers, and in many aspects, they were experiencing burnout on different levels. 

The first is a gentleman named Tom, and Tom had one of the most frustrating experiences you can possibly have in his career. 

Every year he would get to his performance review, early in q1, sit down with his leader, share all of his accomplishments, brag about his performance and talk about his development plans and what he’d executed over the year and his boss would give him some story or feedback that sounds like this.

“Tom, great work this year. You exceeded all of your deliverables. Well done. I love what you’ve done on A, B, and C for your development plans. You’re doing great. Keep doing what you’re doing.” 

And Tom would say, “Okay, well, what about the promotion? What about that next level role?” 

And his boss would say, “Well, you know, you’ve done well on A, B, and C, but I think this year what we need to work on are X, Y, and Z

In that moment, it was like the goalpost for the next level just kept moving forward.

Tom came to the belief that it didn’t matter what he did or how good his performance was, he wasn’t going to get a promotion until somebody else left the organization or quit.

And then Erica, another incredibly talented engineer. 

Erica received feedback that is maybe more painful than Tom’s. 

Erica got into her performance review with her leader, and instead of being told that the goalpost was moving, she was told clearly, 

“Hey, you have over-delivered. You have exceeded and passed all of the goalposts for your next promotion. But Erica, you’re just too valuable where you are. You’re just so good at what you do that we can’t afford to move you from the place that you’re at.” 

The Trap of Reputation Strengths

These are both examples of people who have fallen into the trap of reputation strengths being the primary driver of their work. 

You see, if the work that Erica were doing were genius strengths, things that she was great at and loved, then she wouldn’t be on the phone with me looking for some way to get to that next level. 

You see, if she was in a place of her genius. A, she’d be loving the work. And B, that would lead to open doors and bigger opportunities because when you are in your zone of genius, it always does. 

And for Tom, he got into this mode of constantly getting the goalpost moving, but because he stayed stagnant in the same position for so long, he fell into that same trap of reputation strength, and as we really unpacked the layers to that onion, it became obvious he wasn’t living in his zone of genius either.

So these are two examples of external things you’ll see where often under the hood, when you go and dig deeper, you start to see leaders who are trapped in this place of reputation strengths. 

So Daria gave us two really good tips during our conversation that I’ll recap, and I wanted to give you three more.

First tip (from Daria): incorporate genius activities into your reputation tasks. 

What are the ways that you can get creative and just tweak the scope or the system or the methodology for how you’re doing your work to incorporate those genius strengths into what you’re doing. 

And there’s two sides to this, by the way. It’s what you can do proactively on your own that you don’t need to even ask for permission for. And the other side of this is to go ask to change the scope and incorporate this from your leader.

Be bold, be courageous. Go to your leader and say, 

Hey, you know what? I’d love to get more reps writing code as a mechanical engineer. I’d like to add into the scope of X, Y, Z project this place where we could go a little slower, but write something that would be a longer lasting, more useful tool for future projects.

So ask when you need to and just take action when you can. 

Second tip (from Daria): ask your boss for more genius strengths work

Ask for those genius assignments. There’s going to come a time where you need to simply have the courageous conversation with your leader that if things don’t change with where I’m focused in my work, it’s only a matter of time before I’m burned out, tired, have no energy left for this, and I will leave.

Now, that is definitely a tough conversation to have, and you don’t want it to come across as threatening the first time you have it. 

There’s a tactful way, there’s a strategic way, but it’s a conversation you must have, and if you need help with that, then come to happy hour and ask that question so I can give you some specific tips for wherever you’re at in your.

Now, let me give you three more tips that did not come up in the interview with Daria. 

If you feel like you’re in a place of stagnation or plateauing and reputation strengths are, you know, consuming too much of your day-to-day life, then here’s three more tips. 

Number three: train and mentor your reputation strengths to other people on the team. 

Don’t become the bottleneck. Don’t become Erica where you’re simply too valuable in your own position. 

That whole idea of being the only one who knows what to do in a certain situation at your level might make you valuable at that level, but it also only makes you valuable at that level, which means you’re just as much protecting your job as you are preventing ever going anywhere else.

Success is measured by having successors. 

Number four: Say no. 

This is an area that I coach every single one of my engineering leader clients in, and it’s something we all need to work on to strengthen the courage to say no, especially when it’s a peer or a cross-functional partner who does not have authority over your priorities in your time. 

You can also say no to your boss. 

Just because your boss walks into your office and says, “Hey, I need you to get this thing done, doesn’t mean that you need to drop everything and do it.” 

There’s an appropriate time and way to let your boss know, “Hey, um, I hear you on that request, but I was under the impression that my priorities were these things that we agreed upon in our last one-on-one, and that would be a distraction for me to get these other priorities done. Plus, like we’ve talked about, you know, I’ve been seeking to do less of that type of work and really expand my career into these other spaces. This isn’t a fit for that. So can we have a conversation? ”

You’re not gonna just flat out say no to their face, but you don’t need to blindly say yes either. 

Number five: Get clarity on your purpose, your values, and what you really love. 

Here’s what I mean. Daria’s matrix of these five zones is based on what you’re great at and what you love. The energy around it. 

Well, here’s what I have found from coaching hundreds of engineering leaders: we often have emotional baggage and a lack of clarity on what we really love and what our real purpose is for our career and our life.

And a lot of times we get confused about a situation, or maybe a person who’s toxic, or something that went wrong in the past with a belief that I do not love a certain aspect of my work. 

But if you were actually clear on your purpose and your values and the things that matter most to you in your career, and you make a clear connection between the work that you’re doing and that purpose, a lot of times you can unlock a level of genius.

And one of the really powerful things about coaching is we can create that clarity and help you understand deeply and connect deeply to passion and purpose at a whole new level across an entirely new spectrum of work.

And this is part of what has helped so many of my clients to accelerate their career is igniting that sense of energy and love for things that in the past they had a hard time doing. 

So it’s really important that you get firmly planted into your zone of genius, into work that you love and are great at, that’s challenging you in ways that you want to be challenged, because that creates the upward spiral, it energizes you, and as you’re energized, you’re gonna do better work.

And when you do better work, you’re gonna get better recognition and more opportunities.

Energize that zone of genius even further as you expand and increase what your capabilities are and the results you deliver, it’s a virtuous loop. 

That’s what we need to get into. 

So if any of these things you need support on, come to Happy Hour and let’s talk about it.

Come get some free coaching and training and ask me LIVE any questions that are coming up for you. 

All leadership begins with self-leadership, so take action on that today and I’ll see you at Happy Hour Live very soon.




Daria is a personal strengths and leadership coach, based in Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland, Aotearoa/New Zealand. She has extensive experience as a leader and manager in a variety of industries, and holds a Masters of Management and a Diploma in Positive Psychology and Wellbeing.

Daria’s mission is to make the world a better place, one interaction at a time, by inspiring others to recognise their strengths and use them to bring their unique brand of magic to the world.

When not writing, coaching, or training, Daria is a staff member to two demanding rescue cats, and enjoys running, reading, and entertaining (or more accurately, feeding!) her friends and family.






Please note the full transcript is 90-95% accuracy. Reference the podcast audio to confirm exact quotations.

[00:00:00] Zach White: Happy engineer. Welcome back, and Daria, so glad you’re with me today. I’ve been looking forward to this ever since I got connected to you by our good buddy, coach Kon, who’s done two episodes of The Happy Engineer Podcast. He’s one of my best friends and a great guy, a great coach. A friend of Coach Kon is a friend of mine, so I’m so excited you’re here and thanks for making time to be on the show.

[00:00:21] Daria Williamson: Thanks for inviting me on and, likewise, any friend of Coach Kon is a friend of mine.

Expand to Read Full Transcript

[00:00:16] Zach White: So, oh man. Jay, I’m honored to take the most interesting engineer you’ve met.

[00:00:26] Zach White: He’s a great, great leader and both are amazing episodes. So happy engineer listening. If you haven’t heard the Coach Kon episodes, go back and check those out, but don’t tune out now because Daria has some incredible insights for today.

[00:00:38] Before we start talking about your new book and your body of work and everything that I’m really excited to dig into, I wanna ask what may be a pretty. Question, and so I apologize in advance, sorry if it is, but , I’m from Indianapolis, Indiana, and in, at least in the Midwest. Mm-hmm. If you tell somebody you’re born and raised in India, a lot of times they’ll follow it with, oh, did you like going to the Indianapolis 500?

[00:01:02] Race because it’s kind of the biggest thing. Mm-hmm. that Indianapolis has to offer. And you’re in New Zealand, it’s, we’re totally different time zones. You know, it’s two o’clock in the afternoon for me, 8:00 AM for you. And I’m a huge Lord of the Rings fan . And so I just have to ask you, since you’re in New Zealand, do you love it?

[00:01:20] Are you tired of people asking about it? Do, did you go see this place as it was recorded? Is it really as beautiful as it is in the movies? Like, tell me about your relationship to the Lord of the. 

[00:01:31] Daria Williamson: Uh, I love that question. Um, look, a lot of the rings has actually been really useful when I’ve been traveling to locate where I’m from.

[00:01:39] I’m from New Zealand, and sometimes people cock the head where a lot of the rings was filmed. Oh, okay. I know , but, but we don’t have orks. Those were computer generated, like really important to clarify. Sorry to. Um, I live in Auckland, so outside of where the main filming was happening, I haven’t ever been to Hobbiton and I hope they won’t revoke my Kiwi card for that.

[00:02:03] Uh, but I’ve spent a lot of time in the south island. My family’s from down there, and that’s where a lot of it was filmed, and it truly is at least as beautiful as you saw on the films. It’s an amazing 

[00:02:13] Zach White: part of the world. Okay, it’s on my bucket list to come. . Mm-hmm. , you are part of the world there, Daria, and you’re kind of joking, but I’m kind of not.

[00:02:21] I really do love the Lord of the Rings. It’s amazing, and it’s, to your point, I probably wouldn’t have ever put New Zealand on the map of places I wanted to go. Mm-hmm. until those movies released. So yeah, pretty cool and just 

[00:02:33] Daria Williamson: quietly, I really love the books as well, so. . Yeah, that’s an extra 

[00:02:38] Zach White: bonus. You know, I so fun trivia about Zack.

[00:02:40] Most people don’t know. I’ve read the Lord of the Rings trilogy seven times cover to cover. It was every summer. Wow. That was the first book I got off the shelf when school let out, when I was in grade school. And then the movies started releasing when I was in high school. And maybe you can relate to this as an author yourself and somebody who loves to read, reading the Lord of the Rings.

[00:03:02] I had this entire world in my mind, yes, this imaginary place of Middle Earth and I knew what every character looked like and sounded like. Mm-hmm . And then that first movie came out and I loved it. I was just head over heels for it. I think I saw it five times in theaters and but that next summer, cuz it came out at Christmas time, I got the book off the shelf and I started reading page one and I.

[00:03:29] Devastated that the entire picture that I had created in my mind for the seven summers prior had been completely replaced by the visuals from that movie. And I mm-hmm. could not recall at all what the old versions of those characters looked like in my mind’s eye, which I, I mean, I could have drawn them for you.

[00:03:51] It was that clear mm-hmm. and, and the power of that image in the movie was, impactful that that entire thing got erased just from the one movie. And I, I have not read the books since I, it kind of like spoiled it for me. Yeah, I know. Isn’t that, I never expected to share that here on the podcast and yeah, this, this is about me, but is that, I don’t know.

[00:04:10] Can you relate to that at all or does that make sense? I’m curious. So 

[00:04:14] Daria Williamson: I only read a lot of the rings once before the movies came out. I came to it really late. I tried 10 times to get into it and I just could not. finally I was on a long haul flight from Auckland to Bueno Aires. I was heading over to South America for a few months.

[00:04:29] Cool, cool. And I dragged a lot of the rings with me cuz this was rekindle days. We didn’t have electronic books in our. That’s a commitment of space will last me a few weeks. . That’s right. Yeah. Big space in the carryon luggage. And I finally got into it you know, I’d maybe gotten 10 or 15 pages in each time I tried.

[00:04:48] And next thing I knew was at page a hundred and I was inside the world. And like you say, creating these visuals, talking’s such an incredible writer for world building and scene building. Yeah. and I just couldn’t put it down. I was getting these opportunities to go here, here and everywhere to look at monuments.

[00:05:06] I’m like, yeah, cool. But I have a book 

[00:05:08] Zach White: I want to read. I’ve got another chapter I gotta finish first. Yeah, pretty much. That’s really cool. Yeah, I love it. Well, Daria, we could talk about Lord of the Rings, the whole episode, and I, I would love it, but I want to get into your work and you’ll hear just in a few days your new book, unleash Your Awesome, how to Live and Work From Your Zone of Genius.

[00:05:29] Releases. I’m so excited. Yes, I’m getting a copy. I encourage every happy engineer out there to go get a copy. We’ll put the links in the show notes. By the time this episode is live, it will be released, and you’ve been in this world of leadership and personal strengths coaching for a long time, I wanna start with maybe defining what is the zone of genius.

[00:05:52] and what does that mean? What, what are we talking about there? So would you unpack for us, when you say how to live and work from your zone of genius, help us understand what that means. 

[00:06:02] Daria Williamson: the traditional. Definition of strengths. When I talk to people, everyone comes up with performance.

[00:06:07] It’s something I’m great at, but that’s only half the story because you can be great at something that you really, really dislike doing. It’s boring or reenergizing. You feel disengaged. It’s draining. It’s just not something you want to do versus those things. just seem to flow effortlessly. You lose all sense of time and space when you’re doing them.

[00:06:30] Yeah, you fall into flow. You feel energized and excited. You don’t wanna stop doing them. That’s the zone of genius. The other stuff are things you’re good at. , but true strengths I define as something that you are brilliant at and love doing. That’s what defines your zone of genius and the super intense experiences.

[00:06:48] Sometimes that flow where you are so engrossed in what’s happening. We can’t live there. . So it’s a place we can go. The zone of genius we go into in a way that we drive our lives and our work in the direction we want. And then we come out of that flow state and we use what I call our proficiency strengths.

[00:07:07] Things that we are pretty good at and pretty happy doing often. The Friday afternoon strengths, you still need to be getting stuff done, okay? Okay. But you don’t wanna be working super intensely and so you come back to those, you rest and recharge and then you’re back into your zone of genius driving towards your 

[00:07:22] Zach White: dreams.

[00:07:23] I love this and I’m kind of picturing, a two by two, if you will, where these dimensions live, and I think it’s an important distinction. What am I great at? My skills, what I can do well, that we traditionally would call your strengths. And you’re saying, well, that, that one dimension’s not enough. There’s a separate dimension here of what actually lights me up.

[00:07:45] Creates energy and enthusiasm. Yes. And passion. And it’s in that, you know, call it top. Right. I don’t know if that’s how you model it. Mm-hmm. where that zone of genius lives. Mm-hmm. , so is, are the proficiency strengths? The other things that I’m good at that just don’t light me up, it’s that other. Quadrant, if you will, of this?

[00:08:02] Or how would you describe Yeah, the things in these other places on those ax axis. 

[00:08:07] Daria Williamson: you’re 

[00:08:08] almost right. It’s not quite a two by two. Okay. It is a matrix, and so performance is the vertical dimension. I’m terrible at this, or I’m great at this. Okay. and then preference is the horizontal dimension.

[00:08:19] I hate this. I love this. Okay. And it actually lends itself to five zones. So the proficiency sit right in the middle. Okay? Moderate preference, moderate. . Good at it. Happy Genius is in that top right hand corner. I’m brilliant at this. I love it. It lights me up. This is the real me. And then there are three other zones on the Matrix.

[00:08:38] So what I described before about I’m great at, but I really don’t like, yeah, that’s what I call the reputation strengths, because those are the ones where people go, oh, Zach’s great at that. Give it to Zach. And you’re sitting there going, please don’t I. There’s nothing I would want less than to do that thing.

[00:08:55] but you are really, really good at it. So it’s a resource that’s available to you if you absolutely really do need to use it, but we use it wisely. Pairing it with a genius strength to get you that excitement and energy and engagement while you’re doing the thing that’s not so enjoyable. 

[00:09:10] Zach White: Let me stop there.

[00:09:11] Cause this corner, I love that word, reputation, strengths, and I, mm-hmm. . I think engineering leaders can relate to this because, Well, I’ll say there’s two things. One, one a personal example. I had a skillset set in my engineering career with a new set of tools we were rolling out in the engineering department called a DVP and r, Design Verification Plan and Report.

[00:09:34] It was, it was a tool from automotive and we were pulling it into, The appliance industry, and I was one of these early adopters. I really mastered it and I was helping everybody understand how is it similar to what we’d done before? How is it different? But honestly, Daria was just like a lot of spreadsheet work.

[00:09:49] And yeah, I was extremely, you know, detail-oriented and capable, and I knew how to use the tool. And there became this time where every time someone had a question about DVP and R, they thought, oh, go essec. Go essec. And I got sick of it. I hated being that guy, cuz. , I really preferred leading the team and solving the hard, new, gnarly problems, and I didn’t wanna be the DVP and our guy.

[00:10:09] So I, I understand exactly what you’re saying. The other thing that happens, and I kinda wanted to ask you how do people respond to being in this place, is when you build that reputation so much so that you get the feedback of, well, look, we can’t move you or promote you because you’re so good at what you do.

[00:10:27] We need you to stay here and keep doing it because you have this amazing. Reputation to be able to get the result. and maybe later after this project or after this, you know, and that, that miles, yeah, the goalpost just keeps moving. Mm-hmm. and you feel stuck. So just as a coach, if somebody can relate to those things, what would you encourage somebody to do If their world is too heavily biased towards those reputation strengths and they feel trapped.

[00:10:53] Daria Williamson: So there are two kind of approaches that you can take. So the first one is what I mentioned before about pairing up with your genius strengths. So there’ll be things in your zone of genius that you can incorporate into whatever the task is that you need to use those reputation strengths for.

[00:11:09] And it just makes it more enjoyable, more pleasant, and so you can actually continue doing that stuff for. , but that’s really only a temporary measure. If you keep leaning on those reputation strengths, you are going to be depleting your energy. Yeah. And so in the second situation that you talked about, where it’s there, just finish this project, just keep doing that stuff, it actually becomes a conversation with your boss around, I can keep doing that, but there’s an inevitable end point where I’m no longer going to be feeling engaged.

[00:11:39] I, my productivity’s gonna. . I need to work more with my genius strengths. This is how I’m doing it now. This is where I want to get to. Can we make a plan to get me there? Because this is a permanent solution. I mean, let’s face it, people are gonna walk because they’re not gonna stick around where they’re burning out and disengaged.

[00:11:59] Yeah, and drained every 

[00:11:59] Zach White: day. Okay. No, I love that. And those are the courageous conversations that we need to have in our careers. Yes. If you don’t have them to your point, just follow that line to its ending point. It’s not usually a good one. Okay, so zone of genius proficiency, strengths, reputation, strengths.

[00:12:18] What are those other two zones? Yep. 

[00:12:20] Daria Williamson: So bottom left hand. I call the zone of indifference, but it’s your weaknesses. So it’s low performance, low preference. You don’t enjoy it, you’re not great at it. And I call it indifference because most people wanna pack that stuff in a box and hide it in the deepest, darkest corner.

[00:12:34] They don’t wanna think about it, talk about it, look at it. Unfortunately, the way business often works is we’re encouraged to try and turn those into strengths, which I think is the biggest waste of energy and time and resource you could possib. engage in what we need to know about your weaknesses is number.

[00:12:53] everybody has them. If you’re human and you’re breathing, you have weaknesses. That’s just a fact of life. And so there’s nothing to be ashamed about or afraid of. What we need to know is how those weaknesses are gonna play out for you. Are they gonna yeah, trip you up? Are they gonna get in the way? Are they gonna be barriers to you achieving the kind of goals you wanna achieve, fulfilling your dreams, creating the kind of life and work you really, really want?

[00:13:16] And so it’s understanding what they are and how they can show. and then we go back to your strengths. We’re looking back at your proficiencies and your zone of genius to say, what have you got here that’s gonna either neutralize those weaknesses so they never turn up, or it’s gonna help you overcome them when they do trip you up or get in the way.

[00:13:34] Mm-hmm. . So we’re always using that strength-based approach, coming from the position of strengths and weaknesses. We only look at them as far as what are they, where do they get in the way, and what do you do about it? And then we leave them alone and we 

[00:13:46] Zach White: move. again, just connecting it to the world of engineering for me.

[00:13:49] Mm-hmm. , it’s like the risk management mindset. It’s, you don’t wanna focus there any longer than necessary. Mm-hmm. , simply identify, create the contingency, plan those trigger points to know if that risk is being realized. Mm-hmm. and have your action in place, but the action plans are built. Your strengths, so you have a yes, a methodology in mind of how to go solve that, that doesn’t require constant development of strengths.

[00:14:14] I think that’s brilliant. Um, absolutely. 

[00:14:17] Daria Williamson: What’s number five in one more zone? Yeah. Number five is the zone of potential. And so this is low performance. I’m not very good at it, but high preference. I absolutely love this. And this might simply be a fun hobby, just a little something that sprinkles a bit of joy into your life and work, and that’s all it needs to be.

[00:14:37] And the example I use there is how many people around the world have a guitar in their lounge or in their bedroom? They are not ever planning to get up on stage and rock. They are just, they’re strumming, learning, playing, enjoying the process. And if that’s what it is, that’s amazing because we all need those moments of joy and engagement and fun in our lives.

[00:15:00] But it can also be the, the ground where a genius strength is hidden. , and it might just be you’ve never had a chance to really have a go at using that strength the way your life’s played out. The kind of jobs you’ve had hasn’t really called on that strength, but once you start using it, you find it, your performance lifts really quickly.

[00:15:19] So the sign, one of the signs of a genius strength is you learn it very quickly and you perform. very well in a very short time. It feels natural, like you’ve always had this ability. And so the zone of potential, I talk about sprinkling it across your life, so just trying one of them taking it, bringing it into something that you’re doing and seeing what the results are.

[00:15:41] At the worst, at the least, it’s gonna bring you more joy. At the most, it might be a new journey of 

[00:15:47] Zach White: strength. Yeah. . That’s my story as a coach. Daria, you know, I mm-hmm. . I built my career in engineering. Very good at it, very skilled at it. Zone of genius there. And I had this. Potential in coaching that I loved and I really enjoyed using it and I was just kind of sprinkling it in with my work.

[00:16:05] Mm-hmm. as I was building my career. Cuz it was a great asset for leading the team. Yes. And helping the people who were reporting to me. And you know, look, today it’s full-time. It’s become a core part of my life. It’s my business. And so yeah. I love that. If we back up to your own story really quick, when did you.

[00:16:25] Become so aware and passionate about this idea of strengths. I know you have the strengths deck that goes kind of in tandem with the book and mm-hmm. , like where did that seed of your awareness and maybe your own zone of genius as a strengths coach? Mm-hmm. , how did that begin? 

[00:16:41] Daria Williamson: So it has two origin points.

[00:16:44] I’ve always been fascinated by humans and I had an amazing manager in my first leadership role, and she was very much about helping people do great work and recognizing what people brought to the table and it, that was very early on in my career. It wasn’t until 2020 that I actually was presented with the strengths framework in a really clear and compelling way.

[00:17:10] and it was like someone had finally given me the language and the framework for this thing that I’d always had sitting with me, which was what’s right with people? What is beautiful and wonderful and valuable about each person, and how do we get them doing more of that? and then I’ve encountered the strength framework of strengths profile, organization out of the uk.

[00:17:31] And they talk about not just what you’re great at, but what you enjoy doing and also recognizing that difference in the energy between what I do and don’t like. And I just had this kind of real aha moment of, yeah, this is, this is what I’ve been trying to get. . And finally I’ve now got the ticket kind of into the door.

[00:17:52] Yeah. And then from there, the strengths deck developed because every psychometric assessment I’ve ever done is I’m clicking buttons on a computer, and then the computer gives me a report and it feels quite distant. The computer says this about me. Mm-hmm. . And so I could see bits of myself in there, but in some ways it kind of felt a little bit like a horoscope as well, that it was just some words on the page.

[00:18:13] I can interpret it how I want. And there’s an incredible guy here in New Zealand called Jeremy Dean and he created a product called the Emotional Culture Deck. And it’s a whole bunch of cards with emotion words on them. And I was using that and just finding that visceral connection with sorting cards, touching, holding, deciding where to place them.

[00:18:34] Really got. Engaged with the concepts of emotions in a completely different way, in a much deeper way than I ever had before, and I considered myself fairly emotionally literate and emotionally intelligent beforehand. that was when I had this bingo moment of it needs to be cards. It needs to be people placing them, making decisions about where they’re going, prioritizing them, because that’s gonna get them really deeply engaged, not just with the cognitive part of the strengths, but right down into their bodies.

[00:19:01] What’s the energy they’re feeling? What does happens to their posture when they read a particular card? One card will make you sit. , lift your head and start wanting to tell me stories about it. Another card will make you shrink. You’ll want to throw it away as fast as you can. And so really connecting in with that visceral experience of our strengths Yeah.

[00:19:20] Was one of the key parts for me of why I needed to create the strengths deck. 

[00:19:26] Zach White: I’m curious about what’s on the cards, and I’m curious to learn more about Dari at the same time, so maybe we can mm-hmm. put those together. Would you be willing to, what your strengths are. Mm-hmm. the, the zone of genius strengths for you.

[00:19:40] Sure. And simultaneously give us, you know, these examples of when we talk about a strength, what is specifically tangibly one of those and what they mean and how to think about it. So who are you in the zone of genius? . 

[00:19:54] Daria Williamson: Ooh, great question. Uh, so I would say amongst my top gen of strengths, I have sent a stage.

[00:20:00] So that’s about being in the spotlight. I’m perfectly comfortable on a stage in a situation like this, you could literally hand me a microphone and a piece of paper with a topic on it and put me out in front of a thousand people and I’d be fine. I’d actually have the time of my life would be brilliant.

[00:20:14] And I know that’s not true for many people, right? For many people that would be sitting in a 

[00:20:18] Zach White: different time, terrifying. Sure. . 

[00:20:19] Daria Williamson: I also have storyteller. So that’s about weaving those stories and constructing narratives that help people understand stuff. And so some of my favorite feedback I’ve had from doing coaching sessions is when people have said to me, wow, I’d never seen it like that, or, While you’ve explained myself, to me in a way I never understood, and that is an example of where I’ve been able to see all this different data that they’re giving me from where they’re placing cards and what they’re talking about and constructing a narrative that shows them their strengths.

[00:20:51] Because most of us don’t spend time thinking about our strengths. We’re so busy in that zone of weakness trying to figure out what we’re gonna do. Mm-hmm. and how we’re not gonna fail, and how we’re not gonna let anyone know. And so telling that strength-based story to people. , I. Just can’t believe people pay me for that.

[00:21:07] I’m so excited. That’s a sign of a genius strength, as you’re saying. I can’t believe people pay me for this because I have so much fun and I learn so much and it’s so meaningful for me. Yes. And going along with the coach stuff, you know, there’s empathetic, there’s optimistic, there’s relationship developer, so it’s weaving all of those together.

[00:21:24] listener is in there so ne, you know, actually deeply listening to what is both said and unsaid. I say I’ve created for. right now, the perfect job for the genius strengths that are showing up for me right now. I love and strengths are dynamic, so that doesn’t mean that this is gonna be the perfect job for me.

[00:21:41] Forever. I will change, my strengths will change, what energizes me will change. And so knowing that I can tweak and adjust and adapt or even make an entire leap into something new, knowing that my strengths, yeah, my genius strengths will catch 

[00:21:55] Zach White: me. You know, that’s something I’ve found with clients I support in engineering.

[00:22:00] Daria, that’s. True and sometimes surprising to people is, I used to love what I did. Yes. And I’m still doing it, and now I don’t anymore. I feel disconnected from it and mm-hmm. , I’ve lost my passion or sense of purpose and meaning around this. And from your experience as a coach then, what are the forces in life that move?

[00:22:24] The strengths to different quadrants or different buckets in this five piece model? Is it, you know, is, is age and a life experience? Is it, a discovery, a new awareness, a new something that pops in? What have you seen as you coach people that does create that movement of where your strengths lie? 

[00:22:43] Daria Williamson: Yeah, great questions.

[00:22:44] So thinking of a particular client who had really, really leaned into a couple of genius strengths and one in part. and it’s the time maximizer strength. So it’s about getting a huge amount done and a very short space of time and feeling energized by that. Many people, including myself, find that very stressful and depleting.

[00:23:05] Mm-hmm. . But some people absolutely thrive on it, and I reckon you can probably think of someone, maybe it’s yourself even who has that as a strength. Yeah. But she relied on it too much. . And what happens when you do that is you start burning it out so it becomes less energizing. Mm-hmm. less fulfilling, and it starts to feel more like a chore than something that actually contributes and builds you up.

[00:23:28] And so what happened is it ended up moving to his own of reputation. There were a whole bunch of other reasons as well for why it was moving there. She was going through some really challenging situations, uh, job-wise. , but what she found was the thing that had previously been such a boon to her so enjoyable was less enjoyable.

[00:23:47] Yeah. And so now she knows, she’s still very high performance in that she can still, she still stuss me with what she gets through in a day. But that’s no longer what she’s leading with. She’s using it as and when she needs to in service of her other genius 

[00:24:01] Zach White: strengths. Mm. Over. of a zone of genius strength.

[00:24:07] Mm-hmm. can burn it out. I think that’s a really interesting truth to face. And a lot of engineering leaders I know can relate to that where mm-hmm. you get called on to exercise that strength. Day in and day out. And so what I’m curious about here, Daria, is would you describe this as, a fuel tank of, of energy around that strength and if you use too much in too short of time, this is going to happen.

[00:24:35] Mm-hmm. or. , you know, is there more to the story than that? Is it, is it really as simple as just don’t overdo it, make sure you’re balanced and you, you take care of yourself? Or in a way, is it like, look, it’s, it’s probably likely to occur at some point if you just keep going back to this. Mm-hmm. , it doesn’t matter if you’re still having fun or you’re not overworking, like eventually you may lose that.

[00:24:58] Maybe. Is that clear? I’m not sure if that’s a good question, but do you know what I mean? 

[00:25:02] Daria Williamson: So I’d liken it to a. , you know, our muscles are here to service and as we use them that we strengthen them. But if. Do the same exercise over and over, or the same movement over and over in too short a time. Then we start getting into that overuse.

[00:25:17] Yeah, it starts to break down. It’s becoming a problem for us. So it’s finding that sweet spot for each strength, and it’s different for each strength, and it’s different in each context of using the strength. So an example I use is one of the strengths and the strengths deck is, You know, we all love a person with a sense of humor.

[00:25:34] Of course, we all think we have a great sense of humor. but there is a time and a place yeah, for using humor. You know, if you are standing at a funeral, you give a eulogy and you may weave in some very subtle humor, but a lot of the time, , it’s not gonna be appropriate to do a full standup comedy routine.

[00:25:52] Yeah. There will be funerals where that is appropriate and so that’s when you do that. But often at the wake afterwards, when everyone’s standing around having a cup of tea of coffee or a beer of wine, you start telling stories about the person that’s departed and often that humor comes out, oh, do you remember when Joe did that?

[00:26:08] Thing or said that thing or, you know, and we bring that humor out because it is a way that we process emotions, that we connect with people, that we just dial down some of the stress and, uh, reactivity we have in situations. So it’s finding the right point to use the strength too. Yeah. At each 

[00:26:26] Zach White: place. I like that.

[00:26:28] Metaphor better than muscle, so mm-hmm. , you can strengthen it, you can build it, you can grow it, it’ll grow naturally. But if you overuse it in too short of time, the muscle tears down and never has a chance to recover. That’s really good. Yeah. And 

[00:26:41] Daria Williamson: one of the things, and some point on that is, sometimes it can be a permanent burnout that actually, that strength just never becomes energizing for you again.

[00:26:47] that’s when you’ve really gone overboard with it. , but sometimes it’s just a temporary thing. Like you’ve gone to the gym and you’ve lifted, weights that are a bit too heavy and you’re really sorer. You actually give it a rest for a few extra days, a little bit of extra time, and then you can go back to it and pick up where you left off and it recovers.

[00:27:03] Yeah, so it’s. trying to find that point at which we noticed early on when it’s starting to slide towards the zone of reputation going, oh, this is less energizing for me. How can I rest that strength and what are the other strengths I can pick up to use in its place while it goes and has a rest? So, sort of bench it.

[00:27:21] Mm-hmm. and bring in some subs for a while. Wow. 


[00:27:24] Zach White: There’s a subtle thing in the title or the subtitle I should say, of your book mm-hmm. that I wanted to highlight and get your perspective on. Unleash Your Awesome, which is such a great mm-hmm. picture, and, and you can feel that energy. There’s just something about tapping into who are you when you’re at your most awesome, but then it’s how to live and work.

[00:27:43] in your zone of genius. Mm-hmm. . And you know, if I think back to my first exposure to the Gallup tools and strengths finder and these different, you know, maybe similar concepts, and you’ve really created a unique lens on this that I really love, but it’s almost always about work. Yes. You, how do you show up at work and leverage your strengths to get promotions and to have an impact in your career.

[00:28:04] And the engineering leaders that I coach are hungry for career success and that’s awesome. But I. Say two, look, a career that you will love only exists inside the context of a life that you love. Yeah. let’s not separate the two. So tell me about your perspective around this idea of how do genius strengths show up in life in addition to work?

[00:28:30] Daria Williamson: a hundred percent agree with your philosophy that our work sits inside our life. So our life is the overall thing and work is a part of it. And so our strengths turn up everywhere. We’ve already got them. They’re always with us. They’ve been playing out through our lives, whether we’re mindful of them or not.

[00:28:45] Same with our weaknesses. Hmm. And so for me, that life piece is, I don’t think of work-life balance. I think of it as harmony. Sometimes one goes up, the other goes down. Sometimes they’re equal and it’s this very dynamic flow. But at the end of the day, work is a subset of life and so, If we only think about bringing our genius strengths to work, we are leaving so much on the table because we have friendships, we have family, we have hobbies, we have community organizations we’re a part of.

[00:29:14] We might volunteer for a charity, and we can bring our genius strengths to all of those things, and it. just keeps improving the results that we are getting. The, contribution to our wellbeing, our sense of meaning and purpose, our sense of accomplishment all gets built as we bring those strengths more and more to each part of our lives.

[00:29:35] Hmm. In a conscious way, cuz we’re already doing it unconsciously. . 

[00:29:39] Zach White: Yeah. Okay. So let. Let me pull that thread a little bit and it actually comes back to something you mentioned before we started recording today that I wrote down because it was such an interesting way to describe it, that we tend to live in the top two inches.

[00:29:53] Would you a, maybe explain what you mean by that and then link it back to what we just described, this idea of it’s happening unconsciously and, and getting deeper and doing that work. So what does it mean to live in the top two? . 

[00:30:09] Daria Williamson: So for me, living in the top two inches is when we’re relying solely on rationality and logic, and we are forgetting that we’re actually whole human beings.

[00:30:17] who have bodies and emotions and desires and foibles and all the kind of things. We’re messy, glorious beings. But when we sit only in that really cerebral brain forward, mind, forward way, we miss a lot of the data that’s available to us in the world about how do I feel when I’m doing this thing? Feel to go to work today?

[00:30:41] If I’m feeling the sense of dread in the pit of my stomach, that’s data that I can use that’s telling me something about the situation I’m putting myself in. And so I’m very much about how do you actually get more into your body and understand how the whole of you is showing up to a situation. So it’s.

[00:30:58] That, seeing the card and getting lit up and getting excited, that’s data as much as rationally going, oh, I can see how I can use that strength in my work. And so then same thing, if we’re only thinking about work that’s like living in the top two inches of our life. We’ve got all the rest of the life that we own and that we live.

[00:31:22] that we might be ignoring if we’re only focusing our stuff on work. Yeah. Works a subset. It’s that top two inches. Yeah. So let’s actually really get that kind of incorporation and integration of every aspect of our life and being, because that for me is integrity. So is living in that full alignment.

[00:31:40] Zach White: In your own life journey, have you experienced. sense of dread that, that depth and challenge. Mm-hmm. of emotion and what happened for you? Yeah. How did you deal with that? 

[00:31:52] Daria Williamson: Uh, so it’s happened in several situations and the easiest ones to describe are the work situations because they loom so large in our lives.

[00:32:00] I would find myself with that dread in the pit of the stomach, waking up and going, oh, it’s a weekday. It means I have to go into the office really just dragging my heels. And so of course I wasn’t doing my best work, so then I wasn’t doing stuff I was proud of. And so that would then intensify the sense of dread.

[00:32:18] And this was before I had that language around the strengths framework, so I couldn’t really see what was going on. Looking back now, it’s plain as day. I was stuck in stuff that was in my zone of reputation and in my indifference weaknesses. So I was constantly being. in this area of depletion and being drained.

[00:32:38] Yeah, and you know, there were some leadership challenges there. There were, a whole bunch of factors, but a lot of it was because I wasn’t working in those genius strengths. That really, truly lit me up. And in fact, a couple of times in those roles, thinking one specific time, my boss would really criticize me for certain ways that I was showing up in the workplace.

[00:32:59] That actually I look at it, I’m like, those are my genius strength. and actually those were the ones that when we had a crisis and we needed to scramble a cross-functional team to fix it, cuz one of them was relationship developers. So I would go around, yeah. And sit and talk to my colleagues, my counterparts.

[00:33:15] So in a crisis, I already had the relationship there. I already had the trust built up. There was strong connections between us so I could tap them and say, this is what’s happening, this is what we need. Can you get your team to do their part? And it happened like, If I hadn’t had the relationship developer strength and hadn’t used it mm-hmm.

[00:33:34] mm-hmm. , then that would’ve been so much harder to accomplish. And yet I was being looked down on and judged and in some ways punished. Wow. For playing into my genius strength. That’s until the point of crisis and then it was really helpful. Right? And then, and 

[00:33:48] Zach White: now we need you. They were very grateful. Okay.

[00:33:50] So it’s interesting to look back at that situation through the lens of unleashing you’re awesome, but would you do your best to take us back to, what did Daria think about the situation Then just to help me connect back and you know, that happy engineer. Mm-hmm. who. they may not have all of the language yet.

[00:34:11] They haven’t read your book yet. It’s a yes. So what were you experiencing in the moment or what would you have blamed or been thinking, or how would you have approached it then? 

[00:34:22] Daria Williamson: so Daria back then was very driven by rules and compliance and wanting to be the good girl. So actually get the approval of my manager of, authority figures in the workplace.

[00:34:32] And so there was this really constant battle and tension between where my energy was drawing me and where my top two inches was telling me I needed to be. Okay. So it’s like this fight. Yes, between head and heart. And so that was driving a lot of the dread was the sense that I was gonna have to go into work and disconnect from myself to do my job and get approval.

[00:34:57] Um, so constant conflict. , um, never feeling at home in my work, feeling like I was constantly under vigilant. It’s not that my boss was over my shoulder all the time. They were not micromanaging me, but I had this like hall monitor on my shoulder. Mm-hmm. , I was, oh, you shouldn’t be doing that. That’s not what’s gonna get you the recognition you need to be doing this.

[00:35:19] And so that. Anxiety and vigilance. Self vigilance, trying to match up to what I imagined with the rules that were gonna get me the success. 

[00:35:30] Zach White: What I feel from that, as I hear you describe it as something I can personally relate to, and I know so many of my clients at a Waco can relate to that. We first become aware of that dissonance and that tension and maybe we read a great book like Unleash, you’re awesome and we have some new thoughts, but there’s a lot of fear to shift out of the world that we’ve been living in and that safe, steady paycheck or that, you know, you know what, I’m just gonna keep leaning into those reputations strengths cuz I don’t wanna rock the boat or mess this up.

[00:36:01] Mm-hmm. , I’ve got a family to provide for a mortgage to pay whatever. There’s just fear. say, well, how could I ever get to living in my zone of genius? Mm-hmm. . So how would you support someone? Or maybe you’ve been there yourself, like how do you break through that fear to make the change? Mm-hmm. , 

[00:36:20] Daria Williamson: you don’t have to do it all at once.

[00:36:22] I think that’s the biggest thing I learned is. Saying this is not my ideal situation and maybe I want to go start my own business. That doesn’t mean that today I quit my job and tomorrow I start the business. I can actually take time. I can figure out what my strengths are, build some strength strategies, run experiments.

[00:36:40] One of the big things I emphasize in the book is everything is an experiment. We don’t know how long it’s gonna take us to drive to the grocery store. We can guess based on past experience, but until we actually go do it today, we don’t know. So we just run an experiment and over time we build up a pattern and we go, okay, this is working for me.

[00:37:00] That’s not working for me. That’s the good route to go down to get to the grocery store. That one always has delays. So we run experiments and it’s, yeah. Um, my background is partly a continuous improvement, so it’s What’s your 1%? , you don’t have to do a hundred percent today. Yes. What’s your 1% step towards that or your 1% improvement?

[00:37:19] Break it down, make it tangible so you can actually tell if you’re making a difference or not, but just take a baby step in the direction, test the waters, and then you run another experiment and you keep going and 1% on top of 1% eventually accumulates and you start getting that compounding return.

[00:37:39] James Clear talks about it, you know, the compounding return. I think it’s totally. Oh, I can’t remember the, I was at 582% or something over a year. If you get 1% better 

[00:37:48] Zach White: each day, oh, it’s even more than that I think. Yeah. Well, a 1% compounding over 365 days is like 3700% if I remember. It’s a big, so for the engineering leaders listening will fax, check both of us and make sure we get that right.

[00:38:01] Don’t, don’t worry. I’m sure you are right. But, but this is such a good reminder and it’s something that I love because at o Waco, you know, this is the oasis of courage. We work with engineering leaders. Mm. And it’s amazing. You’d think if any group of people would be willing to live life in that mindset of mm-hmm.

[00:38:19] let’s run a test. Let’s experiment. Mm-hmm. . , it should be engineers. And yet we forget that, right? We go to work and run tests all day and then we, we look at our life as this deterministic pass, fail, you know, succeed or die kind of thing. And it’s like, hold on. You know, let’s just run the test. Let’s see what happens.

[00:38:37] And if this particular test has a negative outcome, yeah, we’re gonna learn from that. Put that growth mindset on and keep going. I think that’s so, so good. 

[00:38:47] Daria Williamson: and it’s also not getting locked into. Current reality so much that we assume that this is the way things always will. Because we can look back on our lives and see that our track record is that we have navigated change.

[00:39:01] We have done scary things. We’ve stepped up, we’ve taken those courageous leaps. We’ve had those courageous conversations. And one of the models I use when I’m talking to clients is I say, we’ve got our comfort zone. . Then we’ve got our stretch zone, then we’ve got our panic zone. You don’t wanna be in the panic zone.

[00:39:18] So often we think, I wanna quit my job and become an entrepreneur. We’re gonna go straight from comfort zone into panic zone if we do that without any preparation. So comfort zone, steady paycheck, it’s all good. I know what’s happening into, I’ve got no idea what to do. I’m overwhelmed and I can’t even start.

[00:39:35] So in the middle of those is our stretch zone. So it’s okay. I’m out of my comfort zone. It’s a stretch. It’s like the last wrap at the gym when it’s just like, it’s a bit of a struggle, but you know you’re gonna get it. And that’s where you start to build that capability and you’re starting to move out towards what you want to achieve.

[00:39:53] And the cool thing is every time we step into the stretch zone, we expand our comfort zone. And our stretch zone gets a little bigger as a result as well. And so over time where our comfort zone used to be teeny tiny, it expands and expands and expands and suddenly we are just without even thinking about it, doing things that used to be in our panic zone.

[00:40:13] Things that used to terrify us we’re like, yes, I do that before breakfast. 

[00:40:17] Zach White: Yes. I love that. I agree a hundred percent with everything you just said, Daria. If the engineering leader who’s tuned in here says, you know what? I wanna go through this. I need to get the deck, I wanna get the book. where can people go grab all of this?

[00:40:31] how can they get more Daria in their life? Tell us where we can find you and how to, how to plug into the work you’re doing. . 

[00:40:37] Daria Williamson: well I’m super active on LinkedIn, so look me up there. Daria Williamson, that’s my my handle on there. And I also have the website, I have [email protected] and also strengths

[00:40:50] And so Strengths Deck will take you to the Strengths deck itself and also the Unleash Your Awesome. . 

[00:40:56] Zach White: Brilliant. We’ll put all those links in the show notes. Make sure you go check that, grab a copy of the book, connect with Dion, LinkedIn, you know, if this is resonating for you, happy engineer, go take action.

[00:41:09] Don’t hesitate. Make sure you take that step forward. Mm-hmm. , I, I love the work that you’re doing, Darian, I can’t wait to get a copy of the book myself. , let’s finish the same place I always finish. I’m really excited to hear your perspective on this. Mm-hmm. as a coach yourself, being in the world of strengths and leadership.

[00:41:25] Mm-hmm. , you know, that great coaching, like great engineering has in common that the questions lead the answers follow. Yes. And everybody tuned in here, like, we’re seeking better answers in our lives, in our careers, so we wanna ask better question. If someone wants to unleash, they’re awesome. Daria, what’s the question that you would lead them with today?

[00:41:47] Daria Williamson: what’s your special brand of magic that you bring to the world that no one else can bring? And what are you gonna do in the next 24 hours to bring a little bit more of that to the world?

[00:42:01] Zach White: I like that phrase, special magic. I don’t know what it is about that. That really lights me up. and it’s a great question for me in two ways. One, it calls into question, do I understand what that is? And if not, I better go by Terry’s book and get started . But also I like that 24 hour. what are you doing right now?

[00:42:19] Don’t wait for your next job next year, one day when do that 1% thing today. Take advantage of that compounding. I think that’s really powerful and awesome. Daria, thank you so much. I’m encouraged. I just wanna acknowledge you. Thank you for bringing your special brand of magic into the world for creating the strength deck and writing this amazing book, unleash Your Awesome, how to Live and Work From Your Zone of Genius.

[00:42:45] Helping me to feel inspired to live in my zone of genius more in the next 24 hours. I will make that commitment to you. Awesome. I’m gonna take an action and make that happen right away can’t thank you enough for making time and your generosity to be here today. 

[00:42:58] Daria Williamson: thanks so much for the opportunity. I’m right in my zone of genius when I’m talking about strengths and helping people figure out theirs. So this has been an absolute delight for me

[00:43:06] Zach White: Thank you. That is obvious, Daria. We’ll do it again sometime soon. Take care.