It is no coincidence that the work of the Gallup Organization to identify and build a model for Strength’s Based Leadership has led to a series of successful books that help people identify and build on their strengths. Strengths based leadership, as conducted by Gallup is not only based on objective research with 10,000,000 people but also includes data on interviews with over over10,000 leaders. The results are clear and unequivocal; working with strengths improves organizational outcomes, creates a more effective work enviroment and helps people reach their personal and organization goals.
So how can you and your organization develop a strengths based approach to leadership and management:
- Learn about your strengths: Take an assessment as can be found in Tom Rath and Barry Conchie’s “Strength-Based Leadership” book. Don’t assume that you know what your strengths are in relationship to leadership or any other task you engage in at work or home.Case Report: In working with one of my clients, who was a senior partner in a law firm, he expressed a desire to be more one of the “public faces” of the organization. He hadn’t filled this role, but he thought he would be great at it. After taking a Strength Finder 2.0© assessment, he discovered that his real strength was in strategic thinking. I asked him to discuss these results with his partners and they wholeheartedly agreed with the results. Furthermore, they told him that they rely on him to create the strategic plan that guides the company at their annual meeting and that the best role he could play would be to continue to be the company’s strategist and to not even try to be the public face of the company…Someone else could better fill that role.
- Use Your Strengths: While it may be tempting to focus on the parts of your leadership that are weakest so that you can strengthen them, the key for successful leadership is to focus on your areas of greatest strength. In Strength Based Leadership, the authors discuss that leaders must be able to accomplish four key tasks, (1) create vision and strategy, (2) build and nurture relationships, (3) influence others and (4) make things happen at an operational level. Now clearly, no leader is going to have all these capabilities at the highest level and many leaders will find themselves excelling in one or two of the areas while the others are merely competencies and not areas of strength.Case Report: A division chief I was working with was pretty certain that she was an outstanding influencer. After taking her Strengths-Based Assessment, the results suggested that her greatest strength was in relationships and operations and that her influencing skills were not her long suit. She was surprised and then a few weeks later she came back to see me and told me about an event where one of her subordinates decided that he did not agree with one of her decisions and decided to jump over her authority and speak to the CEO of the company. The resulting conflict pointed out to her that she had not done an adequate job of communicating her expectations and decision making process to this subordinate and therefore failed to influence him about the reasons for her decision and what he could do if he disagreed about it. This experience caused her to step back and evaluate exactly how strong her influencing skills were thought of not only in her group but across the organization. Our next step was to work on building up her strengths.
- Be Affirming and Find Strengths in Others: Most people have heard enough about their weaknesses and what they can improve on. That outmoded way of teaching and leading helps keep people down and gets them focused on improving aspects of themselves that will only take them so far. By building on the four key areas, strategy, operations, influence and relationships, you affirm people’s strengths and talents that can help them reach their goals by using their best talents.Case Report: My client John managed a small division of his company and had responsibility for about 40 employees. He had several department heads in his division but he felt they were underperforming in their roles. During a series of interviews, his staff reported that they felt underutilized. John, they reported, did not let them do their work nor did he recognize that they could work more as a team if each person had a chance to work on the things they did well and were responsible for doing. A follow-up discussion with John focused on identifying the various strengths of his team and how he could more efficiently use them to accomplish the goals of their division. With an understanding of how team members can better use their strengths, John was able to realign responsibilities in such as way so that his team worked better and he began to feel as if the burden of responsibility for success had been lifted from his shoulders.
Building on strengths is a 21st century approach to leadership for yourself and your organization. Besides identifying the things you do best and building on them strengths based management creates a healthier and more effective workplace.