Strengths Based Leadership

"Those who strive to be competent in all areas become the least effective leaders overall."

- Strengths Based Leadership, page 8

If you want to excel in your career, you’re better off focusing on your strengths than on trying to develop your weaknesses.  I first encountered this message and awareness of Gallup’s 34 strengths from The Gallup Organization’s 2001 book Now, Discover Your Strengths. Strengths Based Leadership is a continuation of this message and an application of it to the field of leadership development.

The authors of Strengths Based Leadership, Tom Rath and Barry Conchie (both Gallup employees), reassert that no one makes it to the top by being a well-rounded leader.  Based on data gathered from in-depth interviews, polls, and studies of work teams, Rath and Conchie tell us that:

1. The most effective leaders are always investing in strengths.  Instead of focusing on and trying to compensate or eliminate weaknesses (both theirs and their followers’), effective leaders spend their time and energy focused on and developing their top strengths.
2. The most effective leaders surround themselves with the right people and then maximize their team. Rather than attempting to master all things and become a well-rounded leader, capable of handling everything with equal skill, they make sure to surround themselves with people whose strengths complement theirs.
3. The most effective leaders understand their followers’ needs. And, they apply their individual strengths to helping meet their followers’ needs.

The third point above centers on the part of this book that I found most interesting.


The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Leaders are Servants

"You are a leader only if others follow.  Leaders are only as strong as the connections they make with each person in their constituency, whether they have one follower or one million."
- Strengths Based Leadership, page 79

One way that leaders connect with their followers is by understanding and attending to followers’ needs.   Rath and Conchie posit that there are four primary, ever-present needs on which leaders should focus.  These primary needs were identified through a formal study conducted by Gallup from 2005 to 2008.  The study was designed to uncover what the average person (as opposed to “experts” in the field of leadership studies) feels great leaders contribute to their life.

It turns out that what followers value most in a leader is the leaders’ ability to address the need for:

1. Trust – strong leaders can establish, maintain and, when necessary, restore trust
2. Compassion – strong leaders show compassion towards their followers
3. Stability – strong leaders create and restore stability for their followers
4. Hope – strong leaders instill hope for the future

Although there might be additional needs based on context, according to what the Gallup research tells us, I will be on firm footing with my followers if I figure out ways to apply my strengths to supporting those needed within my organization.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

34 strengths themes and 4 domains of leadership

"According to our latest research, the 34 StrengthsFinder themes naturally cluster into these four domains of leadership strength based on a statistical factor analysis and a clinical evaluation by Gallup’s top scientists."
- Strengths Based Leadership, page 24

Based on analysis of decades of research findings, The Gallup Organization has identified 34 strength themes.  Taking knowledge of all 34 themes and endeavoring to apply that knowledge to leadership can be overwhelming.  Luckily, Gallup found that the themes naturally cluster into what they are calling “the four domains of leadership strength.” The four domains of leadership strength and the strength themes associated with each are as follows:

Executing – The strengths in this domain are focused on making things happen.

Strengths: Achiever, Arranger, Belief, Consistency, Deliberative, Discipline, Focus, Responsibility, and Restorative

Influencing – This cluster is all about helping teams reach a broader audience by selling the team’s ideas inside and outside the organization.

Strengths: Activator, Command, Communication, Competitions, Maximizer, Self-Assurance, Significance, and Woo.

Relationship Building – This cluster is focused on holding teams together.

Strengths: Adaptability, Developer, Connectedness, Empathy, Harmony, Includer, Individualization, Positivity, and Relator.

Strategic Thinking – These strengths are centered on what “could be,” creating a vision of the future and helping a team stay focused on that future.

Strengths: Analytical, Context, Futuristic, Ideation, Input, Intellection, Learner, and Strategic.

My strengths fall predominately into the Relationship Building domain.  It follows, then, that I would best serve the people I lead by applying my relationship building strengths to the four primary needs of trust, compassion, stability and hope.  I can easily come up with ways to do this for the first two domains, trust and compassion, but the remaining two, stability and hope, are more of a challenge.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

General suggestions provided. You figure out the specifics.

"You are aware of the boundaries and borders created by organizational structure, but you treat them as seamless and fluid.  Use your Connectedness talents to break down silos that prevent shared knowledge across industry, functional and hierarchical divisions within or between organizations.  Encourage different groups to work together for their shared goals."
- Strengths Based Leadership, page 141

For each of the 34 strength themes described in Strengths Based Leadership, Rath and Conchie provide two or three general suggestions of ways to apply the strength to meet each of the four primary needs of followers.  This GEM’s introductory quote is one of the suggestions from the “Create Hope” section of Connectedness (which is one of my Relationship Building strength themes.)  As you can see, it is fairly general.  It is up to me to come up with ways to apply the advice in the areas of my life where I choose to show up as a leader.

So, for example, I could step forward as a leader within my organization to create a vehicle for internal corporate communication, bringing together people from various parts of the company as regular contributors.  To create a sense of hope, I could have the writers focus on conveying information and news that conveys opportunity and potential success.

Under the heading of “Provide Stability” for the Connectedness strength, Rath and Conchie write, “People feel safe when they are surrounded by what is comfortably familiar.”  So, if I wanted to use Connectedness to provide a sense of stability, I could call people from my organization together for informal book discussions.  Gathering with colleagues who are sharing similar experiences (e.g. working for a company that is struggling) will provide a sense of comfort and a modicum of stability.

What are your strengths and how can you use them to foster trust, compassion, stability and hope?

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Art Bingham

ABOUT Art Bingham

WHO ARE YOU? I am a learning and development professional with over 20 years experience in leadership, team, and organizational development; corporate training; and corporate coaching...
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