How do leaders ensure the people they’ve hired work together as a team to achieve the company’s top objectives that create business growth? Figuring out how to get individuals to operate in alignment with one another is no simple feat. Leaders must navigate different personalities, opinions, values, skill sets, and leadership qualities when growing a team. Doing so helps them determine what position a person plays and the duties they can perform to serve the group best. One of the most useful ways to do this is by practicing strengths based leadership. This leadership tactic focuses on finding each person on a team’s unique strengths so that the collective group thrives.
To discover more about how to build up a productive, innovative, and impact-driven team, learn about one of the most effective leadership styles, why it’s important, and how to practice it.
What is Strength Based Leadership Theory?
(Strengths Based Leadership Summary)
Strengths Based Leadership by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie argues great leaders cannot be strong in every facet of leadership and business. Their work is a part of Gallup’s decades-long studies on effective leadership in the workplace. Before the company published Strengths Based Leadership, Rath wrote StrengthsFinder 2.0. This book includes a strengths based leadership assessment. Over the years, its become widely recognized as one of the top ways to help executives learn their team’s strengths. It also includes strategies on how to grow these skills.
Rath and Conchie posit that truly effective teams consist of individuals who collectively share a wide variety of strengths. The two researchers’ findings suggest people should spend less time working on their weaknesses and more time building up their talents. As Rath puts it in the book, “You cannot be anything you want to be—but you can be a whole lot more of who you already are.” They suggest effective leaders should instead focus on learning their strengths, developing the strengths of others, and hiring people who have strengths that fill in the gaps on their teams. In addition to this, leaders need to also provide team members with a sense of trust, compassion, stability, and hope.
Why is Strengths Based Leadership Important?
There are multiple reasons it’s in leaders’ best interest to practice strengths based leadership. From people knowing their strengths and how they can best contribute to the team and company to freeing up executives’ time by knowing which employees they can delegate certain responsibilities to, this type of leadership serves various valuable purposes that minimize leadership mistakes. Explore a few of these benefits in more detail below.
Removes Unrealistic Expectations
Practicing strengths based leadership is a good idea for those in charge of teams. This is because it takes the pressure off of individuals to be great at everything. When leaders or employees feel like they have to excel in all facets of business, work burnout, emotional fatigue, work stress, work anxiety, and perfectionist tendencies ensue. It’s too much for any one person to handle.
Helps Identify the Missing Qualities Needed on the Team
It’s difficult to know why a team isn’t performing optimally if a leader doesn’t know what everyone’s strengths are. When leaders understand what their team players are good at, they can stop giving them tasks that weigh them down. For example, one team member might be great at strategic thinking but is terrible at finishing projects. In this case, it might serve the company well to hire a person who excels in this area. Ensuring people are in alignment with their strengths sets teams up to function with minimal limitations.
Fosters Team Bonds
Leaders who use strengths based leadership teach teams to rely on each other to fill in the places they’re weak. This allows employees to learn how to depend on one another to drive momentum and make a difference. In doing so, groups are more likely to achieve goals together that they could not accomplish alone. Ultimately, it’s a relationship-building exercise that forges close bonds among team members by encouraging them to play to each others’ strengths.
Bringing to light people’s strengths also builds confidence. This can make employees feel more motivated, inspired, and engaged at work. For instance, it’s affirming and validating to hear positive feedback and feel like your contributions are recognized, appreciated, and needed. Practicing this type of positive psychology has tremendous results. An article published by the Journal of Strategic Leadership backs this idea up by stating, “When an organization’s leadership does not focus on individual strengths, that employee has only a 9% chance of being engaged. However, when an organization’s leadership focuses on individual strengths, employees have a 73% chance of being engaged.” By discussing what someone is doing right, leaders grow employees’ belief. They also help team members recognize their purpose at the organization and in life. This results in more fulfillment, happiness, and joy at work.
Leads to Excellence
Additionally, Rath says spending too much time trying to fix weaknesses can make people less impactful. “If you spend your life trying to be good at everything, you will never be great at anything. While our society encourages us to be well-rounded, this approach inadvertently breeds mediocrity. Perhaps the greatest misconception of all is that of the well-rounded leader,” he writes. When leaders focus on growing strengths, they set their teams up to perform with a high level of excellence.
How to Implement Strengths Based Leadership
There are multiple ways leaders can begin incorporating strengths based leadership into how they guide their teams. To start doing this, begin reflecting on your strong suits through a strengths based leadership test. You can also have team members take a strengths based leadership assessment to help identify their top abilities too. Find out more about what the test reveals and what to do with the results below.
Learn the Different Domains of Various Strengths
Finding out your strengths and your team’s strengths is the first thing a person needs to do. Executives usually do this through a strengths based leadership test that identifies which one of the four domains an individual falls under: executing, influencing, relationship building, and strategic thinking.
In addition to knowing the strengths of your current employees, the results also tell leaders what’s missing. For instance, if 75 percent of the people you hire fall under the relationship building strengths domain, the group needs coverage in other areas. Well-rounded teams should have at least one person in each of the quadrants. Learn more about each of these below.
Those who fall under the executing leadership domain are strong at driving and fulfilling strategies and plans. They don’t go around philosophizing about what could be done. Instead, they want to develop a course of action they can pursue as soon as possible. They are also great with self-management, so you never have to worry about whether or not they’ll complete their work. Additionally, people with this particular strength enjoy taking on responsibility and are eager to get positive results. Because of this, executors like coordinating with their team members on how to make headway and reach company goals.
Example of a Leader with Executing Strengths
Elon Musk is notoriously known for being focused on execution. He sets extremely high goals and pushes his team to work until they reach them. One example of this is how he handled a customer complaint on Twitter. The user tweeted at Musk regarding a problem with Tesla owners leaving their fully charged cars at supercharger stations. Six days after the issue was brought to Musk’s attention, Tesla announced: “We designed the Supercharger network to enable a seamless, enjoyable road trip experience. Therefore, we understand that it can be frustrating to arrive at a station only to discover fully charged Tesla cars occupying all the spots. To create a better experience for all owners, we’re introducing a fleet-wide idle fee that aims to increase Supercharger availability.” It goes to show Musk isn’t willing to file his customers’ problems away. He executes on solving them.
People who are strong at influencing are able to get people to do what they want them to do. Some might say they’re persuasive, but in actuality, they develop followers based on how they treat others and make them feel. They usually practice the charismatic and transformational leadership styles. On top of this, they are engaging, make their team feel seen, heard, and understood, demonstrate a high level of emotional intelligence, and serve as a motivational figure that inspires and supports people to accomplish huge goals. They’re also great storytellers who know how to paint a portrait of their grand vision while capturing the heart of their audience. Because they generate this emotional hook, they are highly successful at having people answer their call to action.
Example of a Leader with Influencing Strengths
John C. Maxwell is an excellent example of an influential leader. So much so, he’s developed his following based on teaching leaders how to become influential. As he states, “The true measure of leadership is influence—nothing more, nothing less.” His books, training seminars, courses, podcasts, and other leadership resources reflect on becoming an influential leader that people want to follow. By doing this, he serves as a mentor to the millions of people who feel inspired to pursue his vision of creating a better world by developing great leaders.
People who have strength in relationship building are gifted at connecting with others. Their top priority is ensuring strong bonds form between themselves and those around them. They’re excellent at growing trust, fostering a sense of belonging, and creating tight-knit communities. Because relationship management is one of the four domains of emotional intelligence, people with this particular strength have high EI. It allows them to thrive in developing interpersonal relationships with their teammates. Whether they show empathy during a challenging moment or dissolve workplace conflict between arguing team members, they do what they can to ensure the team remains intact.
Example of a Leader with Relationship Building Strengths
Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors, is a leader whose strengths are in relationship building. When she took over from Dan Akerson, her predecessor, he stated, “What we have here is a culture of team rather than of personality . . . That’s part and parcel of Mary’s success.” Throughout her career with the company, she’s focused on “teaming” and building a company culture where people can rely on one another to achieve great feats.
Strategic thinkers have foresight. This means they clearly see where the company needs to go and how to get there. They are naturally strong at making sense of complex situations and simplifying them into actionable steps that the team can follow. Usually, they are analytical decision makers who need to look at logic and facts before reaching a conclusion. However, they’re also equally creative and often produce unconventional ideas when it comes to problem solving. While not as emotionally engaging as some of the other domains, they add balance to teams because they are swift at bringing overly zealous people back down to earth.
Example of a Leader with Strategic Thinking Strengths
Former president Dwight D. Eisenhower is well-known as a strong strategic thinker. He utilized this strength both in the military and during his career as a politician. One of his best skills was how he strategically used language to influence the general public. An example of this is how he gave speeches. He worked with speechwriters to sound “good to the fellow digging a ditch in Kansas.” This way of speaking was entirely different than how he actually talked. Still, he wanted to come across as a humble and relatable leader.
Assess Strengths and Play People Where They’ll Shine
After reviewing the results of your and your team’s StrengthFinder’s test, also known as a CliftonStrengths assessment, think about all of the duties on your plate. Set some time aside to write down some of the leadership responsibilities you need to delegate. In addition to this, begin forming your ideal role as a leader. How are you the most valuable to your team? Where should you be spending your time based on your strengths? What weaknesses do you have that are other team members’ God-given talents? How can you play to their advantage?
During the delegation process, use Situational Leadership to decide how much coaching or direction a person needs to take on new responsibilities. While some employees might be ready to step into their strengths without much help, others will need support as they learn how to fulfill their new duties. In addition to this, always make sure you communicate expectations and provide regular check-ins to see how employees adjust to their new commitments.
The Challenges of Strengths Based Leadership
As referenced above, the strengths based leadership approach has many merits. However, this theory presents some concerns, especially when leaders become too dependent on it. Realistically, more work goes into building a solid team than recognizing people’s strengths and having them work on growing them. While this strategy can be helpful in some situations, it isn’t the only way to lead. Leaders need a vast amount of knowledge on emotional intelligence, conflict resolution skills, team building, and various leadership styles to be flexible, adaptable, and influential enough to create a productive, innovative, aligned, and impactful team.
In addition to this, strengths based leadership can result in stunted personal, professional, organizational, and cultural growth if people are only pushed to do what they’re great at doing. For instance, imagine if an employee lacked emotional intelligence and leaders never challenged the person to develop more EI because it wasn’t one of their strengths. Because this is a skill everyone needs in the workplace, not addressing it would ultimately increase workplace problems.
If people only focus on their natural capabilities and strengths, how are they supposed to know whether or not they’re strong in all facets of business and leadership? When leaders solely rely on strengths based leadership, they’re assuming they know everything there is to know about a person’s strengths without providing opportunities to grow into new ones.
How to Avoid Becoming Too Reliant on Strengths
To avoid these pitfalls, David Burkus, a best-selling author and leadership professor, suggests leaders get their employees to spend 25 percent of their time developing in areas that need additional work. This prevents people from plateauing once they master a particular strength. By focusing on strengths and supplying new growth opportunities, companies can foster a growth mindset while putting team members in the places they’ll excel.
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