From historical figures that brought break-through social reforms to enraged, dominant anarchists, leaders have been here on macro and micro levels to direct, influence, and guide nations, societies, companies, teams.
Psychologists have analyzed them, their followers have admired them, others have learned from their mistakes, but all of them have been role models in a way.
One of the most discussed approaches in the last decade is the Strengths Based Leadership Theory that takes on the idea that utilizing people’s strengths increases personal or team productivity.
According to this theory, the best leaders do not own a set of ‘ideal’ features, but they are able to recognize, delegate, and make most of the other people’s strengths to benefit a social or corporate system.
Therefore, in this article, we discuss the strengths and the weaknesses of this approach by offering an in-depth insight into how it can boost individual, team, and organizational performance.
What Is Strengths Based Leadership?
In a nutshell, strengths based leadership is a leader’s ability to recognize, delegate, and use people’s strengths to enhance their team members’ productivity.
The theory emerged when the workplace consultants Tom Rath and Barry Conchie published their book “Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders (2009), Teams, and Why People Follow”, offering research-based data to support their claims. Analyzing thousands of polls, leaders interviews, and team studies from all over the world, they outlined three fundamental tenets:
- Effective leaders invest in their employees’ strengths;
- Effective leaders surround themselves with the right people to ensure they have the right team;
- Effective leaders understand and try to meet the needs of their followers.
As they analyzed decades-long data, they were able to draw a few important conclusions:
- Leaders never share the same strengths and weaknesses.
- Versatility, authenticity, and following personal instincts have been the key components of successful leaders. When leaders try to mimic other leaders’ skills, they become less efficient.
- No leader is good at everything. They need to find their own strengths while ensuring that their team’s diversity will complement their weaknesses.
Benefits of Applying Strengths Based Leadership
The Gallup research points out that not a single leader is identical to another leader. On the contrary, leaders’ diversity is the key differentiating feature, and all of them have had their own leadership style that marked their authenticity.
HIGH5 company has done its own research which shows that knowing each other’s strengths makes the team 12% more effective and people who have a chance to use their strengths are on average 74% more engaged at work.
The research has revealed that when applying strength-based leadership, leaders can create a cohesive environment that can benefit in multiple ways:
Admitting That Leaders Are Not Omnipotent
When leaders admit their weaknesses and ask for help from other people, they become more approachable and break the boundaries that separate them from the rest of the team. Plus, they can focus on what they can do the best without wasting time on things they are not good at.
Trust-Inspiring Work Environment
When leaders become aware of their team members’ strengths, they become more confident to delegate tasks to the right people. That creates an atmosphere of confidence and appreciation, so the team members are more likely to share their opinions, think outside the box, and become more creative.
Increase Job Satisfaction
When people are given the freedom to express themselves and do what they are truly good at, they feel much more motivated, engaged, and productive. As their job satisfaction increases, their expert power increases as well, leading to a strong and versatile team capable of responding to various challenges. This claim is supported by Gallup survey which revealed that 40% of people become less engaged if their key skills are not considered, while only 1% of them become demotivated if managers utilize their strengths.
Create a Versatile and Cohesive Team
The strength-based approach encourages leaders to employ people based on their individual skills and preferences, rather than predetermined goals. This approach creates a diverse team that offers an array of skills, strengths, and opinions that can boost and expand their potential.
Weaknesses of Strengths Based Leadership
As nothing is perfect, there are potential downsides that, if not observed, might have certain negative implications while managing a team.
Limiting Opportunities for Growth
Focusing only on people’s strengths will ultimately neglect their additional potentials. It can prevent them from exploring beyond their limits and reveal new skills and interests that they never knew they possessed.
Could Decrease Team’s Efficiency
If the team members are not adequately guided toward the end goal and are left to be led by their observations, they might quickly forget the overall objective. The leader needs to be able to spot if the team is incoherent and steer the members towards the goal. In addition, the work might become monotonous, frustrating, and resentful, and cause counterproductive effects.
How to Apply Strengths Based Leadership?
The starting point for leaders and managers is to self-observe their own strengths and weaknesses. The best way to do that is to create a personal SWOT analysis and find out your leadership skills by utilizing the Clifton Strengths online assessment tool for obtaining a clear insight into your personal leadership abilities.
It is a questionnaire that provides a set of reports based on your themes, and a list of personalized features.
Once you know where you stand, then observe your team’s performance or analyze their skills and potentials by using the same questionnaire to pinpoint their strengths and their level of expertise. This way, leaders will be able to delegate tasks to people who are good at doing specific tasks and love doing their jobs.
About the Book
Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow – Book by Barry Conchie and Tom Rath
The book builds on Gallup’s best-seller StrenghtsFinder 2.0 which has been the number one strengths assessment, taken by over 20 million people. Written by Gallup scientists, Tom Rath and Barry Conchie, the book reveals the results of the 30-year research on leadership styles.
They examined over 1 million work teams, had over 20, 000 interviews with leaders, and conducted over 10,000 interviews with followers to find out the reasons they follow that specific person.
In addition to establishing three key outlines for becoming a more successful leader, they offer readers firsthand testimonies of some of the most established organizational leaders and how they utilized their advantages.
The authors of the book segmented leaders’ strengths into four domains: Executing (having the things done), Influencing (ability to reach people and promote new ideas), Relationship Building (holding the team together and creating unity), and Strategic Thinking (the big-picture visionaries). They all integrate additional 34 themes that deliver additional insight of the person’s unique set of traits.
Book readers get an access code that allows them to take the online assessment and tailor the results to suit their personal and team strengths.