Strengths Based Leadership – Theory, Book Review and Practical Knowledge
When asked for help, the initial tendency for us humans is to ask, “what’s wrong?”. Even service-oriented professionals adopt a “deficit” focused approach where they look at your situation, compare it with a more “optimal” one, and help the individual fill the gap.
On the other hand, the strengths-based approach shifts the focus on the individual’s strengths, throws away external benchmarks and harnesses an individual’s unlimited potential with his strengths. It transfers the control from the expert to the individual, empowered to be the active agent in his transformation.
This article will discuss strengths-based leadership in detail: what it is, its benefits, and its risks. It will discuss how to become a strengths-based leader and will provide several tools that you can utilize to know your strengths and that of your teams’ to better capitalize on them for your organization’s benefit.
What is Strengths-Based Leadership Theory?
Essentially, the premise of strengths-based leadership is that more significant change and growth potential can be achieved when efforts are focused on improving strengths rather than fixing weaknesses.
This approach utilizes one’s strength, or the capability to consistently execute an excellent result or output in a given activity or task, to diminish and offset the consequences of one’s weakness.
As mentioned above, strengths-based leadership theory, also known as strengths-based organizational management (SBOM), is a method that focuses on capitalizing on and developing the strengths of the resources of an organization, which includes the people, tools, and systems, to attain organizational productivity, efficiency, and success.
So how does this look like in a business environment? A strengths-based management approach focuses on the individual and team strengths and capitalizes on forming a well-rounded and balanced team.
The management empowers these employees by recognizing their strengths, placing them where they fit best, and assigning them tasks where they are most effective.
Strengths-based management also utilizes this approach when hiring to create a diverse team and when creating strength-based goals.
What Comprises Strengths Based Leadership?
A book entitled, “Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow,” is a good book for individuals who want to become more effective leaders, discover their strengths and others, hiring the people with the strengths who will best fit in your team, and knowing the needs of your team and understanding them better.
The book offers to guide its readers on leading people better and providing them strategies to lead with their strengths.
In this book, Tom Rath and Barry Conchi reveal the results of decade-long research on leadership. They found out that successful groups possess broader groupings of strengths: executing, relationship-building, influencing, and strategic thinking.
The teams that have a representation of strengths from these domains are found to be more cohesive and well-rounded.
Their research also discovered that the 34 themes identified by the Clifton Strengths assessment could further be classified into these four domains. Here is a short description for each domain:
People who have strengths or themes in this domain are task-oriented and drive people and teams towards achieving goals.
They are usually concerned about structure, rules, and processes and are good at managing people, events, and tasks. They could be dependent on turning ideas into reality.
People with talents under this group of strengths are passionate, persuasive, driven, and can sell ideas and lead the team to express and take action.
They are the team’s source of encouragement, motivation, drive, and are great at inspiring them towards a particular cause or goal.
People with leadership qualities under this domain emphasize building an emotional connection with people and are sensitive to their needs.
Their ability to connect with individuals and teams enables them to bring about cohesion in a team.
The mind is the greatest asset of people with leadership strengths under this group. They enjoy processing information, seeking connections, making new concepts, exploring meanings, and developing new strategies.
These people are the team’s source of input, ideas, and counsel.
Benefits of Having a Strengths-based Leadership
Leadership management that uses a strengths-based leadership admits that it cannot do everything and need their team members’ help.
Applying this approach adopts a more open, autonomous relationship and utilizes task delegation for greater efficiency and success.
Focusing on their strengths taps into an individual’s passion, which leads to greater job satisfaction and engagement in the workplace.
Capitalizing on their strengths not only empower employees to become more innovative, creative, and committed to their work, trusting them with responsibility also births in them a sense of ownership which further increases their motivation.
This also results in a greater sense of mastery and empowers them to be more confident speaking up and contributing to the organization.
Having a strengths-based culture in the organization decreases the likelihood of comparison and competition within a “turf.”
Acknowledging that each individual has a different preference, skill set, or method of tackling tasks produces a more diverse team and promotes team cohesion.
Risks and Downsides of Strengths-based Leadership
While there are apparent benefits to employing this type of leadership, it may also have potential pitfalls.
Knowing one’s strengths may lead to clustering, where individuals form affinities and preferences with those who have strengths that are similar to them.
This might affect the team’s cohesion, especially if they choose to become independent units and lead in their forte.
Similarly, some leaders might develop a preference for hiring people with similar strengths instead of building a more diverse culture.
On the other hand, strong group cohesion may lead to quickly arriving at an agreement, where some individuals choose not to express their differing opinions and go against the consensus.
Focusing solely on strengths may cause people to neglect skill gaps that need improvement.
Likewise, people who know their strengths may become too comfortable and stay in their comfort zones, rather than explore the extent of their skills by entering uncharted territories.
Groups and teams who know others’ strengths may tend to stereotype and label people. This may lead to resentment and feelings of being restricted or become too accustomed to the label associated with them, which may hamper their growth potential.
How to Become a Strengths-based Leader and Lead a Strengths-based Team?
A strengths-based leader knows his strengths and uses them in practice and aims to bring out the potential in the team and organization that they are leading.
Strengths-based leaders are those who:
- Know themselves, their strengths, their values, and their leadership goals
- Know the right people to gather for their team
- Invest in their team, knows their motivations, strengths, and needs
- Create a workplace that allows their team to thrive and obtain success
- Lead with authenticity and transparency, fostering trust and confidence from their team
- Motivate and empower others to deliver results that exceed expectations
- Align their teams’ strength with organization goals to efficiently achieve better organizational outcomes and success.
Getting a coach who can help you work with your strengths, process, and reflect with you and your current practice and give you insights to avoid leadership mistakes is an excellent way to help you become a strengths-based leader.
It is also essential to know your leadership enablers, or your top strengths, and develop them further. However, it is also important to consider the other side of the spectrum as these strengths can potentially become derailers.
Most importantly, it is crucial to start with the single most vital step – finding out what your strengths are.
Tools and Tests for Discovering Your Strengths
HIGH5 is a free and accessible strengths test that promotes self-awareness and fosters structural employment by embracing diverse talents and strengths in society.
It is part of the 100happydays foundation and is the brainchild of its Chief Happiness Officer, Dmitry Golubnichy.
VIA Character Strengths Survey
The VIA Character Strengths Survey is developed by the VIA Institute of Character, a non-profit organization. This free survey lists a constellation of 24 strengths, which include the top 5 strengths, middle strengths, and lesser strengths. More about it here.
Personal Strengths Inventory
Frequently Asked Questions
What is strengths-based leadership?
Strengths-based leadership focuses on the strength of an individual or a team and capitalizing on them to achieve efficiency, growth, and success.
Leadership is not easy; it requires a lot of work, skill, and experience. While a huge responsibility, outstanding leadership offers a huge opportunity to impact wide-scale difference.
This makes it all the more crucial for leaders to invest in themselves since knowing, developing, and harnessing their strengths will not only benefit them individually but will also impact their teams, organizations, and even the society they are in.
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