Strengths based leadership – what is it and how can you get it?
Most importantly, a strengths based leader recognises that they have leadership strengths – unique qualities that energise them and that they are skilled at using (or have the potential to become skilled at using). Those leadership strengths will be unique to them. Strengths based leaders also know that they have vulnerabilities – specifically, the potential for their strengths to go into overdrive and to have areas of non-strength which drain them – potential leadership weaknesses if you like.
So what role do leadership competencies have?
In a world still geared towards all employees meeting competency requirements, that recognition that the strengths based leader has highs and lows instantly marks them out as different from a leader striving to be well rounded, to meet each and every competency requirement laid down by their employer as their sole aim.
When you know your strengths and your risks as a leader, you better understand how to achieve competency standards in a way which is more energising, and less draining or risky for you, rather than feeling you’re going to need to twist yourself into all sorts of shapes to meet the competency requirements of your employer.
Making space for others to flourish
There are other benefits – as a leader if you acknowledge you have vulnerabilities, that you’re not great at everything – that means there will be space for others to stretch, develop and grow because you will need their skills and strengths to support your aims. And you won’t try to do everything on your own. You’re much more likely to need and learn the art of delegation and partnering because you know that you simply don’t have the strength to do everything and anything. And you’re ok with that.
Stepping into your unique brand of leadership
The biggest benefit though is that by identifying where you do have strengths, you can work on your own brand of leadership and in time, you can become a master of that like no one else can.
“No two leaders share the same strengths and weaknesses and attempting to mimic the strengths of another leader can’t be sustained over the long term.”
Rath and Conchie, 2009
What is the research telling us about strengths-based leadership?
What we know from the research is that when leaders enable the strengths of their teams, there is a large spike in engagement (Gallup) and that this can also lead to significant increases in productivity when taken into performance management conversations (Corporate Leadership Council). So, the strengths-based approach – managing and leading by focusing on others’ strengths – makes a human difference and a business difference. Other findings include:
- Leaders with one or more outstanding strengths are twice as likely to be ranked in the top third in terms of effectiveness. Zenger, Folkman and Edinger, Oct 2011, Harvard Business Review
- No two leaders share the same strengths and weaknesses and attempting to mimic the strengths of another leader can’t be sustained over the long term. Rath and Conchie, 2009
- Leaders who use their strengths effectively and develop positive leadership behaviours are rated as more effective. Strengthscope research, 2017
- The chance of someone being actively disengaged when their manager plays to their strengths is 1 in 100. Gallup research
Five tips for effective strengths based leadership
So, what can you do to increase the extent to which you lead with strengths in your leadership role? How can you become a more effective leader, through strengths-based leadership?
Use your strengths
Reminder: strengths are those unique qualities that energise you and that you’re skilled at using.
Know and remember your strengths and use them every day. Exercise them, become familiar with them, talk to others about them, stretch them. Actively work on your leadership brand so that your stakeholders, your colleagues, your team, your customers, know who you are as a leader – what drives you, your values, your strengths, what should they come to you for, why should they be led by you.
Limit your risks
To become a more effective leader, become more aware of your risk areas – where are your overdrive risks? What drains you? And what, actively, will you do about each?
If two strengths combined together go into overdrive, consider alternative combinations, or calling on someone with strengths in areas that drain you, and know it’s ok to admit these areas of vulnerability.
Ask for feedback from colleagues on where they see your strengths, when they see you come alive and be at your very best. Actively asking your colleagues for feedback on where they see you at your strongest can be enlightening, reassuring and sometimes surprising, so go get the feedback.
Develop effective leadership behaviours
External tools can provide rigor and validation to your development. The leadership model developed and integrated into the strengths based leadership profiler StrengthscopeLeader™ includes to share vision, spark engagement, skilfully execute and sustain progress. Strengths knowledge and application aren’t enough, to get the most from your strengths, you need to cultivate positive leadership behaviours too.
Help others play to their strengths
Once you’re on your own strengths development journey, you can best enable other people’s strengths, in particular by sharing your learning and offering feedback.
Strength based leadership is about being self-aware, being real, authentic, being prepared to be vulnerable, to make mistakes, to own those mistakes, to be human and to own that. And it also means being comfortable with the idea that no one will lead like you, stepping into that space with confidence and making the impact that you want to make.