Strengths-Based Leadership

 Strengths-based leadership has been given much attention in recent years because researchers believe it can have a significant impact on the way leaders choose to lead and on the performance of followers. In this chapter, we explored people’s strengths and how leaders can make use of these strengths to become more effective leaders. Although we all have strengths, they often go unrecognized and unused. Understanding strengths can make one a better leader.

A strength is defined as an attribute or quality of an individual that accounts for successful performance. In simple terms, a strength is what we do when we are performing at our best. Strengths often begin with our inborn talents and can be further developed through knowledge, skills, and practice. The equation for developing a strength is talent times investment.

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Strengths-based leadership has come to the forefront in recent years as a result of two research developments. First, spearheaded by Donald O. Clifton, Gallup interviewed millions of people about their strengths and what made them good at what they did. From interviews, Gallup extracted 34 themes that best explained excellent performance. Second, academic scholars created a new field called positive psychology that focused less on the disease model and more on the study of healthy people and what accounted for their well-being. Prominent in this new field is the study of people’s positive characteristics—their strengths. Taken together, research at Gallup and in positive psychology explains the rising popularity of strengths-based leadership.

People’s strengths have been measured in different ways. The benchmark is Gallup’s CliftonStrengths, which is a 177-item questionnaire that identifies an individual’s five strongest talents across four domains (i.e., executing, influencing, relationship building, and strategic thinking). Strengths can also be measured using the VIA Character Strengths Survey, which provides an individual’s top five character strengths as well as a rank order of their scores on 24 virtue-derived character strengths. A third measure, CAPP’s Strengths Profile, assesses 60 strengths in relationship to an individual’s energy, performance, and use, and provides feedback on an individual’s realized strengths, unrealized strengths, learned behaviors, and weaknesses.

Although there are no established theories about the practice of strengths-based leadership, there are several straightforward ways for individuals to incorporate strengths into their leadership. First, leaders need to discover their own strengths. They can do this through completing questionnaires and other self-assessment activities. The goal is to develop a definitive list of one’s strengths. Second, leaders need to be prepared to acknowledge their strengths and reveal them to others. Although we may feel inhibited about disclosing our strengths to others, it is essential for making others aware of our capabilities. We need to make ourselves transparent to others and lead from our strengths. Third, leaders must make a concerted effort to recognize and engage the strengths of others. Because “people do what they do best,” leaders have an obligation to help uncover others’ strengths and then integrate these strengths into building more productive teams. Finally, leaders can practice strengths-based leadership by fostering work environments in which people’s strengths play an integral role. Leaders can do this by creating for their followers a positive climate, positive relationships, positive communication, and positive meaning (Cameron, 2012). Research shows that people feel better and work better when the climate in which they work is positive.

To summarize, strengths-based leadership is a new area of research that offers a unique approach to becoming a more effective leader. Not a panacea, strengths concepts provide an innovative and valuable perspective to add to our leadership toolbox.

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