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Do you know and use your strengths?

Strengths-Based Leadership

Strengths Based Leadership provides a roadmap for leading yourself and others toward better results. It is a powerful approach to identify, affirm and work from a position of “strengths”, your strengths to achieve greatness!  We all have strengths but they are often untapped or unrecognized.  Knowing your strengths and investing in others’ strengths helps foster motivation for growth and effective leadership.

One of the most common job interview questions is, “What Are Your Strengths?” When asking about your strengths a hiring manager is also interested in your weaknesses or often referred to as your limitations. When asked, you want to present yourself in the best possible way. Identifying your strengths and knowing how to maximize them are your greatest asset for leveraging your talent and leadership in the workplace to benefit you and the organization. It is essential that you know your strengths, the strengths of others, and how they fit into the big picture to achieve effective and desirable results.

Employee Engagement and Productivity

As a business owner, organizational executive, or a team or self-leader who wants to improve employee engagement and productivity while reducing turnover, it is prudent for your organization to build on individual and team strengths. If you and/or your team do not leverage strengths, then drive and performance will be compromised along with satisfaction and happiness in your job, career, and business.

Nearly a decade ago, Gallup unveiled the results of a 30-year research project on leadership strengths. More than 7 million people have since taken Gallup’s Clifton StrengthsFinderÒ assessment, and it has changed or shifted the mindset from correcting weaknesses to identifying and expanding upon strengths.  It formed the core of several noteworthy books on this topic, including the #1 international bestseller StrengthsFinder 2.0  by Tom Rath.  To help people uncover their talents, Gallup introduced the first version of its online assessment, StrengthsFinder, in the 2001 management book Now, Discover Your Strengths. The book spent more than five years on the bestseller lists and ignited a global conversation, while StrengthsFinder helped millions to discover their top five talents.

Gallup scientists have also examined decades of data on the topic of leadership. They studied more than 1 million work teams, conducted more than 20,000 in-depth interviews with leaders and interviewed more than 10,000 individuals around the world to ask why they followed the most important leader in their life “About Strengths Based Leadership.” Gallup, Inc., 2016 Web. 8.21.16.

In the recent 2016 book, Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, And Why People Follow, #1 New York Times bestselling author Tom Rath and renowned leadership consultant Barry Conchie reveal the results of the Gallup research. Based on their discoveries, the book identifies three keys to being a more effective leader: 1) know your strengths and invest in others’ strengths, 2) hire for talent and develop people with the right strengths for your team, and 3) understand and meet the basic needs of those you lead (trust, compassion, stability, and hope).

Three Keys to Effective Leadership

  1. The most effective leaders know their strengths and continuously invest in strengths.

When leaders fail to focus on individuals’ strengths, the odds of employee engagement in their work drop to a dismal 1 in 11 (9%). But when leaders focus on employees’ strengths, the odds soar to almost 3 in 4 (73%).

That translates to ‘increased employee engagement leads to increased organizational and personal gains.’ Employees enjoy greater self-confidence when they learn about their strengths (as opposed to focusing on their weaknesses).

Emphasizing what people do right boosts their overall engagement and effectiveness. They learn their jobs faster and more quickly adapt to variances. They not only produce more, but the quality of their work improves. Gallup has also found powerful links between top talent and crucial business outcomes including higher productivity, sales and profitability, lower turnover and fewer unscheduled absences.


  1. The most effective leaders surround themselves with the right people to maximize diversity of strengths on their team.

The best leaders needn’t be well rounded, but their teams need to be. Strong teams have a balance of strengths in four specific leadership domains:

Execution: Great leaders know how to make things happen. They work tirelessly to implement solutions and realize success.

Influence: Dynamic Leaders reach a broader audience by selling ideas inside and outside the organization.

Relationship-Building: Strong Leaders are the glue that holds a team together. They create an environment for harmonious performance and optimal results.

Strategic Thinking: Effective leaders are tactical.  They focus on the possibilities for a better future.

  1. The most effective leaders understand their followers’ (supporters’) needs.

The most effective leaders understand their followers’ needs. People follow leaders for very specific reasons. When Gallup asked thousands of followers, they were able to describe exactly what they need from a leader with remarkable clarity: trust, compassion, stability, and hope. To see more Gallup research on why people, follow


A leader is someone who can get things done through other people. ~ Warren Buffett, business magnate

People admire and support leaders for very specific reasons. While researchers have spent the bulk of their time and funding on analyses of leaders’ individual traits, the followers’ point of view has gone largely unexplored.

As noted, Gallup’s study of 10,000 followers reveals four basic needs. They want their leaders to display:

  1. Trust: Respect, integrity and honesty. If employees do not trust their organization’s leaders, there is just one in 12 chance that employees will be engaged at work.
  2. Compassion: Caring, friendship, happiness and love. Employees who feel their manager cares about them are more productive and more likely to stay with the organization
  3. Stability: Security, consistency, strength, support and peace.  Leaders who provide stability are able to build confidence in their employees.
  4. Hope: Direction, faith and guidance.  Leaders who inspire hope are able to promote ideas and trust.

The Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment is a valuable tool to identify individual and group strengths helps identify where individuals and groups have the greatest potential for building strength. It measures reoccurring patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior and knowing this provides information as a starting point to help individuals and groups leverage their talents and turn them into sustainable strengths. Information regarding this assessment is described at the end of this article under Learn More- Resources.


In order to use Strengths Based Leadership, you first need to know what your strengths are. Without an awareness of your strengths, it’s almost impossible for you to lead effectively (Rath et al. Strengths Based Leadership, 2008). We display our strengths each day, and we don’t necessarily require a formal assessment to discover where we excel.

Strengths are highly-developed talents that consistently produce a positive outcome in a specific task. Talents are naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling or behavior that can be applied repeatedly in a consistent performance outcome. Talents are naturally occurring, like breathing, you cannot wish them, you actually do them without even trying. Whereas knowledge and skills can be transferred and taught. Knowledge are facts and lessons learned. Skills are the steps of an activity or the ability to conduct an activity. Strengths are a combination of your talent, knowledge and skills (Buckingham and Clifton, Now Discover Your Strengths, 2001).

Talents Versus Strengths

Our yearnings can reveal the presence of a talent, particularly when we recognize them early in life. A yearning can be described as an internal force—an almost magnetic attraction that leads you to a particular activity or environment time and again.

Rapid learning also signals talent. Your brain may light up when you undertake a new challenge. You’ll feel a whole bank of switches flick to the “on” position and feel invigorated.

If you feel great satisfaction (psychological fulfillment) when meeting new challenges, you’ve likely identified a talent. Pay close attention to situations that bring you these energizing feelings. If you can identify them, you’re well on your way to pinpointing some of your dominant talents.

If you’re so engrossed in an activity that you lose track of time (timelessness), you’re engaged at a deep, natural level—another indicator of talent.

Glimpses of excellence are flashes of outstanding performance observed by you or others. In these moments, the task at hand has tapped some of your greatest talents.

Talents are the foundation for developing your strengths. Use your StrengthsFinder report or another assessment tool to identify them. Hone in on your talents for a more fulfilling life.

34 Personal Strengths

The Gallup Organization identified 34 distinct personal strengths after interviewing 1.7 million professionals over 40 years:

Although individuals need not be well-rounded, teams should be.” ~ Tom Rath

Strengths-Based Leadership Arianne copy1

While each of us possesses our own unique strengths, and while no leader is perfectly well rounded, effective teams must be. Gallup research has developed four domains of leadership where each strength contributes to one of four leadership domains:

Strengths-Based Leadership Arianne copy2

Growing Strengths for Future Greatness

 “People have several times more potential for growth when they invest energy in developing their strengths instead of correcting their deficiencies.” ~ Tom Rath

Use the Gallup data to identify your talents and convert them into strengths  Clifton StrengthsFinder . You can then increase your leadership effectiveness and build stronger, balanced teams.

Remember: Leaders stay true to who they are. They make sure they have the right people around them. Those who surround themselves with similar personalities will always be at a disadvantage, as they’re too insecure to enlist partners and team members with complementary strengths.

Recognizing your weaknesses, even embracing them, empowers you to understand that you can’t be good at everything, rather you can only be great at one or a few things. The sooner you can reconcile with this, the sooner you will be able to engage in activities where you have the most impact, and you will lessen your frustration and those of others. Don’t be afraid of your weaknesses, embrace them, understand your talents — and that you aren’t expected to be good at everything. Additionally, you must recognize your strengths, because when your strengths are being displayed, no one will notice your imperfections are not the focus.


Leaders are able to know themselves, their strengths, and to build on those strengths with an optimistic outlook related to their ability to succeed. Great leaders can call on their strengths at the right time. Effective leaders surround themselves with the right people and build on each person’s strengths.

If you are able to help the people you lead focus on their strengths, it will dramatically boost engagement levels throughout your organization.

  • Leaders face the challenge of building effective teams.
  • The key to leadership effectiveness is hiring well, providing ongoing training, and working intentionally at teambuilding.
  • Effective team-building is more than off-site sessions with ropes courses and “getting to know you exercises”.
  • Know your strengths and invest in others’ strengths.
  • Get people with the right strengths on your team.
  • Understand and meet the four basic needs of those who look to you for leadership.

Learn More – Resources

  1. Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton (Free Press, 2001)
  2. StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath (Gallup Press, 2007)
  3. Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance by Marcus Buckingham (Free Press, 2007)
  4. Gallup Strengths Center

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