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Strengths-based Leadership

Strengths-based leadership is a leadership methodology that focuses in the first instance on identifying, developing, and leveraging the strengths of leaders and their followers, rather than trying to fix their weaknesses. Strengths are here defined as the natural talents, skills, and abilities that enable people to perform well and enjoy what they do.

The idea finds its locus within the sphere of Positive Psychology which is a branch of psychology that studies the conditions that contribute to the optimal functioning of people, groups, and institutions. It was given its original impetus by Martin Seligman as a reaction against past practices which tended to focus on mental illness and emphasized maladaptive behaviour and negative thinking.

Understanding, deploying, and finessing one’s leadership strengths contributes not only to one’s performance as a leader but also generates energy and insights through which to approach one’s leadership challenges and weaknesses with more focus and self-awareness. Moreover, it can engender an agility in deploying higher-order strengths to supplement areas of challenge.

According to Gallup, a global research and consulting firm, people who use their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged in their work, three times more likely to report having an excellent quality of life, and 8% more productive. In other words, it is an approach that delivers impact.

Strengths-based leadership has many benefits for both leaders and their organisations. Some of the advantages are:

It increases engagement, motivation, and satisfaction. When leaders and followers use their strengths, they are more likely to be passionate, enthusiastic, and committed to their work and goals. They also experience more positive emotions, such as joy, pride, and gratitude.

It enhances performance, productivity, and innovation. When leaders and followers use their strengths, they are more likely to achieve higher levels of performance, productivity, and innovation. They also have more confidence, resilience, and creativity.

It fosters collaboration, trust, and diversity. When leaders and followers use their strengths, they are more likely to collaborate effectively, trust each other, and appreciate the diversity of talents and perspectives in their teams. They also have more empathy, respect, and loyalty.

There are four key steps to implement and practice strengths-based leadership:

  • Discover strengths. The first step is to identify one’s own strengths and the strengths of your team. You can use various tools and assessments to help you with this process, such as the Clifton Strengths assessment, which measures 34 themes of talent that can be developed into strengths.
  • Develop strengths. The second step is to develop one’s strengths. This is best achieved through providing opportunities for learning, growth, and feedback that align with these identified strengths. Mentors, coaches, or peers can play an important role in enhancing strengths.
  • Deploy strengths. The third step is to deploy strengths effectively. This requires intentionally aligning roles, tasks, and projects to match strengths. Leveraging strengths specifically to overcome challenges, solve problems, and achieve goals, provides powerful force multipliers.
  • Celebrate strengths. The fourth step is to celebrate one’s strengths and the strengths of one’s team. Recognising, appreciating, and rewarding the contributions of each person’s strengths provides powerful affirmation. The sharing of success stories, best practices, and lessons learned not only provide personal feedback but also showcase the impact of leadership strengths applied well.

Strengths-based leadership is not just a well-rooted model of leadership development, but one that has been proved to have impact in the field, even in the relatively near term.

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