Work & performance

July 11 2016

Strengths-based leadership: Create a thriving workplace culture

Andrew Carnegie MAPS
By Principal Consultant for FBG Group – specialising in organisational wellbeing, leadership, transformation and performance consulting.

A strengths-based approach to leadership is more effective than the traditional method of focussing on performance weaknesses. To help organisations grow and thrive we need to tap into people’s strengths.

Strengths-based leadership is an approach to leading others that builds on what’s strong, rather than what’s wrong. Research and evidence-based best practice shows that strengths-based leadership empowers leaders, and the people who follow them, and fosters healthy and positive workplace cultures.

In a constantly changing work environment employees now face increasing levels of stress, change and uncertainty. Disengagement, absenteeism, interpersonal conflict, lowered productivity and turnover are a consequence.  Under these conditions, it is not enough for leaders to simply be task focused, delegating, running effective meetings, and monitoring performance. Today, leaders also need to think about how they engage, inspire and develop their people to be resilient and to flourish – despite the day-to-day challenges they might face.

Strengths-based leadership enables leaders to bring out the best in themselves and others by igniting their core character strengths. The focus on strengths is all about understanding and building on an individual’s best opportunities for success.

This concept draws on the fundamentals of well validated approaches like Positive Psychology, PsyCap and Authentic Leadership which suggest that to help people succeed and thrive, leaders need to focus on helping their staff understand, harness and build on their skills, talents and capabilities.

This approach does not discount that we need to understand and better manage our weaknesses (or blind spots) – however it emphasises the basic principle that individuals (and organisations) gain most from when they build on their strengths rather than focus on their deficits.

What makes a strengths-based leader?

Great leaders don’t have one single ingredient that makes them great. Charisma, political nous, smarts and a whole range of attributes may contribute to their effectiveness. But a consistent trait of great leaders is that they know their strengths and how to use them to become more influential in their leadership practice. Simply put, bringing out the best in an organisation’s leaders tends to bring out the best in an organisation’s employees.

Who they are – Strengths-based leaders are self-aware, know who they are and what they value.  They understand what their leadership enablers and de-railers are, and know how to manage these to get the best outcomes. They invest in their strengths, are clear on their leadership purpose and know how to engage and influence others to follow their lead. They demonstrate fundamental traits around hope, optimism, self-efficacy (confidence) and resilience.

How they work – Strengths-based leaders create the conditions for others to be successful. They do this by recognising and honing in on the strengths, talents and skills of their employees.  They lead by example, are transparent and authentic in their relationships with others, have strong guiding principles, are able to have a positive impact and enable a workplace environment that supports people to reach their full potential.

The difference they make – Ultimately, strengths-based leaders build trust, confidence and followership by being true to who they are, fostering a can do environment and being consistent in their leadership style and approach. They enable individuals to be more energised, engaged and motivated to go over and above what is expected of them. Most importantly, they promote and align the best in others towards achieving optimal outcomes, performance and organisational success.

Tips to become a strengths-based leader

Apply these simple suggestions to become a strengths-based leader and create a positive environment in your workplace:

  1. Understand your top strengths. Consider completing a strengths assessment such as the VIA or StrengthsFinder to understand and connect with your strengths.
  2. Know how to harness your top strengths and work towards them. These are your leadership enablers.
  3. Recognise the shadow side of your strengths. Sometimes, overusing a strength can also become a derailer in some circumstances.
  4. Get to know what motivates your staff. To lead people effectively you need to know who they are, what they value, their strengths and the difference they want to make.
  5. Create the conditions for your employees to be successful. Remember a leader’s success is solely based on the success of their followers.
  6. Get a coach. A coach will be someone who can help you reflect on your practice, set goals, work to your strengths, be that objective sounding board who can reflect back the things you really need to work on. Someday you will become a coach to another.

Find your strengths

There are several strengths assessments available. My personal preference is to use something like the Values in Action (VIA) which tells people what their top strengths are and how they link to their core values. The VIA was developed by Chris Peterson from the University of Michigan and Martin Seligman from the University of Pennsylvania. Over three million people worldwide have taken the VIA.

The VIA examines personal values, not just talents, so it highlights the elemental factors people are wedded to and motivated by. There are 24 listed strengths. A free online survey provides you with feedback on your strengths in rank order with the top five being your ‘signature strengths’.

Other strengths assessments include the Realise2 and the Gallup StrengthsFinder.

When leaders understand who they are at their best and harness this in their work, they can in turn, learn how to help their people work to their best.