As business leaders, we are always looking for ways to be stronger—to build stronger teams, to develop stronger skill sets, to cultivate stronger client relationships. In many ways, the unending desire to “be strong” is rooted in the DNA of most leaders.
Fortunately, we have innate superpowers that we can tap into daily to become stronger—our dominant strengths. Last week, I talked about the notion of strengths-based psychology and, more specifically, strengths-based leadership (click here for more).
Imagine walking into an office and attached to every employee’s nameplate is their top five strengths. My friend Karl, a very successful CEO, embraced strengths in his organization and he added the top five strengths to the employee’s nameplate. Now, strengths have become a part of the daily conversation and success has followed.
So, armed with your five strengths, and more importantly the strengths of your team and your colleagues, like Karl, you can begin to cultivate your strengths-based approach to leadership. Here are three ways to get started…
1. Align to Your Strengths: Embracing a strengths-based leadership approach means making the intentional decision to align our teams to roles, functions, and responsibilities that support their natural strengths versus asking them to go to zones not as inherently comfortable.This is not to say that our teams should not be pushed and challenged to learn new skill sets and try their hand at something new. Instead, it’s about nourishing and developing our team’s raw talents to generate the best possible outcome.
My favorite way we see this applied is when we think of Michael Jordan, arguably one of the greatest basketball players of all time. He always possessed innate basketball skills. However, when he was younger, he couldn’t pull his raw talent together. So much so that he got cut from his high school basketball team! It wasn’t until college that he became one of the top 10 basketball players of all time. In short, he matured his talent.
Our job as leaders is to put our employees in positions that support their raw talents and invest in their development so that their natural talents can blossom into mature talents.
2. Basements and Balconies: We are familiar with the concept of “anything in moderation” and the same logic applies to strengths as well. If we are not careful, we can over- or under-use our inherent strengths. This practice is so common that Gallup has detailed the balcony and basement application of each StrengthsFinder theme.
- When you work on nurturing and developing your strengths and focus on the maximizing the use of that strength, you spend more time in the balcony—the sweet spot. Here, you can get the best possible outcomes and achieve the best performance.
- Alternatively, when you have not developed your strengths, and rely on the undisciplined application of your strengths, you find yourself in the basement and often your overall performance suffers.
As individuals, we tend to over- or under-use our strengths. In my case, for example, I can over-use my No. 1 strength Maximizer or the talent of transforming something strong into something superb. I fundamentally always believe that we do something better and so I push myself and those around me to strive for excellence—for perfection. On this surface, this sounds great, but as the person on the receiving end, it can be deflating. Instead of saying, “This was awesome; great job!” I am likely to say, “That was great, but how could we have done a better job?” To me, this is just a natural part of the conversation, but to the employee, it can be defeating. Instead of keeping the employee(s) who just accomplished amazing feats inspired and motivated, I can take away from his or her experience.
When managing our strengths, we need to think of our strengths as a dial on a radio. It’s up to you what you listen to, how loudly and on what setting. If you turn the dial all the way down, you can no longer hear the music. That is an example of under-utilizing a strength. On the other hand, if you turn the dial all the way up, the music can become distorted and lose quality—an overuse of the strength. When you become acutely aware of how to perfectly balance your strengths, you can arrive at that perfect cacophony.
3. Measure the Impact: When you start to encourage a strengths-based philosophy within your team, you will immediately see the impact by way of team engagement, performance, and overall morale. Compelling research from Gallup finds that professionals who use their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged on the job. What’s more, teams that focus on their strengths are 12.5 percent more productive.
It’s not enough to have your team learn their strengths and start actively using them. It’s important to see the positive impact that approach has on your department and the larger organization. Pay attention to key performance indicators like:
- How much faster—and more successfully—a project gets done
- How your team begins to communicate and collaborate differently and more effectively
- How you make hiring decisions differently now and how that has produced better results
The quantifiable and anecdotal validators you extract will actively demonstrate the power of a strengths-based approach to leadership.
We have just scratched the surface of one of my favorite frameworks that can be leveraged to cultivate more intentional leaders. If strengths-based leadership is intriguing to you, check out my StrengthsFinder-based workshop, “Leverage Strengths During Transition,” to learn more about how to bring this framework into your organization. I can’t wait to dive into the concept of strengths with you!