What Is Strengths Based Leadership?

Since 2009, Leadership Vision extended our Professional Services to offer clients many additional ways to learn about their Strengths beyond our Core Offerings. One of these opportunities has been utilizing the foundation introduced by Gallup in their 2008 book titled “Strengths Based Leadership.” We have taken the basic ideas of the book and created actionable case studies to help individuals go beyond a personal understanding of how their Strengths work and instead to one where Strengths are applied to meeting people’s needs.

This Professional Service highlights the reality that people are in fact already meeting other’s needs through their Strengths, and there are additional opportunities to do so moving forward.

Before a recent Strengths Based Leadership engagement, Aleasha, Linda and I were attempting to create a unique start to the day that would capture the attention of our audience and clearly communicate that Strengths Based Leadership was not, in principle, what they thought it was. We decided to open our session by asking the audience a simple question, “What do you think is the objective of Strengths Based Leadership?”

Two things surprised us about the answers. First, most people thought Strengths Based Leadership was going to teach them how to lead with their strengths. Second, not one person understood that the true focus of Strengths Based Leadership was in fact, meeting the needs of others.

The answers to our initial question were unexpected because we thought some people would have understood the philosophy behind Strengths Based Leadership, for we have been working with this client for over three years. However, the answers were exciting because we understood this new “others” focus was exactly what they needed within their organizational culture.

What about you… what do you think is the objective of Strengths Based Leadership?

Three questions to consider at this point:

  1. Think of “leadership”. What qualities are needed to be a great leader?
  2. What qualities are necessary when someone is focused on meeting the needs of others?
  3. Is there a difference in qualities between the great leader and the one meeting other’s needs? Why or why not?

A Necessary Change In Focus

At Leadership Vision, we believe Strengths Based Leadership is necessary because it turns the focus of Strengths from self, to focusing Strengths on meeting the needs of others. When we align our self understanding with our top 5 Strengths, we gain an integrity to our identity – we become more of who we are. That is a great outcome. It is a key objective to our Core Offerings.

But is it enough?

When we align our Strengths with meeting the needs of others, which is the core of Strengths Based Leadership, we influence others to become more of who they could be. This necessary shift of focus results in a catalytic change in influence… which will have a transformational impact on others.

The greatest potential for StrengthsFinder lies not in the understanding of your top 5 themes of Strength. The greatest potential for StrengthsFinder lies in the generative application of Strengths within teams and culture. Gallup’s own research has proven both of these facts.

For a theme to become a Strength, it must bring life to you and life to others. The two most effective ways to achieve a generative influence of Strengths is to first deepen your understanding of how your Strengths influence others. Second, focus on how your Strengths meet the needs of others.

Another Way To Sustain Strengths Engagement

Strengths Based Leadership has the potential to change how StrengthsFinder is integrated into and sustained within the culture of an organization. Integrating StrengthsFinder™ alone will not be enough to increase engagement. Simply put, the focus of StrengthsFinder is on yourself; answering the question, “who am I?”. With Strengths Based Leadership, the focus is on others; answering the question,”how can I help you?”

This necessary change in focus introduced by Strengths Based Leadership is also adaptive. The more you focus on meeting the needs of others, three things will happen that require you to be more adaptive in your response.

  • First, you will reach deeper into your own Strengths to meet the needs of others.
  • Second, you will learn more about what others do well and what they need, which strengthens your relationships.
  • Third, you will come to rely on others more by learning where their greatest potential lies and how a partnership with them will increase the influence and engagement in each of you.

The Great Balancing Act

Strengths Based Leadership is balancing an inward understanding of self and an outward expression for others. Through StrengthsFinder™ we can understand ourselves and where our greatest potential lies. StrengthsFinder™ also helps us understand each other and how we can be aligned and united together around a cause. But it is only through the Strengths Based Leadership philosophy and application – the focus on meeting the needs of others – that Strengths can be generatively sustained.

The challenge with StrengthsFinder™ is to understand yourself better. For most people, that is relatively easy. The challenge of Strengths Based Leadership is to change to way you lead others. For most people, that is not so easy.

To begin shifting your focus from self, to others, ask yourself these questions;

  1. Which is easier for you: focusing on your Strengths or meeting the needs of others?
  2. How ‘in balance’ are you between understanding your Strengths and meeting others needs?
  3. Within your context, which side of the balance has greater cultural value?

Does Strengths Based Leadership Work?

When we finished our Strengths Based Leadership experience with this group of 16 leaders, we witnessed a shift in focus. The leaders were no longer speaking about who they were through a Strengths lens. Now, they were speaking very specifically about what others needed – and how their strengths could meet the needs of others.

Yes, we experienced the change – people were no longer talking about their greatest potential. Now, these leaders were discussing what others needed, and how they could help them. This was the necessary shift in focus we were looking for.

This shift in focus also revealed organizational and cultural issues that needed to be addressed. This would not have happened if we maintained a focus only on ourselves. When you use Strengths Based Leadership as a framework for applying Strengths, you will discover more about your leaders and your culture, because Strengths Based Leadership intentionally changed the focus. This change in focus, from self to others, is one more way that Strengths can be productively applied within your organization.

Your Strengths

Now that you’ve heard a little more about Strengths Based Leadership, has your understanding of the philosophy changed? Which is easier for you: focusing on your Strengths or meeting the needs of others? How “in balance” are you between understanding your Strengths and meeting others needs? Within your context, which side of the balance has greater cultural value?