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Strengths-Based Leadership - Book Review

1 April 2017
Dr. Moria Levy
book cover

"Strengths-Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow" is a captivating book by Tom Rath, a Gallup Research Executive, in 2008. The book is firmly grounded in the concepts of Don Clifton, a renowned attachment psychology figure who unfortunately passed away in 2003.

 

Drawing from extensive studies and surveys conducted over many years at Gallup, the book introduces the notion that there are various effective leadership styles. It underscores the importance of individuals aspiring to be leaders thoroughly examining how they connect with their strengths.

 

The book delves into the following key areas:

  • The Concept: Strengths-Based Leadership

  • Leadership Styles: Creating, Influencing, Building Relationships, Strategic Thinking

  • Attributes People Seek in Leaders: Trust, Compassion, Stability, Hope

  • Implementation: Cultivating Strengths-Based Leadership

 

I must admit that this book profoundly impacted me more than other books I read. It prompted me to reevaluate my perspectives on leadership. As leadership inherently involves navigating change in the face of challenging circumstances and considering our involvement in knowledge management, which often revolves around change, there is ample opportunity for everyone to connect with their strengths. This connection can potentially lead to tremendous success in managing organizational knowledge and driving business achievements. I wholeheartedly recommend reading this book!

 

The Concept: Strengths-Based Leadership

Throughout history, numerous leaders have risen to prominence, each appearing distinct from the other. A fascinating revelation has come to light despite extensive research and exploration: all leaders share no universal traits. However, the groundbreaking concept, initially pioneered by Don Clifton, posits that one common thread binds all leaders: their ability to recognize and harness their strengths to improve their leadership.

 

A comprehensive study conducted in 2008, encompassing a staggering 7,660 individuals tracked over 25 years, uncovered some remarkable findings. It demonstrated that individuals with higher self-awareness experienced significantly more significant wage increases over the years than their less self-aware counterparts. Moreover, their overall income levels and career satisfaction were notably higher. In a seemingly unrelated yet telling detail, health outcomes also exhibited substantial disparities, favoring those with heightened self-awareness, who tended to be healthier.

 

This groundbreaking concept originates from an exhaustive examination of traits commonly found among leaders. The scrutinized list encompasses 34 attributes, elaborated upon in the subsequent implementation chapter. These attributes can be categorized into four key areas: execution, impact, relationship building, and strategic thinking.

 

It is worth noting that successful teams comprise individuals who excel in these four essential areas.

 

Furthermore, leaders endowed with distinct strengths approach the realization of their leadership and achieve their objectives in diverse ways, each tailored to their unique strengths. Subsequent chapters delve into these leadership styles, corresponding to the four areas above.

 

Leadership Styles

Making

This category encompasses key characteristics that include:

  • Achievements

  • Organizational prowess

  • Conviction

  • Consistency

  • Calculated decision-making

  • Emphasis on discipline

  • Focus

  • Responsibility

  • Restorative abilities

 

In the subsequent implementation section, these qualities will be further elaborated upon, providing insights into how they can be effectively harnessed to facilitate leadership.

 

Influencing

This category is characterized by key attributes such as:

  • Proactive action

  • Commanding presence

  • A sense of purpose

  • Competitive spirit

  • Drive for excellence

  • Self-assuredness

  • Influential impact

  • Adaptability

     


The following implementation section will delve into these attributes, elucidating how they can be effectively utilized to nurture leadership.


Building Relationships

Within this category, key traits include:

  • Adaptability

  • Bridge-building

  • Keen insight

  • Empathetic nature

  • Pursuit of Harmony

  • Inclusivity

  • Individualized approach

  • Positivity

  • Strong interpersonal bonds 


In the forthcoming implementation section, we will delve into these qualities and discuss how they can be effectively utilized to nurture leadership.

 

Strategic Thinking

This category encompasses critical features that include:

  •  Analytical prowess

  • Context-driven decision-making

  • Futuristic vision

  • Idealistic aspirations

  • Thoughtful information processing

  • Intellectual acumen

  • Knowledgeable

  • Strategic thinking

 

In the forthcoming implementation section, we will elucidate these features and explore how they can be harnessed to drive effective leadership.


Attributes People Seek in Leaders

Most individuals seek several enduring qualities in the leaders they admire. Despite the vast English lexicon, comprising over 170,000 words, comprehensive research conducted by Gallup between 2005 and 2008 distilled these essential leadership attributes into four key elements (though with varying shades of meaning). It's worth noting that each word presented may only partially encompass its multifaceted nature. Therefore, it is advisable to approach these attributes with an inclusive perspective rather than a narrow one. Here are the specifics:

 

Trust

This refers to our capacity to have faith in a leader. Related terms that emerged from the study include honesty, integrity, and respect. Since these qualities are outcomes of a trust-based connection, the author chose to amalgamate them into the same category, referring to trust as the shared foundation. When these aspects exist within an organization, they have an impact on:

  • Employee engagement.

  • Enhanced efficiency.

  • Increased work productivity.


Compassion

The term "compassion" may sound intense, perhaps even overly so. Nevertheless, the author retained it rather than create a distinct category for the cluster of related words. Compassion is a sentiment people often express toward family or friends but may be less inclined to display toward those they manage. Associated terms from the study included caring, friendship, joy, and love. Individuals or employees who have experienced (positive) compassion from a leader:

  •  Are significantly more likely to stay with the organization.

  • Form stronger connections with a higher number of customers (engagement).

  • Contribute substantially more to the organization.

  • Generate increased profitability for the organization.


Stability

When discussing stability in leadership, we refer to leaders who can be relied upon when necessary. Related words that emerged in the study encompass security, strength, support, and peace. Individuals (or employees) also anticipate stability in their core values with minimal alterations and a clear understanding of their role within a given context. Furthermore, stability naturally extends to the assurance of consistent monthly wages, equating to financial stability. Employees confident in the organization's future financial stability are nine times more likely to be engaged in their work than others.

 

Hope

While stability, as mentioned earlier, stability pertains to a sense of the present, individuals also seek hope for the future from their leaders. Hope provides a sense of direction and aids in navigating through chaos and complexity. Related terms that surfaced in the study encompass direction, destiny, and guidance. Impact of this factor: Individuals whose leaders instilled enthusiasm about the future were more engaged with the organization. It's crucial to note that taking the initiative involves fostering hope (rather than solely reacting to existing circumstances). This initiative paves the way for creating opportunities and, in tandem with hope, encourages optimism.

 

Implementation: Cultivating Strengths-Based Leadership

Here are the implementation recommendations derived from the book. The book has approximately ten recommendations for the 34 traits defining leaders. These recommendations are categorized into four areas representing what individuals seek in a leader. Additionally, 3-4 recommendations are provided on how to lead a person with a specific trait. This summary presents one recommendation of each type (more can be found reading the whole book). After assessing their qualities, the intention is for individuals to select how to strengthen the four aspects people seek in their leader based on their strengths. These recommendations serve as sample tools that can be adopted. Below, you'll find the recommendations listed alphabetically by the trait's name (as presented in the book).

 

ACHIEVER

Characteristics: Demonstrates perseverance and a strong work ethic. Finds satisfaction in being productive and busy.

 

Sample recommendation for a leader with this trait:

Each day, select one achievement-oriented goal and engage with one person about it. Ensure that people feel their time and engagement are valued (compassion).

 

Sample recommendation for onboarding an employee with this trait:

When such an individual completes a task, avoid offering too much respite. Instead, motivate them by acknowledging their accomplishments and promptly assigning a new challenging goal.

 

ACTIVATOR

Characteristics: Takes initiative and drives action. Transforms ideas into reality. Often exhibits impatience.

 

Sample recommendation for a leader with this trait:

Sometimes, people need your enthusiasm to move from hesitation to action. Many individuals fear getting started, and "let's take the first step and start acting" can alleviate this fear (hope).

 

Sample recommendation for having an employee with this trait:

To prevent this person from encountering too many obstacles while taking action, pair them with a partner who excels in strategic or analytical abilities.

 

ADAPTABLE

Characteristics: Embraces change and goes with the flow. It deals with the present as it unfolds and moves into the future.

 

Sample recommendation recommendation for a leader with this trait:

Your adaptability gives you a keen awareness of situations and a genuine concern for those affected. This ability positions you as a valuable ally when others are in need (compassion).


Sample recommendation for having an employee with this trait:

Assign this individual to a role that relies on their ability to adapt to evolving conditions.

 

ANALYTICAL

Characteristics: Seeks to understand causes and effects. Possesses the capacity to consider all factors influencing a given situation.

 

Sample recommendation for a leader with this trait:

Assist others in comprehending the factors that impact your decisions regarding their needs and desires. Communicate your genuine commitment to their best interests (trust).

 

Sample recommendation for having an employee with this trait:

You may only sometimes see eye to eye with this individual, but taking their insights seriously is essential. They've likely put significant thought into the points they raise.

 

ARRANGER

Characteristics: Proficient in organization with complementary flexibility. Enjoys optimizing the arrangement of parts and resources for efficient work.

 

Sample recommendation recommendation for a leader with this trait:

You can assist individuals in improving their time and commitment management, suggesting the elimination of less critical tasks. Encourage them to rethink their responsibilities and enhance future productivity (hope).

 

Sample recommendation for having an employee with this trait:

This person is well-suited for managerial or supervisory roles. Their organizational prowess facilitates effective collaboration among individuals with diverse skills.

 

BELIEVER

Characteristics: Upholds unwavering values, finding the essence of life in those values.

 

Sample recommendation for a leader with this trait:

When communicating with others, don’t criticize their values. Consider delivering messages that are less judgmental (compassion).

 

Sample recommendation for having an employee with this trait:

This individual thrives in roles where values hold significance rather than in profit-centric positions. They are naturally service-oriented, so it is worthwhile to create a function that allows them to leverage this trait fully.

 

COMMANDER

Characteristics: Possesses a commanding presence and makes decisive decisions.

 

Sample recommendation  for a leader with this trait:

Your impactful words are inspirational. When assigning tasks, always communicate the "why" (rationale and importance) behind them (hope).

 

Sample recommendation for onboarding an employee with this trait:

When interacting with such an individual, maintain a firm stance. Quickly transition them into productive activities to resolve confrontations efficiently.

 

COMMUNICATOR

Characteristics: Effortlessly translates thoughts into words, excelling in interpersonal communication and presentation skills.

 

Sample recommendation for a leader with this trait:

In addition to advocating for yourself, gather opinions from your team members or share success stories to help establish their significance (stability).

 

Sample recommendation for having an employee with this trait:

Engage this person in preparing presentations for subject matter experts.

 

COMPETITOR

Characteristics: Measures progress against others' performance, driven to secure the top spot and celebrate victories.

 

Sample recommendation for a leader with this trait:

While there may be cheaters along the way, remember that not all success is worth achieving at any cost. Uphold your integrity even in the face of defeat (trust).

 

Sample recommendation for onboarding an employee with this trait:

Discuss this individual's talents with them to help channel their competitive drive towards achieving victories with integrity.

 

CONNECTEDNESS

Characteristics: Less inclined to attribute events to chance and believe that every occurrence has a purpose.

 

Sample recommendation for a leader with this trait:

In any organization, natural boundaries exist between different units. Leverage your connectedness to bridge these gaps, promoting knowledge sharing and cross-unit collaborations to achieve common goals (hope).

 

Sample recommendation for having an employee with this trait:

This person has a strong sense of belonging and purpose. They will thrive when contributing to the organization's overarching goals.

 

CONSISTENCY

Characteristics: Possesses a strong awareness of the importance of treating all individuals equally, striving to apply consistent rules and standards they establish and adhere to.


Sample recommendation for a leader with this trait:

Reflect on whether you exhibit compassion consistently towards everyone. Are you always available when needed? Your commitment to consistency can impact your ability to expand your circle of friendships and connections (empathy).

 

Sample recommendation for having an employee with this trait:

When uniform adherence to laws or principles is required, this individual excels. They will easily articulate and justify actions to others.

 

CONTEXT

Characteristics: Enjoys contemplating the past and comprehends the present by studying history.

 

Sample recommendation for a leader with this trait:

Share personal stories that others can relate to. Revealing your past experiences will help build trust among your team.

 

Sample recommendation for having an employee with this trait:

When assigning tasks to this person, take a moment to explain the background and context behind the request. Understanding the rationale will enhance their commitment to execution.

 

DELIBERATIVE

Characteristics: Approaches decision-making with seriousness, anticipating potential obstacles.

 

Sample recommendation for a leader with this trait:

People value the calculated decisions you make. Involve them by sharing information about alternatives and seeking their input when decisions affect them (stability).

 

Sample recommendation for having an employee with this trait:

This individual can excel in contract negotiations, especially when working behind the scenes.

 

DEVELOPER

Characteristics: Recognizes and nurtures the potential of others, celebrating even minor signs of improvement.

 

Sample recommendation for a leader with this trait:

Encourage individuals to explore their talents and move forward, even when risks are involved. They will feel secure with you, even in the face of failure (stability).

 

Sample recommendation for having an employee with this trait:

This person may persist in holding onto individuals, even when it's clear they should move on. Help them redirect their efforts toward finding more suitable roles for these individuals.

 

DISCIPLINE

Characteristics: Finds comfort in routine and structure, shaping their world through meticulous order.

 

Sample recommendation for a leader with this trait:

Show care for your team by handling small details and relieving them of unnecessary concerns (compassion).

 

Sample recommendation for having an employee with this trait:

Assist this individual in prioritizing tasks when they are inundated with too many. Ensure they work through their responsibilities systematically and stay calm.

 

EMPATHY

Characteristics: Recognizes and understands how others feel by putting themselves in their shoes and perceiving their experiences.

 

Sample recommendation for a leader with this trait:

Sometimes, you intuitively grasp what others are feeling even before they know it. This ability can be comforting or irritating, depending on how you utilize it. Be mindful of its positive application (compassion).

 

Sample recommendation for having an employee with this trait:

Recognize and acknowledge this person's sensitivity, but avoid overreacting if they become emotional; tears may be a natural part of their emotional expression.

 

FOCUS

Characteristics: Makes choices, sets a direction, moves toward it, and adjusts as needed to stay on course. Prioritizes and then takes action.

 

Sample recommendation for a leader with this trait:

Assist individuals in prioritizing aspects that genuinely matter and encourage them to concentrate on what is most important (hope).

 

Sample recommendation for having an employee with this trait:

Establish goals with timelines and allow the person to determine how to achieve them independently. Such individuals thrive on autonomy.

 

FUTURISTIC

Characteristics: Draws inspiration from the future and its possibilities, motivating others by sharing their vision.

 

Sample recommendation for a leader with this trait:

Aid others in recognizing potential future challenges before they arise. People will appreciate your advice and have faith in your insights (trust).

 

Sample recommendation for having an employee with this trait:

When the organization changes, utilize this person to elucidate what the future will look like after the changes have been implemented.

 

HARMONY

Characteristics: Strives for consensus, dislikes conflicts, and seeks agreement.

 

Sample recommendation for a leader with this trait:

Promote and facilitate interactions and platforms where individuals feel their opinions are heard and valued. This will foster stronger connections, help individuals achieve personal goals, and enhance team performance, creating hope for the future.

 

Sample recommendation for having an employee with this trait:

Encourage this person to collaborate with others who share this trait. Identify common interests and engage in discussions centered around them.

 

IDEATION

Characteristics: Fascinated by ideas and skilled at finding connections between disparate concepts.

 

Sample recommendation for a leader with this trait:

Nurture your inclination for taking calculated risks. Assure those around you that these risks are well thought out, and build their confidence by explaining the rationale behind your decisions. Keep them informed about ongoing developments (stability).

 

Sample recommendation for having an employee with this trait:

Encourage this individual to brainstorm ideas to share with valued customers. This can help enhance customer loyalty.

 

INCLUDER

Characteristics: Embraces inclusivity and consciously includes those who may feel excluded.


Sample recommendation for a leader with this trait:

Naturally, you prioritize inclusivity and treat every individual with respect. Empower others to see the inherent positivity in people beyond their differences. Your concern for others will earn trust (trust).

 

Sample recommendation for having an employee with this trait:

Involve this person in an orientation program for new employees to enhance the sense of inclusiveness within the organization.

 

INDIVIDUALIZATION

Characteristics: Interested in the distinctive qualities of each person. Has the ability to understand how different people can work together effectively.

 

Sample recommendation for a leader with such a trait:

At times, you may know more about people than they might want others to know. Maintain confidentiality and only share personal insights with them one-on-one (trust).


Sample recommendation for having an employee with such a trait:

Encourage this person to participate in internal training sessions within the organization. Their ability to adapt learning to different individuals will be a valuable asset.

 

INPUT

Characteristics: Eager to acquire knowledge. Typically enjoys collecting and storing various types of information.

 

Sample recommendation for a leader with such a trait:

People value you as a leader because you possess a wealth of information sources and stay updated on the latest developments and knowledge. Let others know that you enjoy addressing their questions and are committed to researching topics relevant to them. Be accessible and instill confidence in others that they can rely on you for this (compassion).

 

Sample recommendation for the introduction of an employee with such a trait:

Encourage this individual to become proficient in a significant subject for the organization.

 

INTELLECTION

Characteristics: Driven by intellectual pursuits and enjoys introspection and intellectual discussions.

 

Sample recommendation  for a leader with such a trait:

Occasionally, take a step back to allow others to connect with your thought processes.

 

LEARNER

Characteristics: Enthusiastic about learning and continuous improvement, often valuing the learning process more than the result.

 

Sample recommendation  for a leader with such a trait:

Recognize that learning is a gradual process. Display patience and understanding toward others who may take time to grasp new concepts. Communicate your belief in their value and potential for growth even when progress appears slow (stability).

 

Sample recommendation for the introduction of an employee with such a trait:

Assign this person to roles involving constantly evolving subject matter.

 

MAXIMIZER

Characteristics: Focuses on strengths and uses them to inspire individual and group excellence. Seeks to elevate strong qualities to the highest level.

 

Sample recommendation  for a leader with such a trait:

Utilize your strengths to alleviate the burden on others rather than expecting them to perform at your level (compassion).

 

Sample recommendation for having an employee with such a trait:

Design a career path and reward system that enables this individual to pursue growth and excellence to the fullest extent possible.

 

POSITIVITY

Characteristics: Exudes infectious enthusiasm, spreading positivity, and inspiring others. Maintaining authenticity in their positive expressions and avoiding insincerity, as inauthenticity can be more damaging than criticism (trust).

 

Sample recommendation for a leader with such a trait:

Cultivate an atmosphere of authenticity in your leadership style, ensuring that your positivity is genuine and not contrived. This will build trust and confidence among your team members.

 

Sample recommendation for having an employee with such a trait:

Engage this person in planning corporate events for important customers, such as product launches or customer meetings, where their authentic positivity can shine.

 

RELATOR

Characteristics: Finds joy in building connections with others and derives satisfaction from collaborating with friends to achieve shared goals.

 

Sample recommendation for a leader with such a trait:

Cultivate an atmosphere of informality within the formal organizational structure, allowing for genuine human connections (compassion).

 

Sample recommendation for having an employee with such a trait:

Encourage this individual to establish authentic relationships with key figures in the organization with whom you wish to maintain relationships.

 

RESPONSIBILITY

Characteristics: Takes psychological ownership of their commitments, upholding steadfast values like honesty and loyalty.

 

Sample recommendation for a leader with such a trait:

Your strong sense of responsibility instills a sense of security in others. Involve team members by entrusting them with minor faults, allowing each member to contribute to the group (stability).


Sample recommendation for having an employee with such a trait:

Assign this person some responsibilities occasionally. They have a penchant for volunteering, so allow them to contribute when opportunities arise.

 

RESTORATIVE

Characteristics: Proficient at addressing problems, identifying issues, and implementing solutions.

 

Sample recommendation for a leader with such a trait:

People often turn to you in times of crisis. Be proactive in offering assistance and being the first to respond (compassion).

 

Sample recommendation for having an employee with such a trait:

Appoint this individual to a role where they can resolve problems for our most valued customers, leveraging their restorative abilities for positive outcomes.

 

SELF-ASSURANCE

Characteristics: Possesses unwavering confidence in their ability to navigate life, guided by inner certainty in the correctness of their decisions.

 

Sample recommendation for a leader with such a trait:

Embrace ambitious goals, even when others deem them impractical or impossible. Your self-assurance can propel you to achieve these objectives, which hold significance for you and the organization, colleagues, or family. Maintain your unwavering self-confidence in the face of challenges.


Sample recommendation for having an employee with such a trait:

Assign this person to a role that demands perseverance and tenacity for success. Their self-confidence will enable them to handle stress effectively and contribute to achieving challenging goals.

 

SIGNIFICANCE

Characteristics: Aspires to be highly regarded by others, values independence, and craves recognition.

 

Sample recommendation for a leader with such a trait:

Your impact on the world largely depends on how many people view you as a genuine leader. Always remain authentic, and people will recognize and value your genuineness. Seek recognition through your authenticity.

 

Sample recommendation for having an employee with such a trait:

Provide this person with opportunities to shine under appropriate circumstances, as they may seek the spotlight wherever possible, even if not always suitable. Help them channel their desire for recognition positively.

 

STRATEGIC

Characteristics: Proficient at creating alternatives and navigating complex scenarios. Can quickly identify patterns and interconnected issues within a given context.

 

Sample recommendation for a leader with such a trait:

Apply your strategic thinking skills to personal relationships as well. Identify individuals who positively influence you the most and devise strategies for investing more time and effort in nurturing these connections. Extend your strategic thinking beyond professional contexts.

 

Sample recommendation for having an employee with such a trait:

Position this individual at the forefront of the organization, where their ability to anticipate problems and provide strategic solutions is of immeasurable value. Assign them to report on strategic matters and encourage them to apply their skills to personal growth.

 

WOO (Winning Others Over)

Characteristics: Thrives on the challenge of meeting new people and winning them over. Finds satisfaction in breaking the ice and connecting with others.

 

Sample recommendation for a leader with such a trait:

You effortlessly make friends and admirers wherever you go. It's essential to transform some of these connections into long-term relationships. Consider ways to make these individuals feel that their contact with you is unique. Build lasting connections through your natural ability to win others over.

 

Sample recommendation for having an employee with such a trait:

If feasible, task this person with representing your organization or community in front of larger audiences. Leverage their skills in connecting with new people to expand your organization's reach and influence.

 

In conclusion, many leaders view their success not as the end of the story but as a stage from which they can pass on their wisdom to future generations, enabling them to continue succeeding and leading in the times ahead—truly inspiring leadership.


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