What is Strengths-Based Leadership?
January 13, 2022
Despite the fact that different species’ seeds can closely resemble each other, their end results can vary drastically. Leaders, too, may not differ significantly in appearance, but the outcomes of their direction can be quite distinct. Just as we classify different flowers into categories based on their distinguishing features, we can classify different forms of leadership according to their defining qualities.
Among the forms or manifestations of leadership is the concept of strengths-based leadership, which entails the identification and subsequent cultivation of followers’ strengths. We can expect the greatest performance from workers when there is an alignment between their strengths and the tasks assigned to them. Thus, strengths-based leaders can significantly (and positively) impact productivity by fostering the assets possessed by both themselves and also by those they lead.
Such an approach stands in stark contrast to a leader that uses fear and intimidation to drive results. Unfortunately, there is a disconnect between the state of the science on strength-based leadership theory and the implementation of the science for the concept in much of the working world. Tilt 365’s assessments and expertise–as well as the remainder of this blog–can assist in diminishing this divide. It is important to know, however, that not all leadership styles can exist in all types of organizations, but the more organizations that are able to successfully adopt strengths-based leadership activities the better.
What is Strengths-Based Leadership?
Strengths-based development and strengths-based organizational management are phrases used synonymously with strengths-based leadership (according to Strengths-Based Leadership by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie). Peter Drucker is quoted saying, “The effective executives build on strengths–their own strengths, the strengths of their superiors, colleagues, and subordinates.” Suggested by this is the notion that leadership (in general) is not inherently a top-down construct; rather, it’s important to be cognizant of how we can strengthen those above us, not just those below us.
Someone who embodies strengths-based leadership works to ensure that teams are able to successfully execute a variety of tasks, to know what aid followers could benefit most from, and to help followers access the tools and support they need to excel in their professional roles. Perceiving the value of these strengths-based leadership activities is pretty easy.
A construct that has a good deal of overlap with strengths-based leadership is appreciative inquiry, which aims to enable strengths development by establishing a culture in which those strengths are highly valued. Appreciative inquiry contributes strategies for identifying operational strengths, planning for best practices in future endeavors, making those endeavors a priority, and then proceeding with thoughtful execution. A defining feature of appreciative inquiry that separates it from strengths-based leadership is that it is undertaken on an organizational level while individuals, not larger entities, practice strengths-based leadership.
Some people are curious about the concept of “strengths-based leadership categories.” While the phrase itself does not correspond to existing theories we are aware of, Strengths-Based Leadership by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie discusses categories or domains of leadership: Executing, Influencing, Relationship Building, and Strategic Thinking. They explain that these four categories of strengths consummate the space from which leaders can affect their followers. If you’re looking for leadership books to read, we know of a popular one focused on great leaders, teams, and why people follow.
As the science and education around strengths-based leadership continue to flourish, there may, at some point, be data that enables the delineation of strengths-based leadership categories.
What is Strengths-Based Leadership Theory?
The strength-based leadership theory is centered around one core concept— that tasks and responsibilities should be delegated to team members based on their areas of expertise or excellence.
The theory is based on the VIA Character Strengths Survey, which was originally developed by Chris Peterson, a psychology professor from the University of Michigan and Martin Seligman, founder of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania.
There have since been several other reports related to the topic that have shaped the theory or contributed to its development. Many of the world’s top enterprises and organizations follow the theory of strengths-based leadership, trusting the more than 30 years of research that has gone into verifying its efficacy.
In order for the theory to be fully effective, senior-level managers must commit to leading in a way that prioritizes the positive attributes each individual possesses, and that also encourages those individuals to put their attributes into action cohesively to achieve common goals.
The Benefits of Strengths-Based Leadership
Creating a united team is a critical component of any successful venture. Below are three ways strengths-based leadership improves collaboration and contributes to better business outcomes:
1. Higher Employee Engagement
When effective leaders discover the distinct capabilities of each employee and delegate work based on those capabilities, it empowers employees and leads to higher job satisfaction. It also makes them comfortable enough to share ideas and strategic insights with their peers and superiors. And since we know 77 percent of employees do their best work when strongly engaged, this is a benefit that truly drives productivity and significantly improves performance.
2. Lower Turnover Rates
When companies find themselves in a situation where employees are leaving, switching to strengths-based leadership is often an effective solution. Employees want to feel cognitively challenged within their roles and they want to feel as though their talents are being utilized. In fact, employees who consider their work to be mentally stimulating and aligned with their skills are 3X more likely to be engaged at work— which, ultimately, means they’re less likely to seek out other opportunities.
3. Increased Overall Profits
There’s no denying that shifting to strengths-based leadership involves investing in tools, training, and resources. But don’t let the potential costs of making the shift convince you it’s not worth the investment. Studies have shown that businesses see nearly a 30 percent increase in profits when they focus on strengths-based development. For this reason, it’s important to have an understanding of the long-term benefits of this style of leadership, as opposed to simply focusing on short-term costs.
Steps for Conducting Strengths-Based Leadership Assessment Tests
Two authors posited that an indicator of a good manager is that they work with employees, helping employees’ strengths to flourish, thereby mitigating the negative impact of employees’ weaknesses. If someone can repeatedly perform a certain task extremely well, we say that they have a strength in that area. The human brain develops fastest in areas that are already strong. Thus, it is easy to see how effective a leader embodying the strength-based approach can be if they focus on the attributes of followers that are already robust.
Formal strengths-based leadership tests such as the Clifton StrengthsFinder (created by Gallup) can also help shed light on individual strengths. There are also many similar, free strengths finder assessments available on the internet, although the Clifton StrengthsFinder is widely popular. More generally, assessment of strengths through a strength-based assessment test can take the form of identifying interests and/or skills that are acquired rapidly. For those people interested in using a scale for strengths-based leadership assessment that has been shown to demonstrate validity and reliability, Ding, Yu, and Li have created just that.
Their eight-item scale assesses the construct of strengths-based leadership as it exists first in the relationship between supervisor and subordinate (e.g., “My supervisor provides me with the opportunity to let me know what I am good at” and “My supervisor encourages me to further develop my potential”) and, second, how the supervisor demonstrates strengths-based leadership in their own performance of work duties (e.g., “My supervisor knows his or her talents” and “My supervisor makes the most of his or her strong points at work”).
Strengths-Based Leadership Outcomes
A phrase synonymous with happiness is work-related well-being. It has been theorized that happy workers outperform their less-happy peers, leading to greater success for both the worker and their employer. Previous research confirms not only the link between the strengths-based approach and work-related well-being but also the link between well-being and performance.
One study builds on those previous studies by demonstrating a direct link between strengths-based leadership and employee performance while providing evidence for the belief that strengths-based leadership exhibits enough differences from similar leadership theoretical frameworks such as authentic leadership, humble leadership, and transformational leadership to be considered a separate concept on its own. Interestingly, it is possible to cultivate work-related well-being by taking actionable steps to make it easy for employees to identify, develop, and incorporate their strengths into their work.
Further outcomes that can be expected from adopting strengths-based leadership include subjective well-being, optimism, and creativity. Also, possessing a working knowledge of strength-based leadership theory could help managers understand that keeping a worker at their current level in the organizational hierarchy where they have demonstrated ability is better than promoting them to a position that will require skills they do not have. A very likely explanation for this finding is that such a decision secures work-related well-being, thus boosting performance.
Tilt’s Expertise with Strengths
Prior to being able to develop the strengths of followers or other peers, leaders must be able to identify what skills are brought to the table by each unique individual in the first place. The True Tilt Personality Profile™ (TTP) and the Positive Influence Predictor (PIP) are two of Tilt365's strength-based personality assessments that can help do just that. Think of a strengths-based assessment as a tool that can be used to increase self-awareness and build cultures within your business where people love to work. Once reports generated by a given Tilt 365 assessment are shared with a strengths-based leader, that leader will then be poised to cultivate the particular strengths present in each individual (as shown in the reports).
The extensive, information-rich reports generated by a strengths-based assessment provide insight into when we are at our best and with whom we work most effectively. Such information is crucial for anyone hoping to enact strengths-based leadership or change the current leadership style to be more effective. It is also critical for helping employees advance within their careers and within your company. We thereby help empower you to maximize your human resources and fuel strengths-based leadership training.
There exists a host of theories about forms of leadership and about the outcomes of each. This post has dealt with one form, the strengths-based approach. While we are not explicitly saying strengths-based leadership is or is not the best approach to leadership in the workplace, we *are* saying that it has been researched and supported by scholars.
Generally speaking, the idea of the strengths-based approach is intuitive, as we can all understand the concept of cultivating existing personal strengths, whether in life or in business. It’s straightforward to understand the value of a paid coach making the tennis star better at tennis as opposed to introducing them to an entirely new sport. This analogy provides a lens through which we attempt to visualize the concept of the strengths-based approach. If one employee is great at drafting legal briefs, allow her to focus on legal matters while delegating marketing matters to someone studied in that realm. How can Tilt365 personality assessments help you identify and cultivate your strengths and the strengths of your followers to enable strengths-based leadership training?