Strengths-Based Leadership

Understanding Strengths and Weaknesses

Strengths-Based Leadership - Understanding Strengths and Weaknesses

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Focus on developing people's strengths.

Jeff joined your team 18 months ago, and he's proved himself to be a talented and successful salesman. He seals the biggest deals, brings in serious revenue, and builds great relationships with clients. So, when your sales team leader transferred to another department, you were confident that promoting Jeff was the answer.

However, a few weeks later, you're starting to regret your decision. Jeff's existing skills have not translated to team management: he's an impatient, highly critical perfectionist, and he fails to explain what he wants people to do.

You now realize that you focused on Jeff's successes when you promoted him, and ignored his weaknesses. You should have used a "strengths-based leadership" approach and concentrated on building his existing strengths, and promoted someone with more effective management skills to the team leader position.

In this article, we'll explore what strengths-based leadership is, and we'll see how you can use it to develop yourself and your team members. We'll also examine the advantages and disadvantages of this approach, and look at how you can identify your own strengths, so you can become a more effective leader.

What Is Strengths-Based Leadership?

Strengths-based leadership is about focusing on your strengths, and delegating tasks that you're not as good at to others who are more skilled or experienced. You can also use this approach to identify your team members' strengths, and encourage them to use these in a way that benefits everyone.

Leaders are sometimes expected to excel at everything, and to have very few weaknesses. In reality, though, you'll likely be an expert in a specific area only, despite your range of qualifications and experience, and this doesn't guarantee that you'll succeed elsewhere.

When you attempt to become an expert in all areas, you risk spreading yourself too thin and becoming ineffective. So, it's important to recognize your strengths and weaknesses, and delegate tasks that others could do better.

Benefits of Strengths-Based Leadership

Let's look at the benefits of using a strengths-based leadership approach. For example:

  • Improving consensus and delegation. Working with experts in areas where you are less experienced is a sign of strength, not weakness. You're admitting where you need help, accepting others' expertise, developing a more consensual leadership style, focusing on what you do best, and promoting effective delegation.
  • Improving engagement. Encouraging people to focus on their strengths increases team member enjoyment and engagement. This survey found that only one percent of employees become disengaged if their manager actively focuses on their strengths, while 40 percent become disengaged if they are ignored.
  • Effective hiring. You can use strengths-based leadership to develop your team. This approach encourages you to hire people based on their individual strengths, not because their skills and interests align with your own. So, you are more likely to develop a diverse team, with a range of strengths, skill-sets, attitudes, and cultural values.
  • Encouraging creativity. Using this approach means that you will likely be more confident in delegating and passing on responsibility to your team members, and less focused on making people "fit," which can reduce creativity and innovation.

Drawbacks of Strengths-Based Leadership

Despite its benefits, there are potential weaknesses in the strengths-based leadership approach. These include:

  • Typecasting. This approach can increase the risk of "pigeonholing" someone. For example, if you encourage people to focus on their strengths only, they might become bored, frustrated and resentful that others are moving up and developing new areas of expertise, while they aren't.
  • Too much consensus. If everyone focuses on their strengths and "leads" in their own areas, you might struggle to determine the group's overall direction and make final decisions.
  • Ignoring weaknesses. This approach focuses on building talents and strengths but, in some areas, you also need to address performance weaknesses and knowledge or skills gaps. Otherwise, you and your team members are less likely to improve or develop, and your work could be undermined by a weakness that no-one has covered.

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How to Use Strengths-Based Leadership

In their 2009 book, "Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow," workplace consultants Tom Rath and Barry Conchie argue that the most successful teams possess a wide range of strengths. They identify four broad groupings:

  1. Executing – This is the ability to get things done. A good executor is skilled at arranging and controlling tasks, events and people, is consistent and focused, and is prepared to take responsibility for jobs.
  2. Influencing – This is the strength to "sell," influence or persuade others to support ideas, projects, tasks, attitudes, or organizational approaches.
  3. Relationship building – This is the ability to encourage people to work together toward a common goal or ambition.
  4. Strategic thinking – A strategic thinker is skilled at analyzing information, seeing links and connections, and thinking both inside and outside the box.

Reprinted by permission of Gallup, Inc. From "Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams and Why People Follow" by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie. Copyright © 2009 by Gallup, Inc.

You don't need to excel in all four areas to be successful, but you should ensure that your team has at least one member with strengths in each area, so that your people and their skills complement each other.

Let's look at how to identify where your strengths lie in these four areas:

1. Executing

Executors often manage their time extremely effectively, are highly productive, and like to "get things done." So, start by taking our "How Good is Your Time Management?" "How Productive Are You?" and "How Good Are your Project Management Skills?" quizzes to identify whether your strengths lie in this area.

Are you highly focused, and do you find it easy to achieve flow? Or do you struggle to concentrate? If you're easily distracted or you struggle with detail, consider delegating "executing" tasks to someone who is stronger in this area.

2. Influencing

People who are strong in this area are able to influence and motivate others to gain support for their ideas or projects. Take our "How Good Are Your Motivation Skills?" quiz to discover how effectively you can excite and engage people, and our "How Good Are Your Communication Skills?" quiz to find out how well you interact and communicate with your team members.

Do you have the courage and self-confidence to stand up and take the lead? Is your goal to advance the success of your whole team? If so, you're likely an "influencer," and should aim to focus on doing more of these tasks.

3. Relationship Building

Perhaps you prefer working with others toward a common goal or ambition, and can easily spot links between people, projects, goals, or organizations?

People with strengths in this area are often highly emotionally intelligent, and like working as part of a team. So, take our "How Emotionally Intelligent Are You?" and "How Good Are Your People Skills?" quizzes to find out how well you work with others and build effective relationships.

If you demonstrate empathy, are a good listener, and understand people's needs, you're likely a "relationship builder."

4. Strategic Thinking

Are you highly analytical, and can you spot connections and links where other people tend to miss them?

Strategic thinkers are often highly creative, and prefer working with "high level" ideas, rather than in the details of a task. Take our "How Creative Are You?" quiz to identify whether your skills lie in this area.


Carry out a Reflected Best Self™ exercise to identify where your strengths lie, across a range of disciplines. This encourages you to seek feedback, so that you can identify and understand your unique strengths and talents.

And, use the StrengthsFinder online assessment and Personal SWOT Analysis to analyze your individual strengths.

Key Points

Strengths-based leadership focuses on recognizing what you and your team excel at, and delegating tasks to others who are more skilled or experienced in areas where you are weak.

Strengths tend to be grouped into four broad (but overlapping) areas: executing, influencing, relationship building, and strategic thinking.

A strengths-based leadership approach can improve your delegation skills, widen your team's diversity, and create a more consensual management style.

However, be careful not to make decisions or judgments based on people's assumed strengths, and don't ignore weaknesses – if you don't "cover these off," they can undermine your work.

Apply This to Your Life

  • Take a step back and assess your own strengths. What are you best at? What are your weaknesses?
  • Think about whether you are too focused on team members' weaknesses, or what they are doing "wrong," and overlook their skills and strengths. Do they have strengths that you haven't used, or may have ignored?
  • Consider whether you could improve how you delegate or manage projects. Do you need to rethink your approach to team recruitment, so that you can focus on a more diverse range of strengths and attributes?

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Comments (4)
  • Over a month ago BillT wrote
    Hi serennab,

    Thank you for the positive feedback. We're glad you enjoy the resources, and hopefully they will help with your development goals.

    Mind Tools Team
  • Over a month ago serennab wrote
    love the links to quizzes, thank you!
  • Over a month ago Michele wrote
    Hi alessa,

    This article focuses on the author's beliefs about strength-based leadership. There continues to be debate as to whether one focuses solely on using their strengths and delegating everything else out to others or focusing on improving skills and behaviors where you are not skilled. After a lot of research of my own looking at all sides of argument, my view is that we leverage our strengths and develop areas that are important to our role or level of responsibility to a skilled level that may cause us issues or derail in our career. I also believe that strengths can be overused to a point where they become weaknesses.

    Mind Tools Team
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