If you spend your life trying to be good at everything, you will never be great at anything. While our society encourages us to be well-rounded, this approach inadvertently breeds mediocrity. Perhaps the greatest misconception of all is that of the well-rounded leader.

Strengths Based Leadership, page no. 7

As the name suggests, the book Strengths Based Leadership, focuses on leading by strengths and bringing a bunch of individuals together who complement one another to create a well-rounded team. This book comes straight to the point with references of research done by Gallup team over a decade, and case studies to understand the context. For ease and simplicity, the book has been divided into three parts:
Investing in your strengths – This part builds the context of why it is important to lead by strengths by quoting various research studies and short examples.
Maximizing your team – This part dives into the details of four kinds of strengths a leader may have with a case study on each style.
Understanding why people follow – This part delves into a follower’s four basic needs to deliver their best.

The Big Idea

In recent years, we have studied leaders who build great schools, created major non-profit organizations, led big businesses, and transformed entire nations. But we have yet to find two leaders who have the exact same sequence of strengths. While two leaders may have identical expectations, the way they reach their goals is always dependent on the unique arrangement of their strengths.

– Strengths Based Leadership, page no. 26

Gallup clusters its 34 StrengthFinder themes in four broad domains: Executing, Influencing, Relationship Building and Strategic Thinking. As one uses the StrengthFinder tool to identify their top 5 strengths, the dominant cluster of an individual can influence the way they think and act, and broaden their domain of influence if operated from a position of strength. This point has been illustrated in the book with case studies of four outstanding leaders who used each of their strengths to build extraordinary companies. Here is a brief summary of the four broad themes:
Executing: Leaders with dominant strength in the Executing domain know how to make things happen. This theme is illustrated by a case-study on Teach For America’s Founder and CEO, Wendy Kopp. Out of her top five strengths, two lied in the domain of Executing theme. And it reflects how her dominant strength ‘Achiever’ led to tireless action and execution to bring Teach For America to life.

Influencing: Those who lead by Influencing help their team reach a much broader audience. An example of Simon Coopers, President of Ritz-Carlton is a perfect example to demonstrate this. Four of his top five strengths lied in the domain of Influencing theme. He did not just focus on maximizing one of the world’s greatest brands but realized that he can change the world—even if it meant influencing one person at a time.

Relationship Building: Leaders with exceptional Relationship Building competency have the unique ability to create groups and organizations that are much greater than the sum of their parts. This theme is illustrated with a case study on the Chairperson of Standard Chartered Bank, Mervyn Davies. Out of five, two of his dominant strengths lied in the domain of Relationship Building. The way he puts them in motion is nothing like a stereotypical chief executive.

Strategic Thinking: Leaders with great Strategic Thinking strengths keep us focused on what could be. The case study of Brad Anderson, CEO of Best Buy, is a great example to study this theme. Four out of his five top strengths lie under Strategic Thinking. As Best Buy’s story depicts, Anderson continually stretched the company’s thinking for the future.

Insight #1

Operate from your strengths
We all lead in very different ways, based on our talents and our limitations. Serious problems occur when we think we need to be exactly like the leaders we admire. Doing so takes us out of our natural element and practically eliminates our chances of success.
– Strengths Based Leadership, page no. 10
This is one of the most important insights out of this book. No two leaders achieved their vision in the same way. When I started reading this book, I was intimidated by the leadership competencies of Wendy Kopp. I thought to myself that if this is what is required to build a successful organisation then I am nowhere close to what it takes to be a leader. But as I moved forward, and read the case study on my dominant strengths, it felt natural and obvious. Thus, it is important to lead from your areas of strengths and maximize them instead of focusing on who you are not.

Insight #2

Build a well-rounded team

When is the last time you heard a leader talking about how your team needed to add a person who not only had the technical competence but who could also help build stronger relationships within the group? Or someone who could help influence others on behalf of the entire team? The vast majority of the time, we recruit by job function—and all but ignore the individual’s strengths.

– Strengths Based Leadership, page no. 21

Often times we neglect the influencers, the relationship builders, and the learners within a team. Instead of hiring a well-rounded individual, a well-rounded team works wonders. Strong teams identify each other’s strengths and maximize their potential. A Strategic Thinking theme team member realizes that when an Executing theme person suggests goals and timelines, it is not because they are not willing to listen about the possibilities of the future, but execution is what comes naturally to them. A strong team creates space for each other’s strengths to play out to achieve their common goal.

Insight #3

Followers have four basic needs

You are a leader only if others follow. Leaders are only as strong as the connections they make with each person in their constituency, whether they have one follower or one million. 

– Strengths Based Leadership, page no. 79

Everyone leads a team of one person or thousands in their lifetime. When seen from the perspective of a follower, most of us expect four basic things from a leader: trust, compassion, stability, and hope. While most successful teams talk the least about trust, struggling teams’ discussions are dominated by it. Compassion, on the other hand, seems like a difficult value to communicate in a large organization. Standard Chartered’s Mervyn Davies explains that company leaders must have a “positive bias” towards their employees if they want to exhibit compassion. The third factor, Stability, is mostly communicated by confidence in the company’s financial future and keeping transparent procedures. And finally, hope is one factor that is communicated best when a leader chooses to initiate and respond rather than react to the situations at hand.

We create a lot more value when we lead from our strengths and create a space for everyone to operate from their strengths. While a leader expects higher engagement, more productivity from each of its employees, the employees expect more compassion, more stability from their leaders. Thus, building and leading an organization requires a high level of awareness and understanding of self and others.

About The Author

Aanchal Gupta

Founder CIELead, Women’s Leadership Fellow, Speaker and Research consultant. Being a Young India and Gandhi fellow, Aanchal has experience in the education management and leadership space over the last five years. She is passionate about bringing the identification of the power of a Diverse and Inclusive workspace among leaders and building a culture that can foster the same.