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Published on: Strengths-based Coaching

Understanding Strengths-Based Leadership

When coaching leaders, I regularly refer to strengths, and how we can apply our unique strengths to our lives and work, and become the best possible version of ourselves. When we work with our strengths, we are energised by what we are doing, and we are more likely to adopt an approach that is authentic, feels natural, and uses behaviours that we feel confident we can apply well. 

So how can we take a strengths-based approach to leadership?

There are 4 key steps to follow when wanting to leverage your strengths: identify, prioritise, develop, and apply.

What are strengths?

The difference between strengths and skills can get confusing. The approach I take in order to distinguish between the two is:

  • Skills are WHAT you do
  • Strengths are HOW you do it

So, for example, if Problem Solving is needed in your role, I look at this as a skill (or competency). The strength you apply is how you approach that problem: eg being methodical, persuasive, supportive etc, in order to solve it. In other words, we might solve a problem in a number of different ways and still get to the outcome wanted.

Coaching Strengths & Weaknesses

According to research, although strengths are relatively stable, we can evolve them over time as we grow and develop.  Being able to develop and leverage your strengths at work can make the difference between mediocrity and flourishing. We can also learn to ‘borrow’ behavioural strengths we wouldn’t naturally revert to when the time is right.  

At work, we are often encouraged to focus on addressing our weaknesses, and while I support this if the weakness is genuinely holding us back or getting in the way, when we focus on perceived weaknesses we can miss the opportunity to leverage our strengths and truly flourish.  We can also miss the point that we can borrow skills to complete a task in the moment, rather than expect to operate in that mode 100% of the time.  And in both cases, we risk missing the chance to be energized in what we do, find meaning in our lives, and reach our fullest potential.

Despite this, most performance evaluation approaches focus on areas for improvement – our weaknesses.  We are led to believe that we should improve what we are not very good at, sometimes to the extent of ignoring or defocusing from our strengths. 

This approach is fundamentally flawed for two important reasons – it misses the opportunity to leverage strengths even further, and it leads to an unintended outcome of everyone being ‘average’ at everything.  Extensive Gallup research refutes this, and has found that a ‘spiky profile’ (when an individual has strengths in some areas, and weaknesses in other areas) can produce better leadership outcomes than a profile that is average across all areas. In other words, a top performing leader might strongly excel in some areas (eg scoring 5 out of 5) and be considered ‘weak’ in other areas (eg 2 out of 5), and still be a more effective leader overall than one who scores 3 out of 5 in every area.  

The keys to making this work are:

  • Self-Awareness – knowing where our natural talents and passions lie, and where our gaps are (and how to mitigate those gaps), and
  • Opportunity – when work is a good fit, and we have the chance to use our strengths regularly, it will energize and empower us and increase our productivity.

What are my Strengths Test

There are various ways to identify and prioritise our strengths.  We can do this without a profiling tool, using a list of strengths to self-assess our profile, based on our own judgement and observations.  If you want to try this, download my free step by step guide here.

For a more robust approach, an established, validated test is recommended, and I favour the Core Strengths 2.0 tool.  

Here’s an outline of my Core Strength to show you the insights this test can provide:

According to the Core Strengths test, the behaviours I use most often and naturally at work are Quick-To-Act, Tolerant and Adaptable.

3 strengths

My bottom 3 strengths, the behaviours I use least often at work (though still can if I truly put my mind to it) are Competitive, Methodical and Analytical.

The Core Strengths

The Core Strengths test also identifies what might happen if I overdo these strengths – another way to describe potential weaknesses or blindspots I might have about myself.  At times being quick-to-act may show up as being rash. Tolerance might look like indifference.  And being adaptable might become being indecisive.  Ugh!  For someone who values being quick to act, it’s easy to see how being indecisive might cause me some issues!

How to develop and apply strengths

Once you have identified and prioritised your core strengths, the next step is to look at how you can develop and apply your strengths.

Identify a strength you want to develop or focus on. Find ways you can use this strength daily. Learn to use each strength, without over or under using it. Notice when you might be overusing that strength, and unwittingly creating an ‘overdone strength’ or ‘weakness’.

When you use your strengths, it may not always be well-received or successful, so be prepared to adjust your approach based on the outcomes.

Don’t take your strengths for granted. Sometimes we become so accustomed to what we do well, that we assume everyone has this quality or finds it easy, or we minimise the importance or relevance of that strength.  Be careful not to undervalue your strengths.

Rather than focusing on flaws, take a strengths-based approach to your work, and identify how you can use your strengths even more to overcome the difficulties you face. 

Working with your strengths can help you become a more authentic and productive leader.

Next steps

Use the tips and tools I have shared to identify your strengths, find opportunities to grow them, and make use of them whenever possible. Remember that they are an integral part of who you are, your approach to leadership and how you behave in the workplace.

I hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download my free guide to identifying your strengths, and if you’d like more help with maximising your strengths to become a more effective leader, ask me about how I can help you with strengths-based coaching, either with or without a more accurate assessment of your strengths, using Core Strengths 2.0.