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Applying strengths in practice to better lead

Understanding your own strengths will allow you to maximise your potential as a leader. Read this article to find out more, or join the course.
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We have talked about applying strengths to:

  • recruitment
  • ‘personalising’ job roles (though this is something to use with caution, given people will join and leave an organisation)
  • development of performance objectives
  • dealing with conflict
  • deciding on a career move.

There’s more to it than that though when we think of these areas as a leader.

First and foremost, understanding your own strengths will allow you to maximise your potential as a leader. Then, understanding how to work with others’ strengths gives you a far greater amount of ‘power’ to deliver on your objectives, whatever they happen to be, as you are working through more than one person, and in a purposeful way.

Looking first at you as a leader, it is critical to understand your strengths as well as your values (which we talked about in Course 1), when you are making a decision about a career or job move. That’s if you really want to be happy and fulfilled. And a good leader knows this and ensures they really understand themselves and their talents as well as motivations. If you are an Achiever, then you need a role which will allow you to achieve lots of things. I am an Achiever, and if I haven’t enough to do/finish/achieve, then I will stay up until all hours at night trying to do something more, whether it be read, knit, write, etc. Whereas if my job allows me to get lots of stuff done so my achievement urge is satisfied, then I won’t burn the midnight oil, which is not good for my wellbeing nor my leadership capabilities (we never perform at our best when overly tired).

If we look at some of the leaders we focused on in the first course of this series, I would hazard a guess that Mother Teresa would have rated high in Empathy and Arranger. Martin Luther King might demonstrate Belief and Activator. Leaders will demonstrate their strengths, as will any of us, but usually very clearly, and their strengths will have been allowed to flourish, otherwise they would not be successful leaders.

Leaders will look to the strengths of others, – both in the sense of wanting to get the best out of their (diverse) team, as well as in decisions as to with whom they want to collaborate and work. Technical strengths or knowledge will be important, but the more experiential and behavioural strengths are going to be important too. Maybe even more so, as they are at our foundation, and are less subject to change.

Leaders will also think about where their strengths may actually be weaknesses, in a particular situation. An example might be Jacinda Ardern, who we talked about last week. It’s possible that she scores highly on Empathy, and that was something very key to her style as a leader and her success. But focus on it too much, and you may become too selfless and burn out. I’m not saying this was the case, but it’s a possibility. Or we can take Martin Luther King and say the fact that he took action founded on strong belief was great, but it ended up getting him assassinated. In this case it’s not really that his strength was also a weakness, I would say, but rather that our strengths can sometimes expose us to threats, just as our weaknesses can.

A final thought around strengths and leadership is to consider the barriers we might face in trying to take a strengths-based approach. The key one, as already mentioned, is resisting the temptation to focus on weaknesses. By definition our top strengths cannot be all the strengths possible in the world, and just because something is not a top strength does not mean that it immediately should be defined as a weakness. A good leader will focus on the positivity which comes out of a strengths-based approach, and use it as a means to drive personal and team performance, as well as give cause for more recognition and celebration than otherwise.

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Applied Leadership and Self-Development: Expanding the Toolkit

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