A strengths-based approach leadership

By Natalie Boudou
Executive coach & Trainer, Resilience Expert, HumanForce consulting

A recent team offsite event that I co-facilitated with my business partner, has inspired me to write this article. The team was asked to explore their individual and team talents and to see how they might use their learning to build a more cohesive and productive collaboration. What struck me most was the positive and energetic atmosphere that this exploration provoked throughout the day and once again I was reminded of how powerful a strengths-based approach can be for building resilience in companies.

A survey of over 10 million individuals carried out by Gallup , the company that has developed the StrengthsFinder Assessment, revealed that only 33 % of people agree with the statement “At work I have the opportunity to do what I do best everyday”. The remaining 77% were either disengaged or demotivated by their current work.  A further Meta-Analysis carried out by Gallup in 2015 to analyse the relationship between strengths-based development and business performance produced some startling facts. In those companies where employees had been given strengths –based interventions or coaching, performance was up by 7%, customer engagement by 15% and company profit by 29%. This study involved over 50 000 business units worldwide. The figures speak for themselves.

Our Strengths are our natural talents, they are innate and can be observed early on in childhood. They are what we do easily and what we enjoy doing the most. It is interesting to note that we humans spend huge amounts of energy focusing on our weaknesses and trying to “fix” them.  It is human to look for the negative in everything. Most of the news stories today are negative or depressing and they are the ones that get the most attention. Trying to improve our failings is not a bad thing in itself, but it makes more sense to mange them as best we can and to free ourselves up to maximize our true talent. This involves less energy and produces more impressive results.

Developing strengths is about capitalizing on the unique talents of individuals and teams & developing leadership. When we are in alignment with our talents and when we develop them fully we can be at our best. A strengths-based approach allows companies to build on where their employees excel increasing motivation and engagement. By aligning employees’ strengths with their roles and responsibilities creativity and innovation can also thrive.
Facebook is a good example of an organisation that adopts a strengths-based approach. Employees in Facebook can match their skills and talents to projects that are of interest to them. They also get to rotate to different roles every 18 months and have a chance to shape their own destiny within the company. By giving their employees a chance to  develop the areas in which they excel, their people can feel that they are having an impact whilst enjoying their daily jobs. According to data collected in 2015, Facebook employees were the most satisfied and the least stressed of the 15 Tech companies in the study. The company was also ranked second in a Glassdoors survey of “The best places to work in 2017”.

At HumanForce consulting we have used a strengths-based approach to improve the resilience of individuals and teams and to create better relationships and awareness within companies. We have also seen that the well-being of our clients has been improved in the following ways:

  • Employees want their strengths to be recognized and taken into account by their managers. When this happens relationships improve, employees feel valued and this in turn produces a more positive culture within the company
  • Individuals gain in self-confidence when they explore their talents and realize their potential, even if it they not fully exploited.
  • When leaders know their strengths and the talents of their team they can create a positive climate where members are supported to reach their goals.
  • Tasks or projects can be given to the right people and this can also increase flexibility and creativity within teams.
  • Diversity and inclusion are increased, as employees are able to appreciate the unique talents of each other and see how they can leverage those talents more effectively.
  • Talents that may have gone unnoticed, can be realized and exploited fully.
  • The emotional well-being of individuals is improved. A focus on strengths provokes positive emotions, broadens horizons and increases feelings of belonging.

I should here just add a word of caution. Getting the right balance is crucial. Strengths can become weaknesses when overused. For example, decisiveness and a preference for action are excellent strengths that can move companies forward but when overused they can prevent opportunities for exchange and feedback. I have seen many leaders, whose main strengths include “Command” and “Activator” take their talents to an extreme and are judged by their peers to be too forceful or directive in their leadership. One of my strengths is Empathy (not surprising in my line of work) but there have been times when too much empathy has clouded my judgement and prevented me from taking the right action. The key is to be aware and to understand when and how to use or adjust your talent in the right situation. It takes time but with practice it is a powerful tool.

For more information please contact HumanForce consulting hello@human-force.ch