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How to Win at Strengths-based Leadership

When a manager decides to shift their focus from fixing weaknesses to developing strengths, three exciting things become possible, fast:

  • Individual team members get to do work they love and can naturally excel at; people thrive and get amazing results.

  • Tasks can be done by the people in the team who are best suited to do them; the team supports itself and performs better as a whole.

  • The manager spends their time and energy constructively enabling the team members to understand and best use their strengths to achieve great things; they energise their team and feel energised themselves.

“Even though I knew it should work on paper, because of their natural strengths, when you see it actually happening, it’s mind-blowing!” Charlotte Henderson

But if you’re a manager new to the idea of strengths-based leadership, how can you increase your chances of success? Charlotte was a manager at The AA when strengths-based recruitment (SBR) and development were introduced. She is now a passionate advocate of the strengths approach, and she has these practical tips for managers who are either considering or who are new to strengths-based leadership:

  1. Prepare to have your beliefs challenged. You might be used to training and developing people in a certain way, performance managing them, for example. But, if you allow people to do work that uses their natural strengths, they are unlikely to need micro-managing on performance, because they’ll achieve naturally. You’ll need to shift to supporting your people to achieve more with their strengths, creating new opportunities for them to learn, develop and achieve even more.

  2. Understand the strengths of your team members. If you recruited them with SBR, you’ll already know exactly what makes them tick because the interviewing process will leave you feeling like you already know them. If not, then Chapter 5 of Sally’s new book (link) offers excellent advice for managers. Or the question, ‘What do you love doing and are energised by at work?’ is a great place to start.

  3. Delegate intelligently. Use your knowledge of the strengths of your team to make sure everyone plays to their strengths. Know what each member of your team particularly thrives on doing, and give them opportunities to do those things as a priority. If someone loves to coach and has the chance to do that at the start of a day, the positive energy generated in them carries them through the rest of the day, even if they need to do things later that they like less. I do this and the energy generated lifts the team, and me too. Try it!

And for people who are still unsure if the strengths-based approach to management and development is for them, what does Charlotte say?

Just go with it. Yes, it’s something new and it’s a change. And if embracing change isn’t one of your own strengths, as a manager or leader, it might seem a bit daunting at first. But, I’d say try it anyway and see the difference it makes for yourself. It’s about really understanding an individual’s natural ‘DNA’ and then playing to their innate strengths to get the best out of the person so that both they and their team or department thrive. It works. You’ve got absolutely nothing to lose. Embrace it!”

Read an interview with Charlotte in Sally Bibb’s book Strengths-Based Recruitment and Development