Traditional assumptions around leadership are no longer fit for purpose. Billions are spent on leadership development every year with little sign of improvement in the UK or the rest of the world. Employee engagement and trust in business leaders, from both customers and workers, are at record lows during this time of unprecedented uncertainty, competition, and global financial turbulence.
Great leaders are not superheroes or all-rounders, nor do they achieve great feats on their own or through overcoming deficits better than their peers. Our research shows the most effective leaders are those who deliver strong, positive work environments and business results by optimsing their unique strengths and working hard to develop effectiveness in areas where they can best create value. Like Richard Branson, James Dyson and Angela Ahrendts, strong leaders learn to achieve outstanding results in areas they are truly passionate about. They stretch themselves and their team in areas of strength and push the boundaries to achieve outstanding results, building ‘super teams’ of people with diverse strengths that complement their own.
Unique strengths are not just tasks the leader is good at but, more importantly, those they really love to do; that energise them. Research over the past few decades shows these areas of particular interest – when understood, used effectively and with agility – provide the greatest opportunity for excellence across a number of different business situations.
However, to achieve peak performance a leader must do more than simply optimise their strengths. The best leaders learn and practice leadership habits across four critical areas: sharing and aligning employees around a single, compelling vision; sparking engagement by attracting, motivating and developing talent; skillfully executing plans; and sustaining progress and continuous improvement.
Many wrongly assume a strengths-based approach ignores areas of weakness, This couldn’t be further from the truth. One of the key benefits of this approach is that it helps leaders better understand their weaker areas, as well as other performance risks, such as overdone strengths. Research suggests that an overuse of strengths can be a more important source of career derailment than any obvious competence weaknesses, which are usually easier to work around. A strengths-based approach helps leaders build awareness of such risks and put in place creative, positive strategies for dealing with them, including drawing on the strengths of other colleagues in areas they are lacking, and changing habits to reduce the impact of weaker areas by using strengths to accelerate change.
Brook is also co-author of ‘Optimize Your Strengths’, which is available at all major online and high street bookshops, including Amazon, Foyles and Waterstones.