We all have certain talents, strengths that make us unique but often we tend to focus on our weaknesses, on non-strengths that need to be fixed. When we are aware of our strengths and use them we can unlock our potential and start to build our self-esteem, we literally feel stronger. When we focus on our ‘weaknesses’ … we don’t feel energised or good about ourselves. Many successful organizations (for instance Aviva, Deloitte, Facebook, Tesco, Accenture, Nestlé), are now embracing a strengths-based development approach.

What sets the most successful managers apart ?

They don’t lead from a position of command and control, they bring out the best of their people, they know what their own and what their employee’s strengths are. People thrive when their strengths are recognized, appreciated and utilized, when they are able to do their best everyday and when they are being coached by their leader and get ample opportunities to develop.

Reflection and self-awareness

Strengths-based leadership requires you to be fully aware of your own unique strengths. Makes sense doesn’t it… but I’ve often experienced that leaders don’t take time for (self)reflection, they’re just way too busy for that. Busy moving from task to task and from meeting to meeting, checking their phone/email messages continuously and putting out fires. In the meantime they may feel inadequate, frustrated, stressed out and tired. Self-awareness is the key for emotional intelligence and truly effective leaders are distinguished by a high degree of emotional intelligence, which includes self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill (Daniel Goleman).

Develop leadership strengths by building around them

Knowledge and understanding of your strengths, including your emotional intelligence is critical for professional and organizational success. Knowing and applying your strengths can lead to sustained high performance, confidence and more engagement.

But once you have identified and named your strengths, where do you go from there? It is not so easy to know when you have the ‘right strength, in the right amount, in the right situation for the right outcome’.

Finding out what your leadership strengths are is inspiring and powerful, but after you have done that how do you take them to the next level? It is important to understand that your leadership strengths don’t operate in isolation, they cluster around and reinforce one another. Getting insights that will help you to build around strengths with complementary skills is crucial. 

What are strengths?

There are many definitions, I like this one: 'Strengths are underlying qualities that energise you, contribute to your personal growth and lead to peak performance' (Strengthscope).

Understanding and applying your strengths will help you to improve your performance, confidence and engagement. 

Strengths-based development theory is supported by over 30 years of research, the core beliefs overlap a variety of other developing theories in personal and organizational psychology including positive psychology and appreciative inquiry.

Recognizing, developing and optimally deploying talents provides positive energy and intrinsic motivation. It strengthens self-awareness and self-management and leads to better performance and commitment to the organization. By consciously deploying talents, talents are developed into strengths; ‘talent in action’.

When organizations pay more attention to diversity and the unique talents of employees, this will have a positive effect is on the motivation, engagement, performance and employability of employees. People who can use their strengths at work perform better and are more resilient. In addition, they are more authentic, more involved, creative and inspired.

Kitty Schaap MA, MSc is the owner of CoAchieve. Her consulting and leadership coaching work is anchored in positive psychology and adopts a strengths-based approach.