Have you ever wondered “what are the keys to effective leadership?” I am sure that we all have asked this question at some time. And this is exactly the question which Tom Rath and Barry Conchie seek to answer in the book “Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow”. To answer this question they reviewed a culmination of 30 years of research by Gallup Corporation. The research they reviewed included over 40,000 personal interviews with leaders from around the world and 20,000 interviews with followers to ask why they follow a leader. The results of their research lead to the authors proposing the following three keys to effective leadership.
1. The Most Effective Leaders Are Always Investing in Strengths
The authors found that there is no one leadership strength which all effective leaders possess. Recognising that there is no one best leadership style the authors make a case for leveraging one’s strengths to meet leadership challenges. Effective leaders know their strengths and invest to get the most out of them, they continually expand and enhance them.
“If you spend your life trying to be good at everything, you will never be great at anything. While our society encourages us to be well-rounded, this approach inadvertently breeds mediocrity. Perhaps the greatest misconception of all is that of the well-rounded leader.” – Tom Rath and Barry Conchie, Strengths Based Leadership
One of the most surprising conclusions from the research is that effective leaders are not well-rounded, rather effective leaders have a few key strengths that they use to their advantage. In fact the authors have yet to discover even one leader with world-class strength in all four domains of leadership – executing, influencing, relationship building and strategic thinking. It turns out that well-rounded individuals actually make for mediocre leaders.
“A leader needs to know his strengths as a carpenter knows his tools, or as a physician knows the instruments at her disposal. What great leaders have in common is that each truly knows his or her strengths – and can call on the right strength at the right time. This explains why there is no definitive list of characteristics that describes all leaders.” – Donald O. Clifton, the Father of Strengths Psychology
2. The Most Effective Leaders Surround Themselves With the Right People and Then Maximise Their Team
“Although individuals need not be well-rounded, teams should be.” – Tom Rath and Barry Conchie, Strengths Based Leadership
Whilst well-rounded individuals don’t make the best leaders the best teams are always well-rounded. Given that no single leader is strong in every leadership domain, effective leaders work to build a leadership team where each member has a complementary set of strengths. The authors found that the most successful teams have a balance of strengths in the following four leadership domains:
- Strategic Thinking: Effective leaders keep everyone focused on a long-term future.
- Influence: Effective leaders can sell ideas, develop political support and get people to rally behind a project or an initiative.
- Relationship Building: Effective leaders are able to unite a group of disparate individuals into a team that works towards a common goal.
- Execution: Effective leaders know how to get things done by translating plans into action.
Effective leaders know their strengths. They also know their weaknesses and recognise that unless they get support in these areas they will be ineffective. Given this effective leaders consciously surround themselves with leaders who’s strengths compensate for their weaknesses.
Less effective leaders tend to build their teams based on technical expertise or specialist knowledge. This results in an ineffective team. Effective leader do something different. They select their team members primarily for their leadership strengths and how their leadership strengths complement other team members. Only then do they give consideration to specialist knowledge.
3. The Most Effective Leaders Understand Their Followers’ Needs.
The researchers asked followers to choose three words that best describes the contribution that a leader makes to their life. Many of them used the same words to describe what they seek from their leaders.
- Trust: Nothing happens without a sense of trust between leaders and followers.
- Compassion: Followers want to know that their leaders care about them.
- Stability: Followers want leaders that they can depend upon.
- Hope: Followers want to feel positive about their future prospects.
Effective leaders meet these four needs. The authors research found that there is a direct relationship to the level of engagement at work and the ability of a leader to meet these four needs.
Without application these leadership ideas are worthless. So take some time to consider the following questions as they apply to your leadership.
- Do you have a good understanding of your personal strengths and weaknesses?
- What are your top three strengths and are you using them on a daily basis?
- Are you deliberately investing in your strengths?
- Are you building a team that compensates for your weaknesses?
- Do you select team members for their leadership strengths as opposed to their knowledge and technical expertise?
- Are you developing your team members strengths?
- What is the level of trust between you and your team?
- Does your team feel that you care for them on a personal level?
- Does your team know what to expect from you?
- Is your team inspired by a positive future?
To help you identify your own leadership strengths the book comes with an access code for the StrengthFinder assessment. The StrengthsFinder assessment identifies 34 individual leadership themes each of which can be sorted into the following four domains of leadership strength: execution, influence, relationship-building and strategic thinking.