Being a leader in 2021 means facing challenges and opportunities rarely seen before. Leaders must be agile enough to identify and implement new strategies while being careful not to jeopardize the company’s financial prospects. Accountability, flexibility and thinking outside the box are must-have skills, and most current leaders are actively looking for ways to improve productivity, focus and work culture in their organizations.

While adapting to this complex, evolving world, many leaders have turned to the strengths-based leadership approach. Instead of focusing on existing problems, the strengths-based approach looks into people’s potential to harness the best of all possibilities.

What Is Strengths-based Leadership Theory?

The central premise of strengths-based leadership, or strengths-based organizational management (SBOM), is that leveraging a company’s assets and human strengths will optimize performance. Strengths-based leadership shifts leaders’ focus from obstacles to possibilities, so that instead of trying to improve deficits, they try to capitalize on available resources, such as people, systems and tools, to maximize organizational productivity.

The theory took the business world by storm after the publication of Tom Rath and Barry Conchie’s book “Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders (2009), Teams, and Why People Follow.” Then-Gallup researchers Rath and Conchie analyzed thousands of interviews, team studies and polls with leaders from all over the world and drew conclusions that they summarized in three essential tenets:

    • Successful leaders invest in their employees’ strengths.
    • Successful leaders gather the right people to form teams that consist of people who complement each other.
    • Successful leaders work to understand and respond to their employees’ needs.

Rath and Conchie’s extensive, decades-long research showed that leaders are diverse and unique, but they shared three common traits: authenticity, versatility and the tendency to follow personal instincts so that any attempt to mimic another leader’s style was a failure.

4 Types of Leaders

According to strengths-based leadership theory, there are four types of leaders:

1. Executing

Executing leaders are driven to accomplish their goals. They are organized, are meticulous and rarely give up until they achieve their goal. These leaders appreciate organizational structure, follow the rules and have well-defined principles.

Since they are driven by maintaining organizational hierarchy, executing leaders are good at delegating tasks and managing their team. However, if these managers become too focused on the organization, they may struggle to act.

2. Strategic Thinking

Strategic thinkers excel when introducing new ideas and creating strategies. These leaders focus their energy on planning, gathering information, and creating complex data networks and innovations.

Strategic thinkers usually have well-developed plans and strategies but may be weaker in interpersonal relations.

3. Influencing

Influencing leaders are excellent at inspiring and encouraging their team. They have exceptional persuasive skills and can draw a crowd together. These leaders have an innate ability to attract people, present new concepts and promote new ideas, and influence others.

Influencing leaders easily take action but might not be good at following strict rules or adhering to organizational structure.

4. Relationship Building

Relationship-building leaders excel at making connections and bringing people together. They have a high sensitivity for other people’s feelings, needs and preferences and can create cohesive teams.

These leaders are particularly focused on creating team unity. However, if they are not careful and observant, they might miss important projects while dealing with people’s needs.

The Benefits of Strengths-based Leadership

According to strengths-based leadership theory, effective leaders recognize other people’s strengths and delegate tasks accordingly. In this way, they inspire employees to become involved in assignments they feel confident to work on. Here are other benefits of strengths-based leadership.

Enhanced Team Satisfaction and Motivation

When leaders give their team members the freedom to use their strengths, it motivates them toward higher performance, which improves their self-confidence and job satisfaction. This type of working environment creates teams that can respond to challenges and tackle obstacles more efficiently and successfully.

Improved Trust and Confidence

Leaders who show understanding and encourage their employees to put their potential into practice create trust and confidence. Their team members are not reluctant to express their opinions, and they feel inspired to contribute using their strengths, making the team more creative and innovative.

More Approachable Leaders

Many leaders have the reputation of being distant, unapproachable and capable of everything. Since no human is omnipotent, strengths-based leadership helps leaders share their weaknesses, making them more approachable. It also helps them find close collaborators who have the skills they lack and, thus, complement them.

The Ability to Understand Another Perspective

When many leaders are faced with a problem, the first thing they do is look for a way to solve it — which is only natural. However, strengths-based leadership offers a different approach: looking for all the assets leaders have at their disposal and using them to work on the solution.

For instance, instead of punishing an employee for not reaching a target, strengths-based leaders assess that employee’s skills more closely and redistribute the assignment based on team members’ strengths. This approach can save time, since it enables workers to focus on what they can do instead of what they can’t.

How Can Leaders Apply Strengths-based Leadership?

Practicing and applying strengths-based leadership is an ongoing process. The starting point is for leaders to observe and analyze their strengths and weaknesses as objectively as possible. There are many personality assessments that can help offer a detailed insight into leaders’ personality, including their personal and professional strengths and weaknesses.

When helping leaders understand their strengths and weaknesses, it is a good idea to help them create a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis that outlines them in relation to their position and goals. Then, they can assess their team members’ strengths and weaknesses and reorganize their roles to make the most of everyone’s strengths.