Effective leaders have widely different personal styles. There is no one right way to lead. We can approach leadership from many different angles, but the key to success is developing strengths. I often find the concept of “using your strengths” is confusing to some individuals. So today I want to share some truths I’ve found through researching strengths-based development to help leaders gain more knowledge (as well as to clear up a few misunderstandings).
1. Firstly, strengths are not always your passions.
Is a strength something you are zealous about, that you enjoy doing and that energizes you? No. That statement defines your passion. Individuals often confuse strengths with passions. People can be widely passionate about something they are not competent in. How many majors did you cycle through in college? Eventually, students find a “sweet spot” in an area they both like and can excel in. So what is a strength? It is something in which others would consider you exceptional. Research has shown there is a correlation between passion and competence. It’s not surprising that people tend to have more competence in areas where they have stronger passion.
2. Secondly, trying to be perfect in everything results in mediocre leadership.
Leaders who are moderately effective and who preoccupy themselves with incremental improvement of less positive issues will never move from good to great. Great leaders do not standout because they fixed a few minor weaknesses. They prevail because they are extraordinary in certain areas. Many leaders worry that it’s their weaknesses that negatively impact their effectiveness. They believe they’ll be defined or judged by their flaws. But this only becomes true if a person has no strengths. A
Zenger Folkman of more than 65,000 leaders showed that those who possess just three standout strengths were rated at the 80th percentile in overall leadership effectiveness. So the good news is that you don’t have to be good at everything. You only need to hone in on a few specific areas to stand out and differentiate yourself as a leader who is great.study I conducted at
I remember explaining this concept to my daughter who was majoring in music, dance, theater at the time. After years of being a chorus girl she wanted to graduate to leading roles. Sadly she was so focused on being good at everything that she didn’t stand out from the other 100 girls who were also good. I told her that if she wanted to stay in the chorus, then she should keep splitting her focus and become “good” at everything. But if she wanted to be the star, she needed to find a way to stand out by choosing to focus on developing a strength. During that time she got a minor role in a play and worked very hard with a good friend to master the role so well that she stole the show. Putting her focus on becoming an exceptional actress made her stand out from everyone else. I was happy to see her progressively win many more leading roles as she applied the principles of strengths-based development in her field.
3. Finally, doing more of the same thing doesn’t build a strength.
I’ve found that the vast majority of action plans leaders create use a linear philosophy to address behavioral change. For example, if people try to become more strategic by re-reading strategy books or re-taking classes, they seldom increase their success, in a similar way that runners have discovered that it takes more than just running longer distances to become better. Great athletes have discovered that lifting weights and swimming can help a person run faster. They learn to cross train.
Can the principle of cross training apply to leadership development? Looking at data on thousands of leaders rated as highly competent at strategy, for example, we have found these individuals are also effective at communicating powerfully, customer understanding, innovation and several other behaviors we call companion behaviors. We found that companion behaviors like communication enable a leader to demonstrate and share their strategic insights more effectively. Similarly, understanding customer issues and concerns helped leaders to formulate a strategy that would enable customer satisfaction. Being more innovative often helped leaders to discover unique strategies that could leverage the success of an organization.
Every leadership competency has highly correlated companion competencies that help improve that behavior. Understanding them gives the leader additional ways to improve their effectiveness. Strengths increase more effectively when we learn to approach them in a non-linear way.
There is much that has been written about developing strengths. For the first 15 years of my career, I focused on helping leaders figure out what was wrong with them. It was a negative process. I have seen much more growth and success through the years from leaders who were able to build on what’s right.
The conclusion should be clear: Find your strengths, discover your genius and find ways to differentiate yourself from others. If there is one thing that most leaders have come to realize about themselves, it’s that they are unique. So by turning your unique abilities into profound strengths, you become an extraordinary leader.
This article was written by Joseph Folkman from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.