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March 2011


Strengths Based Leadership


by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie (Gallup Press, 2008)


What are the big take-aways?


In this book the authors discuss the results of a 30-year research project sponsored by the Gallup organization (world-renowned for its opinion polls) which uncovered three findings with leadership implications (pages 2-3):


(1) The most effective leaders are always investing in strengths;

(2) The most effective leaders surround themselves with the right people and maximize their team; and

(3) The most effective leaders understand their followers’ needs.


The study identified 34 leadership strengths or “themes,” which are bundled into four leadership “domains” or groupings: Executing, Influencing, Relationship Building, and Strategic Thinking.


Why did I like it?


The book invites the reader to explore these strengths and their effects on followers through real-life examples of proven leaders and teams. Then, if the reader wishes, s/he can go online with a code that comes with the book and take a 35-minute assessment which results in a report of the taker’s top 5 strengths, as well as a report containing action steps the taker can use to further build on those strengths.


I am biased in favor of strengths-based theories like this one and other positive-psychology-oriented approaches, such as appreciative inquiry. In my own leadership experience and in my practice as a coach, I have found that some very accomplished leaders focus way too much time and energy on “overcoming” their challenges, rather than capitalizing on their strengths and strategically compensating for their challenges by surrounding themselves with folks who have the needed talents and skills to complement the leader’s. (This is much harder to do than it is to articulate, because I believe it requires high levels of self-awareness, ability to trust, and discipline.) Strengths Based Leadership validates that approach by offering persuasive arguments and examples, further backed up by the online assessment that the reader can take. I also liked the attention this book pays to the needs of followers (trust, compassion, stability and hope), which are typically under-emphasized.


I took the online assessment and found that the resultant “Top Five Clifton Strengths Finder Themes” report matched my self-concept well enough to be convincing, while including a couple of surprises that also rang true and gave me genuine food for thought. I will probably make use of the checklist provided in the other report that suggested future action steps, tailored to someone with my profile.


In what situations would this be useful?


First of all, the book would be reaffirming and of practical use to any leader who has not yet explored his or her strengths in any meaningful or systematic way. It’s worth doing. Second, the book would be a great introduction to a simple method for evaluating a team of people to check how well the members of the team complement each other’s strengths and to identify potential gaps. Third, it would be an empowering tool or starting-place for any leader beginning to work with a coach. It’s not an enormous commitment; the lay-out of the book is very straightforward and – at only about 90 pages of content (the rest is appendices with additional resources) – it is a really quick read.


(Note: The online assessment requires the taker to read and respond to the questions in no more than 20 seconds each – and there are 177 of them. Personally, I had no difficulty with it. However, leaders with a reading disability or other related challenge might not be able to take this assessment without an accommodation; information about how to obtain an accommodation is provided in the assessment’s introduction.)


What other resources might “pair” well with it?


I recommend any good resource having to do with evaluating and enhancing emotional intelligence as a wise pairing with this book, because self-awareness (a key EQ skill) is so critical to being able to take advantage of the information provided in Strengths Based Leadership and its accompanying assessment. I would start with Resonant Leadership and/or – for a less deep dive with an online assessment tool of its own – the Emotional Intelligence Quick Book (both of which have already been reviewed in the Leadership Library).


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