Strength based leadership

In a worldwide survey conducted by research agency Gallup, 198,000 people were asked the question: ‘Are you able to do the work you are good at every day?’ By linking the answers to data on the performances of the business units these people worked for, some valuable insights emerged. For example, where employees responded to this question with ‘I totally agree’, there was:

  • 50% more chance that they were working in a business unit with low staff turnover;
  • 38% more chance that they were working in one of the more productive business units;
  • 44% more chance that they were working in a business unit where job satisfaction levels were high.

And this relationship continued to show up in follow-up research. Where business units succeeded in improving their scores for productivity and customer loyalty, and had low staff turnover, more employees answered the question with ‘I totally agree’. Based on these insights, it would seem that employees are better off doing work which makes use of their strengths. The bad news though is that a follow-up study conducted by Gallup (2006), showed that just 17% of employees experience the feeling that they are predominantly making use of their strengths during an average working day. Just think what would happen to productivity and profitability if companies were able to increase this percentage to 30% or even 60%! And if managers actually started to select and manage based on the strengths of their employees?

In 2008, Gallup conducted a study into the degree to which employees felt motivated at work. Once again this produced some priceless insights. In a work environment where the manager focuses on the strengths of the employees, and encourages them to make use of these strengths in their work (‘strength based leadership’), 73% of the employees indicate that they are motivated. In contrast, in an environment where the manager focuses on what the employee needs to improve (‘repair focus leadership’), just 9% of the employees indicate that they feel motivated.

And consider the following two insights that has Gallup gained in the last 30 years, during which 80,000 managers worldwide were interviewed in depth. These revealed that the world’s ‘best’ managers assume two things: firstly, that the talents of each employee are unique and lasting. It is therefore NOT possible for employees to acquire competencies in all areas. Additionally, these managers assume that the strengths (in other words, NOT the weak points) of an employee offer the most room for growth. These managers spend a lot of energy in finding the right talent for each role. They focus on achieving results (the WHAT and the WHY) rather than prescribing which rules have to be followed and which activities have to be performed (the HOW). They also spend the most time with their employees and everyone is treated and coached according to their personal needs.

Are you making the best use of the strengths of your employees and colleagues? And are you using your own strengths in a way that is in line with what you consider to be important in this world? Someone who made a conscious choice to do this is Narayanan Krishnan. Just before he was due to leave for Europe, this promising and highly-acclaimed top chef witnessed an old man eating his own excrement. He was so shocked by this that he quit his job within a week and started helping the homeless, elderly and mentally disabled, by providing them with food, among other things. Watch this video made by CNN about the work he did. Incidentally, he has been named one of the ‘CNN Heroes’ of 2010. For a complete list of all the ‘heroes’, follow this link.

Of course we don’t all have to take such life-changing decisions immediately. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if people were able to do work that made the most of their strengths? This is what your challenge is about. What are your strengths, how much do you want to make use of them and how much are you actually able to use them? And does your personal focus lie in developing your strengths or are you trying to acquire competencies that are not so well-developed (and that perhaps are not at all appropriate for you)? Finally, I’d like to present you with one last insight from the Gallup studies: people leave managers, and not companies!

Make the most of your strengths!

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