Tag Archive for strengths-based leadership

Quotable (Tom Rath & Barry Conchie, Strengths-Based Leadership)

“Effective leaders surround themselves with the right people and build on each person’s strengths. . . . While each member has his or her own unique strengths, the most cohesive and successful teams possess broader groupings of strengths.”  (Rath & Conchie, 2008, pp. 21-22)

Rath, T., & Conchie, B. (2008). Strengths-Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow. New York, NY: Gallup Press.


Fill in the Gaps

One of my favorite lines from the movie “Rocky” takes place when Paulie (Rocky’s best friend) is having a conversation with Rocky in a meat locker.  Paulie is asking Rocky what he sees in Adrian (Paulie’s sister), and gives a straightforward question when he asks, “What’s the attraction?” Here’s the line I love, which I think is incredibly profound:  Rocky replies by saying, “I don’t know, she fills gaps, I guess. . . She’s got gaps, I got gaps, together we fill gaps.”

I have often used this phrase when providing marriage counseling.  When I would meet with a couple, I would use as an illustration a ring that my mother-in-law had, which was made up of separate bands, each with alternating spaces and gemstones, that when put together made one beautiful circular band of gems. Then I would quote the line from Rocky, and explain how, in a marriage relationship, a husband and wife each bring different strengths and weaknesses, and that part of their individual role in building a successful marriage was to fill in each other’s gaps so that they would be better as a couple than either one could be as an individual.

This same idea should be true in teams, but often is not.  Rath and Conchie (Strengths-Based Leadership) realized this in their study of teams and leadership, finding that “rarely are people recruited to an executive team because their strengths are the best complement to those of the existing team members.” (2008, p. 21) When they looked for teams that were successful and functioning well, they discovered that, “while each member had his or her own unique strengths, the most cohesive and successful teams possessed broader groupings of strengths.” (p.22)  From this they learned that, “although individuals need not be well-rounded, teams should be” (p. 23), and therefore “it serves a team well to have a representation of strengths.” (p. 23)

The truth of the matter is, no one individual leader can be the best at everything that is needed.  When one person tries to “do it all,” the result is, as the old saying states, “a jack of all trades but a master of none.” But when a team is assembled that is comprised of differing strengths and abilities, the members of that team fill in the gaps for each other.  It makes sense, then, that good leaders “understand what they’re good at and what they’re not and have good judgment about how they can work with others to build on their strengths and offset their limitations.” (Ancona, Malone, Orlikowski, & Senge, 2011, p. 181)  These leaders gather teams that offset the leader’s limitations.  The result is that the combination of individual strengths makes a better whole.

As a leader, you need to know your limitations and your capabilities.  Where you have limitations, or gaps, it is a misuse of your abilities and your time to try to fill in those gaps on your own when you have people around you who can fill in those gaps for you.  This means it is part of your responsibility as a leader to be intentional about placing people on your team who will provide the best combination of necessary strengths and skills.  It is also your responsibility to be active in developing those strengths and skills in your team members.  In the process, when you identify a deficiency in the team that cannot be filled by a current team member, you need to find the right person who can fill in that gap and complete the team.  In the end, the best teams are not necessarily a simple combination of the best individuals, but rather the combination of people who fill in all the gaps.

Ancona, D., Malone, T. W., Orlikowski, W. J., & Senge, P. M. (2011). In Praise of the Incomplete Leader HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership (pp. 179-196). Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.

Rath, T., & Conchie, B. (2008). Strengths-Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow. New York, NY: Gallup Press.



Strengths-Based Leadership (Rath & Conchie)

Strengths Based Leadership book coverStrengths-Based Leadership, by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie, is a product of extensive Gallup research on the topic of leadership strengths, with the premise that “the path to great leadership starts with a deep understanding of the strengths you bring to the table.” (2008, p. 3)  This book comes with an access code for taking the strengths assessment, StrengthsFinder 2.0, from which you can receive a personalized strengths-based leadership guide that describes your own strengths and explains how they can help you maximize your leadership.

The book presents three key behaviors of effective leaders:

  1. Effective leaders are always investing in strengths; they focus on and invest in the individual strengths of themselves and their employees;
  2. Effective leaders surround themselves with the right people, and then maximize their team; they understand that, while the best leaders are not necessarily well-rounded, the best teams are;
  3. Effective leaders understand their followers’ needs; people follow leaders for very specific reasons, and the best leaders meet those needs.

The accumulation of research behind this book revealed four distinct domains of leadership strength:  executing, influencing, relationship-building, and strategic thinking.  The most effective teams are those with contributing strengths from all four of these domains.  Therefore it makes sense that effective leaders are intentional about identifying the strengths of those around them, and about surrounding themselves with a combination of strengths that allow the team to accomplish more than what could be done by any one individual.  The StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment identifies your five predominant strengths and the domains in which they fall, and when the assessment is used by everyone on the team, it provides a map of the team’s strengths.

I was first exposed to Strengths-Based Leadership through a leadership conference several years ago.  I completed the assessment, and found the resulting description to be both accurate and helpful, and therefore found it beneficial for enhancing my leadership.  It was much more valuable for me, though, when I involved my team.  When I provided the assessment to the other members of my team and mapped the results, two things happened.  First, it confirmed and affirmed that my team was a very effective team, when it revealed that we were balanced and well-rounded, with strengths from each of the domains.  Second, by clearly identifying where our strengths were different, it made me more effective as a leader in delegating tasks and responsibilities to the appropriate team members.  The end result:  my good team became better.  For this reason, I think this particular tool can be quite valuable for you and your team.

Rath, T., & Conchie, B. (2008). Strengths-Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow. New York, NY: Gallup Press.