The 3 A’s of Strengths-Based Leadership

The 3 A’s of Strengths-Based Leadership

Early in my career, I would put a lot of effort into creating the best strategy to solve a problem or implement a solution at work. My husband had several years more of management experience than me, so I would go to him for advice. The problem is, the advice he wanted to give was often not the advice I was looking for.

Typically, I would have the problem 95% solved, or the solution 95% developed (or so I thought). I just wanted him to listen to what I had worked on so far, then give me his perspective on how to reach 100%. Instead of meeting me at 95%, he would question my assumptions, test my logic, and most often recommend a solution that was far broader in scope and scale than what I had envisioned.

At the time, these conversations were about as much fun as have your spouse to teach you how to drive. I would end up feeling frustrated and inept, and no closer to a solution. Fortunately, not only has our marriage survived these conversations, but as I built my confidence as a leader, I have a newfound appreciation for seeking out the perspectives of others – including my husband’s – to stress test my ideas and broaden my perspective.

This process is what Gallup researchers suggest are the three A’s to Strengths-based leadership. Here is a closer look at the process:

1.    Annoying. Perhaps the most important quality needed to succeed as a leader is self-awareness. Without self-awareness, you are in danger of thinking that your perception and reality are one in the same. You are annoyed when others stress test your ideas. It is self-awareness that allows the Strengths-based leader to walk the tightrope: to project conviction while remaining humble enough to be open to new ideas and opposing opinions.

2.    Appreciating. It’s human nature to want to be around people who think like we do. But it can be deadly for leaders to be cut off from challengers. Strengths-based leaders step out of the circle of people who make them most comfortable and seek out the opinions of those who have contradictory views. By opening themselves up to challengers, they gain an appreciation for looking at problems through different lenses, and broaden their perspective.

3.    Applying. It is impossible for any one individual to be above average in all areas of business, or “well-rounded”. Strengths-based leaders build well-rounded teams made up of well-lopsided individuals. A Strengths-based team is a group of imperfect but talented contributors who are valued for their strengths and who know how and when to apply each other’s strengths to achieve individual and team excellence.

Today, I still ask my husband for his perspective from time to time. But, instead of being frustrated when he doesn’t agree with me, I look forward to seeing what holes he can find in my logic, and what questions he can bring up that I hadn’t thought of. This exercise helps me stress test my working thesis, and create stronger solutions.

Question: Have you gone from annoyed, to appreciative, to applying the perspectives of others? How has that process made you a stronger leader?


Are you ready to start leveraging your team’s strengths and allow them to fire on all cylinders? Check out our StrengthsFinder services or email me at directly to set-up a free 30 minute consultation.

The 3 A’s of Strengths-Based Leadership

3 Biggest Myths About Strengths

One of the most dramatic changes in employee and leadership development programs in the last decade has been the shift from correcting weaknesses to enhancing strengths.

A Google search for “strengths coaching” yields over 27 million hits. Amazon sells over 35,000 books on the subject, including StrengthsFinder 2.0 which instantly became a Wall Street JournalBusinessweek, and USA Today bestseller, and was named Amazon’s bestselling book of 2013. Gallup’s Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment is used by 1.6 million employees and 467 Fortune 500 companies every year.

Strengths has developed a cult-like following among HR and talent management professionals. Like all cults, this one too has developed myths that deserve to be debunked.

Myth #1 – Focusing on strengths means you can ignore your weaknesses. Sorry. Not true. Ignoring a problem is never sane management theory. Instead, get clear about what your weaknesses are, and develop ways to minimize them.

Strengths coaches are fond of saying that there is no such thing as a well-rounded person. Instead, focus on being a well-lopsided person and develop a well-rounded team. Spend your time where you can excel, then delegate to, or partner with, others who are naturally more adept in areas where you are weak.

Myth #2 – Strengths and weaknesses are two sides of the same coin. Wrong again. Strengths are not the flip side of weaknesses. You can make strengths stronger. You can make weaknesses not so weak. But you cannot transform weaknesses into strengths.

What is true, is that a person can operate either in the balcony or basement of a strength, and the basement can be unpleasant for everyone. Consider Achiever. When things are going well, an Achiever can be a tireless go-getter with a strong work ethic. Conversely, she can be overcommitted and in danger of burning out. Being in the basement isn’t a weakness, it’s a strength overapplied.

Myth #3 – You can become too specialized if you focus on your strengths. Good reasoning, but not the case if your manager takes the time to understand how to put strengths to work. First, strengths are not labels. If your manager locks all “Strategics” in a room and expects they will come out with the perfect strategic plan, it’s not likely to happen. That’s simplistic and a little reductive.

Managers who understand the power of strengths know that the best way for people to grow and develop is to identify how they most naturally think, feel and behave, then build on those talents to create strengths. People with Strategic as a strength are naturally good at anticipating alternatives and finding different paths. They may be good a mediating debates or contract negotiation. The best managers will not only have a good working knowledge of strengths, but will also take the time to get to know what situations enable their employees to succeed.

We all have weaknesses. But putting your time, energy and focus on fixing your weaknesses will only yield mediocre results. If you want to unlock your greatest potential and bring out the best in your team, let go of the myths and put strengths to work.

Question: Have you taken the StrengthsFinder assessment? What are you Top Five?

Are you ready to start leveraging your team’s strengths and allow them to fire on all cylinders?
Check out our StrengthsFinder services or email me at directly to set-up a free 30 minute consultation.