DSC02367“A person can perform only from strength. One cannot build performance on weakness, let alone on something one cannot do at all.” -Peter F. Drucker 

Know thyself (and your team). Pictured is the MACPA Leadership Academy mapping their strengths.

Leadership is about being self-aware, knowing your strengths and those of your team, and maximizing the use of those strengths.

The research is clear: Focus on opportunities (not challenges) and build on strengths (not fix weaknesses). This is true for organizations as well as individuals.

So where do you start?

With yourself. Gallup has been researching leadership and strengths for over 50 years and interviewed over 10,000 people about the best leadership traits. Here is what they found. (Click here for Gallup’s research):

  • The most effective leaders invest in strengths: There is an eightfold increase in engagement when leaders focus on and invest in people’s strengths.
  • The most effective leaders surround themselves with the right people and then maximize their team: The strengths of the leader are not important; it is the strengths of the team that make the leader. Gallup found 34 strengths spread over four domains of leadership — executing, influencing, relationship building, and strategic thinking. 
  • The most effective leaders understand their follower’s needs: It is not about you, it is about your followers. All followers have four basic needs — trust, compassion, stability, and hope.  

I am going to use me as an example of applying “strengths-based” leadership. Using the book, “Strengths-Based Leadership,” by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie, I took the online test with the access code at the back of the book. I received two customized reports about my strengths and how they work with leadership (about 22 pages’ worth).

Here are my top five strengths and their associated “leadership domain”:

The Strengths-Based Leadership report maps your top five (of the 34) strengths to the four domains of leadership and outlines a dominant strength domain (if there are two or more in one domain). My dominant strength is in Strategic Thinking, as three of my strengths are in that domain. I have none in Relationship Building. My COO, Jackie Brown, has a dominate strength in the Relationship Building domain, which exemplifies exactly what Gallup talks about. It is not the strengths of the individual, but the team’s that count most.  

Here are my top five strengths and how they fit:

Tom Strengths

Input (Strategic Thinking)
People strong in the Input theme have a craving to know more. Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information. 

Maximizer (Influencing)
People strong in the Maximizer theme focus on strengths as a way to stimulate personal and group excellence. They seek to transform something strong into something superb. 

Strategic (Strategic Thinking)
People strong in the Strategic theme create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues. 

Achiever (Executing)
People strong in the Achiever theme have a great deal of stamina and work hard. They take great satisfaction from being busy and productive. 

Futuristic (Strategic Thinking)
People strong in the Futuristic theme are inspired by the future and what could be. They inspire others with their visions of the future. 

The report is personalized to me and includes strategies for addressing the needs of your followers in addition to major insights about how you naturally work best. I have used lots of personaility tools (Kolbe — long green; Myers-Briggs — INFP; DISC — S) and what I like most about this tool is that it really is about how business works — executing, influencing, relationship building, and strategic thinking — and deals with the business leadership context. 

So in my case, without strength in relationship and execution, I should (and regularly do) seek out team members who have the strengths that I do not. Fortunately, my discipline as a CPA allows me to get into the details and execute when necessary, although I find it takes incredible energy and is not fun for me. Therein lies the secret of working to your strengths; it is energizing and natural, which leads to higher engagement and more discretionary effort. 

We have mapped our entire organization to the strengths matrix and even our Board of Directors. It is great way to increase communication, engagement, and trust. 

 Here are five ways you can start using strengths to your advantage:

  1. Find your strengths: Buy the book Strengths-Based Leadership book and use the access code in the book to take the strengths-finder test (the code is also in the e-book edition on Kindle).
  2. Explore what they mean to you: Read the report and share with your colleagues and listen to their reactions. Do they represent you? Which ones do you rely on the most? Is there a shadow side to your strength?
  3. Align your work with your strengths: What areas of your work do your strengths help with most? What are the areas that don’t fit your strengths well?
  4. Understand your team’s strengths: Create a map of your team’s strengths and see if you are balanced across the four domains. Any areas that you are lacking in? Who in your organization can help round out the team. How can you draw on those strengths to accomplish more?
  5. Start focusing and investing in strengths: Use it with your teams to map strengths to critical projects, consider mapping your board and strategic partners. I have seen some organizations use it for screening new hires. Begin trying to reallocate work to people’s strengths. 

We have found this to be one of the favorite exercises and discoveries of young professionals in our work with the AICPA, Maryland, and Utah leadership academies.

Make plans to attend the 2014 MACPA Leadership Academy on June 25-27 at the Sheraton Baltimore North.

What are you going to do in 2012 to maximize your strengths and those of your organization?

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