Positive Leadership Strengths-based development

The development of a strong, positive organizational culture begins with strengths-based, positive leadership.

This article has been written and published in Dutch before. I wrote it for the Magazine Positive Psychology. It was published in August 2018 – ‘Tijdschrift Positieve Psychologie’.

Committed, connecting and talent-oriented leadership.

How do you create a positive and vital organizational culture in which people are given the opportunity to flourish, to use and develop their talents optimally? How do you get the best out of yourself and others? “Both managers and employees believe that you can get more out of talent by focusing on the strengths and not on the weaknesses” (Boerman, 2016). Strengths-based leadership or positive leadership puts people first. It implies believing in the potential, in the power of people and encouraging employee engagement and self-direction.

Positive leadership

Positive Leadership works much better to increase motivation, self-management and performance. And also fits in with the current paradigm shifts. Organizational forms and leadership styles are increasingly distancing themselves from hierarchy, micro management, power and control. The directive style of management is outdated; other demands are placed on managers. Nowadays we need leaders that are good at personal leadership and lead from authenticity and strength instead of power. Leadership with ‘head and heart’; In addition to hard skills and IQ, soft skills and emotional intelligence are becoming increasingly important.

Positive leadership is based on positive psychology. As a manager you want to get the best out of yourself and let others thrive, and you treat people as the unique person they are, with their personal aspirations, values and qualities. Positive leaders work from authenticity, their goals, strengths, values and vision and know how to share this with their people in an effective and inspiring way.

This style of leadership results in more trust, well-being, connectedness, involvement and higher performance, less turnover, less negative stress and higher customer satisfaction.

Autonomy, mastery and purpose

Motivation is of great importance for organizations; unmotivated employees can cost the organization much more than they deliver. People get moving, deliver better performance and get positive energy when they are intrinsically motivated. By recognizing and utilizing their strengths, they are more involved in the organization and experience a sense of belonging and meaning and they are more inclined to be extra commited and loyal to the organization. Pink (2009) states that people are driven by “autonomy, mastery and meaning.”

This corresponds to a trend in psychology to no longer focus primarily on negative aspects – what does not work, what is not going well, what should we improve; the deficiency approach – but to pay more attention to positive aspects. Positive psychology (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000), psychology of work and health (Luthans & Youssef, 2004; Schaufeli & Bakker, 2001), for example, is focused on work-related well-being (enthusiasm, flow), people’s strengths (for more involvement, better performance, well-being) and positive leadership (inspiring, connecting, coaching, focused on strength, development).

Leaving potential and the power of people untapped results in less motivation, engagement, energy, commitment and growth, with all the negative consequences that this entails. Organizations where people can thrive are more powerful and successful; they score higher on productivity, customer satisfaction, employee involvement and talent retention.

Strong leaders, strong organizations

Executives have by far the greatest influence on productivity, commitment and job satisfaction of the team. This is increasingly apparent from research, including research agency Gallup and long-term research at Google (Duhigg, 2016). An effective, strong leader is a good coach, gives confidence and is not managing at a micro level, has a genuine interest in and attention to the success and well-being of employees, is helpful in the development of employees, is result-oriented, has a clear vision and strategy, has crucial technical skills, listens well and shares information. “Anyone who manages to create the right environment for the greatest talents will automatically attract them” (Bock, 2015). 

According to the Gallup research agency, the best managers assume that the talents of every employee are unique and sustainable, and that the strengths of every employee offer the most room for growth. Many organizations still have untapped potential; “Latent talent”. Talents must be made productive within the organizational context, but due to limiting environmental factors, people cannot fully unleash their potential. And getting the best out of yourself and others may sound a bit soft, but it results in hard (business) results. Hard skills and task-oriented management still too often prevail over people-oriented management.

Good leaders acknowledge the importance of soft skills, play an exemplary role and are able to inspire and stimulate others, thereby increasing involvement, performance and productivity. Poor leadership on the other hand can do a lot of damage. The directive, authoritarian style of management depletes energy and can cause negative feelings and stress for employees. Lack of autonomy and development opportunities, being monitored a lot and not being trusted, causes stress and can lead to low engagement, reduced performance or even to burnout. There is a correlation between stress and having little control, while stress and the risk of burnout decrease when people gain more confidence and autonomy.

Trust and connectedness

Positive leaders ensure a safe environment, give and receive trust and bring out the positive energy of employees. “Leadership means giving direction and stimulating emotional involvement. And without trust you have no open, honest communication and no emotional involvement” (Haijtema, 2001).

Positive leaders emphasize and build on employees’ strengths rather than focus on their weaknesses, and this emphasis creates an attraction to forming strong interpersonal ties. The orientation is toward enabling thriving and flourishing at least as much as addressing obstacles and impediments. It is not the same as merely being nice, charismatic, trustworthy, or a servant leader. Rather, it incorporates these attributes and supplements them with a focus on strategies that provide strengths-based, positive energy to individuals and organizations” (Cameron, 2012).


Leadership Development

Leadership development needs more attention and must be high on the agenda, partly due to the changing organizational forms and expectations of stakeholders within the business community. But the development of managers is mainly focused on working on weaknesses and improving competencies. A strengths-based development approach is more focused on unique strengths and qualities of effective leadership behavior. First of all, as a leader you need to know where your own strengths lie and then you also know better how to recognize and optimally use the strengths of employees and how to deploy them.

Insights and techniques that have a proven positive impact on the well-being of people in organizations and – essential – on the performance they deliver are the strengths approach and Appreciative Inquiry. The strengths approach leads to (much) higher motivation and to (much) better results than the traditional approach (Tiggelaar, 2016).

Developing strengths

Are you building on strengths, or are you trying to compensate for your weaknesses? If you focus your energy on compensating for weaknesses, you end up with a large set of strong weaknesses. Make sure that you continue to develop your strengths and dare to trust them,” says professor and leadership coach Bas Kodden (MMC, 2018). 

“Developing weaknesses” is often experienced as annoying, demotivating and energy-consuming, while developing strengths makes you stronger, it gives you more energy and confidence.

The ideal leader does not exist.

As a leader you will have to deal with dualities and with paradoxes. Effective leadership is an art; it is balancing between management and self-management, between controlling and letting go, coaching, trusting and connecting. What does that mean in practice? What qualities and behaviors must an effective manager possess? The ideal, complete leader does not exist. Effective leadership usually depends on the situation and there is no formula for excellent leadership. Leaders who try to become good at everything are ultimately less effective. How effective you are in your leadership role does not only depend on you: it is important to recognize the strengths of others, to compensate for your weaknesses, and to ensure that you use the power of others correctly.

You have to encourage people and look at their strengths. Not at the weaknesses. At least 80% of your communication as a manager must be positive.” (Covey, 2010).) Peter Drucker (1966/2006): “Use the strengths of yourself and others.” 

Positive leaders therefore look more at strengths than at what needs to be ‘repaired’, a focus on deficits and gaps.

“And they put a lot of emphasis on integrity, self-awareness, authenticity and social intelligence. Social intelligence is needed at the top and in the middle of the organization. Social intelligence is the awareness of your own and other people’s motives and feelings (‘you have a sense of what makes you and others tick’) and you have the agility to adapt behavior to what the situation demands ”(Peterson & Seligman, 2004 ).


Self-knowledge is essential, first you need to know and cultivate your own strengths. Leaders often find it remarkably difficult to state their own strengths. And discovering strengths is not enough, you also need to know how to use and dose them in practice. It is also important to prevent a one-sided focus on strengths. Knowledge about your pitfalls, limiting beliefs, ineffective behavior and limiting weaknesses is also of great importance for optimal personal and professional development.

A strength can also become a performance risk. Research on derailed leaders, for example, shows that these leaders exaggerated their strengths and were not corrected in this. For example, self-assurance can turn into megalomaniacal behavior, courage can turn into overconfident behavior, with all its negative consequences.

Connecting and talent-oriented leadership

Gallup’s research shows, among other things, that the differences in emotional engagement with work and the organization can be explained by around 70% by the qualities of the leader (Adkins, 2015). And engagement requires an emotionally safe environment in which employees feel seen and heard and where they can and may develop their strengths. The most important points needing attention according to CEOs are creating strong organizational cultures with a focus on inclusive talent management, employee engagement, attracting and developing talent and developing the next generation of effective leaders (Mitchell, Ray & Van Ark, 2017).

There is an increasing need for self-realization, purpose, being connected, a work environment that enables you to use your talents and flourish, and a leadership style that fits in with that. Attracting and retaining talent is becoming increasingly difficult, so avoid “brain drain” and make sure that you keep an eye on existing talent within the organization, by spotting, appreciating and developing talents. Make better use of the available talents of all employees within the organization; professionals also attach great importance to personal development. Successful leaders and organizations encourage the development and performance of employees, with increasing attention for the uniqueness of people and ensuring a culture in which people can thrive.

Kitty Schaap

• Adkins, A. (2015, May 12). Business Journal: Report: What Separates Great Managers From the Rest. Opgehaald van Gallup: https://news.gallup.com/businessjournal/183098/report-separates-great-managers-rest.aspx
• Bock, L. (2015). Work Rules! Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead. London: John Murray.
• Boerman, P. (2016, januari 19). Nationaal leiderschapsonderzoek 2016: De medewerker vindt zijn baas veel baziger dan hij (of zij) zelf denkt. Opgehaald van MT.nl: https://www.mt.nl/series/leiderschapsonderzoek/de-medewerker-vindt-zijn-baasveel-baziger-dan-hij-of-zij-zelf-denkt/88800
• Cameron, K. (2012). Positive leadership: Strategies for extraordinary performance (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Berret-Koehler.
• Career, R.M. (2018, maart 12). Talentgericht leiderschap. Opgehaald van MMC Managementcareer: https://www.managementcareer.nl/talentgericht-leiderschap/
• Covey, S. (2010). De zeven eigenschappen van effectief leiderschap [The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People] (68e dr.). Amsterdam: Business Contact.
• Drucker, P. (1966/2006). The effective executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done. New York, NY: Harper Collins.
• Duhigg, C. (2016, February 25). What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team: New research reveals surprising truths about why some work groups thrive and others falter. Opgehaald van The New York Times Magazine:
• https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/28/ magazine/what-google-learned-from-itsquest-to-build-the-perfect-team.html?_r=1
• Haijtema, D. (2001, januari 1). Stephen Covey: Leiderschap is een keuze, geen positie. Opgehaald van MT.nl: https://www.mt.nl/ management-team/stephen-covey-leiderschap-is-een-keuze-geen-positie/409
• Luthans, F., & Youssef, C.M. (2004). Human, Social, and Now Positive Psychological Capital Management: Investing in People for Competitive Advantage. Organizational Dynamics, 33(2), 143-160.
• Mitchell, C., Ray, R., & Ark, B. van (2017). CEO Challenge 2017: Leading through Risk, Disruption, and Transformation. New York, NY: The Conference Board.
• Peterson, C., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A classification and handbook. New York: Oxford University Press/Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
• Pink, D. (2009). Drive: De verrassende waarheid over wat ons motiveert. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.
• Schaufeli, W., & Bakker, A. (2001). Werk en welbevinden: Naar een positieve benadering in de arbeids- en gezondheidspsychologie [Work en well-being: Towards a positive approach in occupational health psychology]. Gedrag & Organisatie, 5, 229-253.
• Seligman, M.E.P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive Psychology: An Introduction. The American psychologist, 55, 5-14. doi10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.5
• Tiggelaar, B. (2016, september 1). Waarom we positief leiderschap nodig hebben. Opgehaald van Management Impact: http://www.managementimpact.nl/leiderschap/artikel/2016/09/ ben-tiggelaar-waarom-we-positief-leiderschap-nodig-hebben-
Unlock and develop potential for more energy, authenticity and to achieve peak performance.

 Positive Leadership

Identify and use your leadership strengths to get the best out of you and your team.


How can you bring out the best in yourself and others?

Leadership starts with yourself, with knowing what you stand for, what your aspirations, values, motives and strengths are.

  • What vision do you have regarding leadership?
  • How would you like to lead?
  • What are your unique strengths?
  • What are your values?
  • What are your performance risks?
  • What are your limiting beliefs, assumptions?
  • What are your unused strengths or strengths in overdrive?
  • How can you get the most out of yourself and your team?
  • How can you improve employee engagement?
  • How do you want to be perceived as a leader, which exemplary behavior fits in with that?
  • What is your “leadership brand”?

“You can’t manage others if you don’t manage yourself first” (Peter Drucker)

Without increased self-awareness you can not grow. Strengths-based Leadership Coaching and Development Programmes empowers you to become the best possible version of yourself by focusing on your strengths.

The modern strengths-based approach (based on positive psychology) to managing people recognizes that focusing on strengths is a more powerful way of accelerating learning and performance in organizations because it unlocks people’s talents, passion and energy, helping them to achieve excellence in areas more aligned with their natural strengths and personality. This approach doesn’t ignore weaker areas and other performance risks (including overdone strengths and psychological barriers). It helps you to become more effective by being more authentic.


“Leaders who use their strengths effectively and develop high performance leadership behaviours are rated as more effective.” (Strengthscope)

“The chance of someone being actively disengaged when leaders/managers play their strengths is 1 in 100.” (Gallup)

Strengthscope® is currently the only strengths assessment system with a 360degrees feedback feature and it is the only strengths assessment that has been certified by the British Psychology Society.

Research shows increasingly that using our strengths at work is more likely to lead to increased performance, positive energy, confidence and engagement. Strengths-based leadership coaching and programmes can be of great added value to positive professional development when conducted in the right context and with the right methodology such as StrengthscopeLeader. I am an accredited Strengths Coach and authorised to deliver Strengthscope®Assessments and Strengths-based Coaching & Consulting to individuals and leaders.

      • Developing self-awareness, confidence and resilience
      • Career development
      • Organizational development and improving agility
      • Building peak performing teams
      • Management and leadership development
      • Improving engagement, resilience and wellbeing
      • Building an inclusive and positive culture

The programme consists of an online assessment, individual coachingsessions (face2face or online / zoom) and additional online resources. StrengthscopeLeader is the only dedicated strengths-based leadership profiler available in the world today.

You will discover how to inspire and empower your people to bring their best to work every day. The profiler includes:

  • Analysis of your unique strengths and how these can be developed and sharpened to improve their effectiveness
  • Analysis of your performance risks (including weaker areas and strengths in overdrive)
  • The impact of performance risks on work performance and how these can be managed or minimized.
  • Analysis of your effectiveness across critical leadership behavior/ habit areas that are essential to leadership effectiveness
  • Analysis of your impact on key outcomes and identified drivers.
  • Feedback from up to 18 raters on the individuals effectiveness in applying their strengths and leadership habits, managing weaker areas and delivering key outcomes for the organisation.

You will improve your effectiveness through a better understanding of your leadership strengths, risks /weaker areas, leadership behaviours and the impact of your behaviour on important organisational outcomes.

A powerful and positive 360º leadership profiler provides leaders with analysis of:
  • Unique strengths and how these can be optimised
  • Performance risks and the impact these have on work performance
  • Effectiveness across critical behaviours / habits essential to leadership effectiveness
  • Impact on key outcomes and performance drivers
StrengthscopeLeader™ analyses four leadership habits:
  • Sharing Vision
  • Sparking Engagement
  • Skilful Executing
  • Sustaining Progress
By building on strengths and optimising leadership habits, leaders deliver the following four critical outcomes and success drivers:
  • Purpose – clearly understood, compelling direction and goals
  • Passion – a positive, highly motivated work environment
  • Process – well communicated and straightforward policies and processes to guide behaviours
  • Performance – reliable delivery of planned business results

About me | Kitty Schaap MA, MSc

I am passionate about talent, career and leadership development, helping people to achieve their potential. My consulting and coaching work is anchored in positive psychology and adopts a strengths-based approach. I hold a Master’s degree in Cultural Sciences and MSc in Management with specialisation Strategic Human Resource Management and I am a certified Strengths coach (Strengthscope).

Besides a strong theoretical background I have had a varied career in HR Management and gained broad HRM and coaching experience in international fast-paced environments, some companies I worked for are Shell, Sotheby’s, Amoco BP, Sony, Merck Millipore.

Having spent many years learning how to develop and engage people in organisational settings, I am very committed to helping people achieve their potential and accelerate their performance through coaching and training. An inspiring and enthusiastic professional, no-nonsense approach, good sense of humour, analytical,empathetic, practical and performance driven.

Please contact me if you want to know more about the leadership development and coaching services such as the StrengthscopeLeader Program.


Research and experience shows that in order to be effective, leaders need to understand how they can bring the best of themselves to their role to inspire and motivate others to perform at their peak.

The best leaders don’t only optimise their strengths and skills to build their unique ‘leadership edge’, they also work hard to overcome risk areas and develop leadership behaviours/habits in 4 key areas that ensure their effectiveness.

The StrengthscopeLeaderTM profile provides feedback on leaders’:

  • Unique strengths
  • Potential performance risk areas
  • Effectiveness across critical behaviours
  • Stakeholders’ level of confidence in their leader’s ability to deliver key organizational outcomes
Sample report StrengthscopeLeader