Strengths-based Management

Improving personal performance, team performance, leadership behavior and organizational outcomes

Why focus on strengths?

Our brains are wired with a negativity bias which makes us fabulous at spotting all the things that are not going well and feeling an evolutionary tug of survival to fix them, but it’s not generally as adept at spotting the true, the good and the possible, and finding ways to build upon what’s working. As a result researchers estimate that we spend about 80% of our time trying to fix what’s not working and only 20% of our time trying to build on our strengths.

The challenge with this approach is that it’s your strengths – the things you’re good at and enjoy doing – which are being found to provide your best opportunities for growth and success. A strength is a strength because over time you’ve practiced these thoughts, feelings and actions so often they’ve become well-developed neural pathways through your brain. As a result when you draw on your strengths to tackle a challenge you feel more confident, engaged and happy, making it easier to stick with the changes you’re creating.

Over the last decade books instructing managers on developing strengths have become best-sellers, more than 15 million people have completed strengths assessment tools and the body of scientific-data exploring the benefits of strengths grows steadily around the globe.

Leadership Development

A different approach  

The majority of development programs focus on closing deficits and gaps, and concentrate on improving performance through the development of weaker areas. We offer a different approach – we focus on strengths to develop ways of working that energise and inspire people.

Identifying strengths  

We start with the measurement of strengths, and the extent to which these are productively applied at work. To identify these strengths we use the leading online strengths assessment system, Strengthscope®.

To ensure you are aware of your natural strengths or underlying sources of positive energy that lead to productive outcomes for you and the organisation. Being aware of and making best use of your strengths will enable you to perform at your best and approach dilemmas and challenges with a greater level of resourcefulness, resilience and confidence.

Leadership Paradigms are typically formulaic, packed with best-practice models and generic programs.

Ultimately, each leader leads differently.

‘The true challenge for leadership development lies in creating sustainable and feasible ways of developing leaders in a personalized way, accommodating variations of style and individual strengths profiles. To do that, organizations need to move away from the one-size-fits-all approach that tries to create allrounders, and help new leaders understand that leadership is primarily a stretch assignment, far more demanding than they had anticipated.

You can teach key concepts to aspiring leaders, such as the concept that employee engagement drives business results; or the concept that focusing on strengths leads to more positive and ultimately more productive workplaces – but each individual leader must turn each concept into a practice, through a set of behaviours and techniques that feel authentic to them, that fit their strengths. Ultimately, each leader leads differently.

  • Do you know what motivates and energizes you?
  • To what extent are you aware of and focused on your strengths?
  • Can you explain them to others, including the value they bring? 
  • Are you living them every day at work? 
  • Do you optimise them in the service of the team and organisation? 
  • Can you clearly identify what intrinsically motivates you?

Creating A Strengths-based culture is key to engaging employees and boosting productivity

James Brook, Co-Founder of Strengthscope, says that in order to stretch your employees to work at the upper ranges of their potential, while maintaining morale, traditional people management approaches won’t work.

Brook says: “Human Resources experts and business psychologists are increasingly aligning around creating more meaningful workplaces and harnessing the full power of employee’s diverse ideas and strengths at work.

“This involves helping to create the conditions that enable people to bring the best of themselves to work each day – to understand and fully leverage their unique strengths that energise them and help them to do their best work.”

Engagement scores increase significantly (73%) when people are allowed to focus on their strengths. Furthermore, where employee groups feel they have the opportunity to play to their strengths every day, customer loyalty is, on average, 44% higher than groups unable to play to their strengths.

In order to foster a culture where employees can play to their strengths, Brook identifies a number of steps that can be taken. The first is: “Ensuring candidates’ strengths are assessed during the hiring process.”

He also suggests: “Focusing performance and coaching conversations with good and great performers around what they are doing well and how they can optimise their strengths to create more value for the organisation in future.”

And finally“Ensuring managers are trained to be ‘strengths coaches’ and release the energy and full potential of their people, rather than undermining people’s ideas and contribution through micromanaging and overly controlling the way work is done.”

Leading from strength

We all have certain talents, strengths that make us unique but often we tend to focus on our weaknesses, on non-strengths that need to be fixed. When we are aware of our strengths and use them, we can unlock our potential and start to build our self-esteem, we literally feel stronger. When we focus on our ‘weaknesses’ we don’t feel energised or good about ourselves. Many successful organizations (Aviva, Deloitte, Facebook, Tesco, Accenture, Nestlé), are now embracing a strengths-based development approach.

What sets the most successful managers apart?

They don’t lead from a position of command and control, they bring out the best of their people, they know what their own and what their employee’s strengths are. People thrive when their strengths are recognized, appreciated and utilized, when they are able to do their best every day and when they are being coached by their leader and get ample opportunities to develop.

Reflection and self-awareness

Strengths-based leadership requires you to be fully aware of your own unique strengths. Makes sense doesn’t it… but I’ve often experienced that leaders don’t take time for (self)reflection, they’re just way too busy for that. Busy moving from task to task and from meeting to meeting, checking their phone/email messages continuously and putting out fires. In the meantime, they may feel inadequate, frustrated, stressed out and tired. 

Self-awareness is the key for emotional intelligence and truly effective leaders are distinguished by a high degree of emotional intelligence, which includes self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill (Daniel Goleman).

Develop leadership strengths by building around them

Knowledge and understanding of your strengths, including your emotional intelligence is critical for professional and organizational success. Knowing and applying your strengths can lead to sustained high performance, confidence and more engagement.

But once you have identified and named your strengths, where do you go from there? It is not so easy to know when you have the ‘right strength, in the right amount, in the right situation for the right outcome’.

Finding out what your leadership strengths are is inspiring and powerful, but after you have done that how do you take them to the next level? It is important to understand that your leadership strengths don’t operate in isolation, they cluster around and reinforce one another. Getting insights that will help you to build around strengths with complementary skills is crucial. 

What are strengths?

There are many definitions, I work with Strengthscope and this is their definition:

‘Strengths are underlying qualities that energise you, contribute to your personal growth and lead to peak performance’.  

Understanding and applying your strengths will help you to improve your performance, confidence and engagement. 

Improve your management and leadership

  • If you are a leader or looking to move into a leadership role, identify ways to use your strengths to improve your leadership effectiveness
  • It is also important you understand the strengths and performance risks of people you manage and/ or lead. This will enable you to coach and support them to perform at their best, whilst also helping them to reduce any risk areas that could result in performance shortfalls

(Brook, James; Brewerton, Dr Paul. Strengthscope® Handbook: Your guide to achieving success through optimizing strengths and reducing performance risks)

What are the keys to effective leadership?

In their book ‘Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and why people follow’ Tom Rath and Barry Conchie reviewed a culmination of 30 years of research by Gallup Corporation. Gallup held over 40.000 personal interviews with leaders from around the world and 20.000 interviews with followers to ask Why the follow a leader. Based on their research the authors concluded that the 3 keys to effective leadership are:


Each person has got unique strengths, there is no such thing as ‘one best leadership style’, leaders/managers should leverage their unique strengths to meet leadership challenges. Effective leaders know their strengths and they optimize these, they continually expand and enhance their strengths.

‘If you spend your life trying to be good at everything, you will never be great at anything. While our society encourages us to be well-rounded, this approach inadvertently breeds mediocrity. Perhaps the greatest misconception of all is that of the well-rounded leader.’ Tom Rath and Barry Conchie 

‘A leader needs to know his strengths as a carpenter knows his tools, or as a physician knows the instruments at her disposal. What great leaders have in common is that each truly knows his or her strengths – and can call on the right strength at the right time. This explains why there is no definitive list of characteristics that describes all leaders.’ 

Donald O. Clifton 


Whilst well-rounded individuals don’t make the best leaders the best teams should be well-rounded. Effective leaders ensure that each member of their team has a complementary set of strengths. Effective leaders know their strengths. They also know their weaknesses and recognize that unless they get support in these areas, they will be ineffective. Given this, effective leaders surround themselves with people who’s strengths compensate for their non-strengths.

Leaders that build their teams based on technical expertise or specialist knowledge are less effective because these teams are ineffective. The (leadership) strengths of each team member should complement the strengths of the other team members. Once that is recognized and established, they give consideration to expertise and specialist knowledge.


The researchers asked followers to choose three words that best describes the contribution that a leader make to their life. Many of them used the same words to describe what they seek from their leaders.

  • Trust

 Nothing happens without a sense of trust between leaders and followers.

  • Compassion

 Followers want to know that their leaders care about them.

  • Stability

 Followers want leaders that they can depend upon.

  • Hope

 Followers want to feel positive about their future prospects.


  • Do you have a good understanding of your personal strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are your top three strengths and are you using them on a daily basis?
  • Are you deliberately investing in your strengths?
  • Are you building a team that compensates for your weaknesses?
  • Do you select team members for their leadership strengths as opposed to their knowledge and technical expertise?
  • Are you developing your team members strengths?
  • What is the level of trust between you and your team?
  • Does your team feel that you care for them on a personal level?
  • Does your team know what to expect from you?


Research from Harter, Schmidt and Hayes shows that by focusing on Strengths there’s a 38% higher probability of greater productivity and 44% higher probability of customer loyalty when focused on strengths as opposed to weaknesses. 

Also the Corporate Leadership Council found that when managers focused on Strengths during appraisals this lead to a 36% jump in performance as opposed to a 26.8% decline when focused on weaknesses.

Rath 2008, Gallup 2002, CLC 2005

Playing to your strengths makes sense

Understanding and applying your strengths will help you to improve your performance, confidence and engagement.

It also enhances your understanding of:

  • Your work-related strengths as a source of energy, personal growth and peak performance
  • The consequences of not using your strengths in the right way, to the right degree and with the right people
  • How your strengths are perceived by co-workers
  • Where there are opportunities to use your strengths more often and more effectively
  • How you can harness your strengths to reduce performance risks

Increasingly, executives understand that focussing on strengths is a successful route to enabling themselves and their teams to flourish. A Strengths-based Leader ensures high performance by facilitating a positive work environment where they and their team are able to play to their strengths.

StrengthscopeLeader is a great tool to help managers identify, develop and apply strengths, both individually and collectively – and foster ways of working together that energise, engage and inspire people to do their best work.

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

It is a unique 360 leadership profiler that is designed to help you understand your leadership strengths, risks/weaker areas and the impact of your behaviour on important organisational outcomes, to help improve your effectiveness.

About The Author

Kitty Schaap

CoAchieve | Versterk leiderschap en talent vanuit een Strengths-based aanpak. Voor leidinggevenden, HR-professionals, organisaties.

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