At this point, you’ve probably heard about strengths based leadership, either from Gallup’s watershed Q12 Survey, or Tom Rath’s #1 New York Times bestseller Strengths Based Leadership. However, many businesses still struggle with integrating strengths based thinking into their office cultures. At Outcome Health, we regard strengths based leadership to be a pillar of our management strategy– here are some of the ways we implement it across our organization.
First, it’s important to stress that a strength is NOT something you’re objectively ‘good’ at, nor is a weakness something you’re objectively ‘bad’ at. Strengths and weaknesses are most effectively recognized by feelings.
You know an activity or type of work is a strength by how it makes you feel. If you positively anticipate an activity and feel a sense of impact when doing it, it is a strength. Similarly, if you feel especially focused when working, and renewed when finished- chances are you’ve been engaging a strength. It’s important to keep in mind that strengths don’t inspire ubiquitous confidence. Activating new-found strengths can be an intimidating or even nerve wracking process; but, as long as you feel excited about the opportunity to develop that skill, you’ve found a strength.
Some managers may roll their eyes at an approach that focuses on feelings. However, it’s been proven again and again that strengths based leadership leads to higher employee engagement. And higher employee engagement yields quantifiable benefits for businesses– an average of 37% lower absenteeism, 21% higher productivity, and 22% higher profitability (per Gallup’s Q12 Survey).
This feelings-centric approach may also seem insular and individual. And that’s because, in a way, it is. Only the employee can truly know what work makes them feel excited and engaged. However, this satisfaction rarely stays hidden. The beauty of strengths is that, to an attentive eye, they become outwardly displayed. As a manager, while you can’t feel the emotional spike of a strength, you can see it in the body language, attitude, and energy level and through the impact team members make in their role. Strengths are activities that make a person glow, that give them a pep in their step. It’s imperative, therefore, for managers and team leaders to flex ‘the skill of noticing.’ You have to be observant to catch these moments of luminance and confidence in your employees.
While it’s important for managers to get in the habit of spotting and encouraging employee strengths, self-awareness and cross-team awareness of strengths is crucial. “Effective managers don’t impose self-reflection; they try to facilitate it, to draw it out and encourage it,” said Varsha Vig, Director of People Programs at Outcome Health. “This can be done by asking reflective questions in one-on-ones. One of my favorites is ‘what tasks or activities associated with your role leave you feeling the most excited and energized?’ This always brings a smile to people’s faces, but also gets them to do a bit of introspection.”
Managers can also prompt teams to take Clifton and Gallup’s StrengthsFinder test to discover their five ‘Signature Themes.’ These ‘themes’ describe your strengths, along with how and when they’re best utilized. We, then, use these results in departmental leadership workshops. The workshops are generally composed of three parts. First, I have individuals share their results with their teams. I like to challenge employees to incorporate a visual component into this presentation; it’s interesting to see what people think their strengths ‘look like.’ Next, I open the floor to their peers: when have you seen this person activating their themes? Oftentimes, team members can see our strengths more clearly than we can.
The final, tangible component of the workshop is the creation of “Come to Me When…” statements. These statements are written by the individual and should answer the questions: ‘what types of problems are best handled by my strengths,’ and ‘how do my strengths complement those of my team members?’ Individuals leave feeling appreciated and understood; teams leave more cohesive and efficient.
Giving individuals the opportunity to play to their strengths is simply the only sustainable way to maximize employee productivity. And, who doesn’t want to spend the day energized and fulfilled, anyway?
Steph Gogul is a Learning and Development Specialist at Outcome Health, where she enables all Activators (Outcome Health employees) to experience their best possible selves by investing in their career and creating development opportunities.