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If you don't know your strengths and invest in them, don't expect anyone else to either
on January 13, 2009
This is the latest in a series of books whose authors discuss portions of the wealth of research data that The Gallup Organization has accumulated during the last several decades. They include Donald Clifton and Paula Nelson's Soar With Your Strengths (1996), Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman's First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Great Managers Do Differently (1999) and its sequel, Now, Discover Your Strengths (2001), Coffman and Gabriel Gonzalez-Molina's Follow This Path: How the World's Greatest Organizations Drive Growth by Unleashing Human Potential (2002), co-authored by Marcus Buckingham and Clifton, 12: The Elements of Great Managing, co-authored by Rodd Wagner & James K. Harter (2006), Buckingham's The One Thing You Need to Know... About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success (2005), Tom Rath and Clifton's How Full Is Your Bucket? Positive Strategies for Work and Life (2005), Rath's Vital Friends: The People You Can't Afford to Live Without (2006) and StrengthsFinder 2.0 (2007), Jon Fleming and Jim Asplund's Human Sigma: Managing the Employee-Customer Encounter (2007), and The Best of the Gallup Management Journal 2001-2007 co-edited by Geoff Brewer and Barb Sanford (2007). I highly recommend all of these books.
What we have in Strengths Based Leadership is Tom Rath and Barry Conchie's rigorous analysis of research that reveals at least some of the keys to becoming a more effective leader. The data includes more than 20,000 in-depth interviews with senior leaders, studies of more than one million work teams, and 50 years of Gallup Polls about the world's most admired leaders. Rath, Conchie, and their 28 research associates then initiated a study of more than1,000 followers throughout the world. The objective was to obtain their answers to this question: "Why do you follow the most influential leader in your life?" As Rath and Conchie explain in the Introduction, three key findings emerged from their research:
1. The most effective leaders are always investing in strengths, their own as well as others'.
2. They surround themselves with the right people and then maximize the effectiveness of both individual members of the team and of their collaborative efforts.
3. They understand their followers' needs (e.g. compassion, stability, and hope).
It is worth noting that when Donald Clifton was asked, only a few months before his death, what his greatest discovery was while completing more than three decades of research on leadership, this was his response: "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." However, as Gallup's research data clearly indicate, there are four primary domains of leadership strength: executing what must be done (James Kilts characterizes this strength as "doing what matters"); influencing others to become and then remain engaged in the necessary initiatives; building relationships between and among everyone involved in those initiative(s); and thinking strategically so that there is a sharp and sustained focus on the ultimate objective(s).
Rath and Conchie carefully organize their material within three Parts: Investing in Your Strengths, Maximizing Your Team, and Understanding Why People Follow. "Additional Resources" are provided, beginning on Page 97 and continue through Page 256. Yes, that's correct: More than half of this book consists of resources available to those who are determined to develop their leadership strengths. The focus is on what must be done and how to do it. A few readers may acknowledge, "I'm not certain that I know what my strengths are." In fact, many (if not most) executives do not know what their strengths are. For that reason, Rath and Conchie offer a value-added benefit that enables a reader take a new leadership version of Gallup's StrengthsFinder program. A unique access code to complete that assessment is provided with the book. Once completed, the respondent receives a personalized strengths-based leadership guide that lists the respondent's top five (of 34 possible) themes of strength. (Note: The access code is valid for one user only. Do not buy a copy of this book if the packet has been opened.) Rath and Conchie explain what is involved with leading with any of the 34 themes that range from Achiever (i.e. those who have a great deal of stamina and work hard, who take great satisfaction from being busy and productive) to Woo (i.e. those who love the challenge of meeting new people and winning them over, who derive satisfaction from breaking the ice and making a connection with another person).
I was especially interested in what Rath and Conchie have to say about exemplars of the four domains, Wendy Kopp of Teach for America (Executing), Simon Cooper of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company (Influencing), Mervyn Davies of Standard Charter Bank (Building Relationships), and Brad Anderson of Best Buy (Thinking Strategically). I was also interested in learning about the background to what became the "Clifton StrengthsFinder" (CSF) which, as Rath and Conchie explain, reflects "straightforward notions that stood the test of time and empirical scrutiny" based Clifton's research and practice. "First, [Donald Clifton] believed that talents should be operationalized, studied, and capitalized upon in work and academic settings. Talents are manifested in life experiences characterized by yearnings, rapid learning, and timelessness...`Strengths' are viewed as extensions of talent. More precisely, the strength construct combines talents with associated knowledge and skills and is defined as the ability to consistently provide near-perfect performance in a specific task...Second, Clifton considered success to be closely associated with persona talents and strengths in addition to the traditional constructs linked with analytical intelligence. In accordance with those beliefs, he worked to identify hundreds of `themes' (categories) of personal talents that predicted work and academic success, and he constructed empirically based, semi-structured interviews for identifying these themes."
Those who read this book with appropriate care will gain a better understanding of what "strengths based leadership" requires of those who aspire to provide it. Those who complete the aforementioned assessment (i.e. the new leadership version of Gallup's StrengthsFinder program) will gain a better understanding of their own strengths and would be well-advised to provide a copy of this book to each of those for whom they are directly responsible. Although few become great leaders, everyone can become a more effective leader. Tom Rath, Barry Conchie, and their Gallup associates offer information, insights, wisdom, and counsel that will help all who read this book to achieve that worthy objective.