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Focus on Strengths Leadership

Nov 5, 2020
5 min Read
Leaders meeting around a table

Focus on Your Strengths and Employee Strengths for Better Performance

A person is more efficient and effective when doing something they are good at, but not everyone is aware of their strengths and the strengths of their team. Regardless of where you are at in your career, leveraging talent and focusing on your strengths and employee strengths really matters.

Identifying talent starts with self-awareness, learning your own strengths and acknowledging weaknesses. Collaborating and identify strengths within your own team can help mitigate the weaknesses, and leveraging employee strengths can drive performance and engagement.

What is Strengths-Based Leadership?

Strengths-based leadership is the ability to identify in ourselves and others the talents and strengths that each individual has and leverage these strengths to build a well-rounded team that can perform quality work at a higher level.

In life, we are taught from a young age to focus on subjects where we underperform. We work extremely hard in order to make the minimum. Focusing on areas that need improvement, rather than focusing on subjects we enjoy can be discouraging.

To illustrate the concept, Laurie Baedke, FACHE, FACMPE, Creighton faculty member and Director of Healthcare Leadership Programs, points to Shaquille O’Neal. Free throws were his widely known weakness, and opposing teams utilized his weakness to their advantage. While with the Orlando Magic, his coach focused on fixing this weakness by having him practice free throw shots, which resulted in little improvement.

When he was traded to the Lakers, Phil Jackson took a different coaching strategy. To him, Shaq wasn’t there for his free throw shooting ability. That’s a part of who he is as a player, of course, but he was recruited for his strengths, like defensive rebounding and shorts shots in the paint.

Baedke encourages us to give ourselves an extra measure of grace. We all have areas of expertise. The more we are aware of our unique talents and strengths and are able to leverage them–while mitigating weakness by collaborating with others–the more effectively we can show up and work.

Donald O. Clifton, psychologist and developer of CliftonStrengths, part of Gallup, once said, “What will happen when we think about what is right with people rather than fixating on what is wrong with them?”

A strengths-based approach to personal development focuses on strengths and managing around weaknesses. It’s not a Pollyanna approach, where we only do the things we’re good at or like. Far from it! This practice is rooted in accountability; both for our performance and for our approach. Baedke reminds us that the most effective leaders are acutely aware of their weaknesses, and they don’t ignore them. It’s even better to share them with your team to make sure the blind spot is covered.

Why is Focusing on Strengths Important?

Being self-aware and able to identify and utilize strengths drives performance, and when we’re able to perform at a higher level, it also drives engagement.

From a return on investment perspective, people who know their strengths and can put them to work are:

  • 6 times as likely to be engaged in their jobs
  • 3 times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life
  • 7.8% more productive on a day-over-day basis

Gallup research also shows that three areas of performance are improved when you follow a strengths-based approach: speed, productivity and precision, and sustainability.

Baedke remarks, “When we’re doing what we do best, not only can we do it faster and better, but we can do it longer. Things that come naturally to us, those dominant areas of our strengths–we can do it and get lost in our work.”

In an interesting study, the Mayo Clinic examined factors that contributed to physician engagement and burnout among their faculty. The research showed that when physicians were aware of their talents and passion, and they were able to give themselves 20% more adjacency to it in the workplace, they were statistically more likely to avoid burnout. In short, being able to leverage talents in our jobs allows us to sustain the other parts of our job we don’t like as much.

Strengths Increase Employee Engagement and Performance

According to Gallup, “The best-led organizations know that the direct path to individual, team and organizational success begins with a primary investment in their employees’ greatest talents.”

In Gallup’s Q12 engagement survey, only 20% of individuals globally strongly agreed that they have the opportunity to do what they do best every day at work.

When workers are not operating from strengths, they are less fulfilled and less effective. In fact, workers are six times less likely to be engaged in their role in the workplace if they can’t work to their strengths. Additionally, they may have negative experiences at work and a negative attitude toward the organization. There are fewer creative moments and less productivity.

Leaders in the workplace have an opportunity to lead by example. They can set the expectation and demonstrate by their personal behaviors the practice of nurturing self-awareness, owning where they can perform at a higher level, and acknowledging where they should collaborate with someone else to compensate for a weakness.

If a leader can identify strengths and leverage them for performance, there is a significant impact on the team’s ability to show up and perform at a high level and be engaged to grow.

Identifying Talent in Yourself and Your Team

There are many tools, like Gallup’s CliftonStrengths assessment, that you can use to help you identify and understand your talents. But, you can also identify strengths on your team even without a formal survey or instrument.

Here are five clues to help you be on the lookout for talent:

  1. Yearning. What kinds of activities are you naturally drawn to? Where are they nudging you?
  2. Rapid learning. What kinds of activities do you seem to pick up quickly?
  3. Flow. What activities can you do almost automatically? When do you find yourself “lost in the work?”
  4. Glimpses of excellence. During what activities have you had moments of subconscious excellence, when you thought, “How did I do that?”
  5. Satisfaction. What activities give you a kick, either while doing them or immediately after finishing them? You might think “When can I do that again?”

Strength in Diversity

Everyone has their own perspective of the world based on their unique talent construct. It’s important to be careful, though, not to form biases that can dismiss the value that contrasting strengths or styles deliver. These differences are necessary in developing well-rounded teams.

Baedke points to the complexity of healthcare. There are myriad, diverse parts of the organization, and everyone has a role to play, whether it’s in finance or quality, strategy or advocacy.

“Be careful of the blinders that can come with acute awareness of self without the value of everyone else. Be aware of blind spots, and work to make sure they’re counterbalanced,” says Baedke.

Self-awareness is a crucial competency for leadership. The most effective leaders know themselves, leverage their talent for performance and engagement, and nurture the same in their teams. They realize that, as Gallup’s confirms, “the most effective leaders are not well-rounded, but the most effective teams are.”

The Results of a Strengths-Based Leadership Approach

In the end, focusing on strengths can lead to better retention, performance and productivity. As a leader, you can contribute to the success of your team and your organization by bringing awareness to talents. When you understand your own strengths and those of your employees, you’ll have a better, happier team.

For more information on Creighton’s Healthcare Executive Education programs, please contact the director of Healthcare Leadership Programs, Laurie Baedke, FACHE, FACMPE at or 402.280.4948. Laurie is a well-known speaker and co-author of the book The Emerging Healthcare Leader–A Field Guide. She has studied emotional intelligence extensively and presents nationally on the topic.

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