Gallup, a widely recognized research and polling company, has found that so few in the global workforce and in non-profit organizations ever get the opportunity to serve in the area of their strengths. Marcus Buckingham, through his research with Gallup, has developed a concept that has served business, non-profit, and religious leaders around the world; it is called Strengths Based Leadership. They have discovered that the most effective leaders are those who lead from their strengths.
According to Buckingham and the research he has conducted with Gallup, strengths involve those unique qualities that a person is born with. The research that was done found that most leaders are not as effective as they could be because they are operating outside of their strengths or are not able to regularly exercise them. Many have mistakenly confused ability with strengths. Buckingham dispels the notion that whatever a person is good at doing is strength; a person can be good at doing something and feel emotionally drained or miserable doing it. Those mentally and emotionally draining activities are actually weaknesses. The less you can do of those draining activities and the more you can engage in those emotionally and mentally stimulating activities, the closer you are to becoming the best leader you can be or the best in your profession.
Strengths are reflected in what drives a person, what they are passionate about, what gives them energy and enthusiasm, what they look forward to, and what they enjoy doing. A leader is most effective and at their very best when they operate from that dimension of their strengths. It is true that one can be successful by matching ability with hard work, but they will never be the very best they can be until they discover how to operate within the realm of their strengths, and do less of what is not their strength. Additionally, Buckingham says a strength is something that makes you feel good after you have done it, and this should have little to do with how you feel when a person congratulates you on a job well done. A strength is something that makes you feel good afterward whether a person gives you praise for a job well done or not. It represents those engagements that give you more energy and you feel compelled to do again to recapture the experience. The key to understanding this is to analyze what activities give you energy which causes you to feel “pumped up,” and what drains your energy so that you can’t wait for it to be over. Within a group setting, a leader should be able to help spread out responsibilities along this line. Find out what a person’s strengths are; what drains one person may give energy to another.
Buckingham recommends every leader or professional take up a three-fold challenge in the arena of strengths; these include: capturing, clarifying, and confirming. It is suggested that over the course of a week, they should find out how much they played to their strengths. They will first capture in real time those activities that they found were in the realm of their strengths. Then, they will clarify which activities were helpful and why. Lastly, it is suggested that one needs to confirm those strengths that they have clarified, and allow those to dominate time and attention.
All are encouraged to write down, on two separate pages, the words “I loved it,” and “I loathed it.” Under the “I loved it” section, the following should be one’s experience when engaged in a particular activity: “I felt powerful, confident, natural, and on fire.” “That went smoothly.” “I feel wired.” “I felt authentic.” “That was easy.” “That was awesome.” “When can I do this again?” Whatever activities made you feel this way are considered your strengths. Write down those activities. Under the “I loathed it” section, one would look for the following mindsets: “I felt drained.” “Time is going by so slowly.” “I can’t concentrate.” “This is frustrating.” “How much longer?” “Why can’t the new guy do this?” These would be your weaknesses. Try to pass these activities along to those who enjoy them, and do more of what are in line with your strengths. When leaders discover their strengths, they then become the best in their field; and to the degree that they help others to discover the same, their organization becomes the very best at what it does and, in many cases, the best in that field.
By: Eric Betts
Assistant Director at the Center for Religious Studies and Ethics
Athens State University