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Lucy Ball is an executive coach, pairs coach and team coach.

May 2016

Strengths first

Many of us spend so much time thinking about what we are not, that we forget who we are. We grow up with teachers, parents, peers and siblings correcting our mistakes, pointing out our weaknesses and the media showing us what we could be if only we were more or different. The idea that development should start with consideration of the existing strengths (of an individual or system)  is one that is yet to take a firm hold in our culture.

There is a strong strengths movement in leadership development and there has been for a long time but it’s still far from being the norm in the organisations I work with. For those interested in strengths-based approaches I advise starting with a Google of Marcus Buckingham who popularised strengths-based approaches to personal development .

The data on the performance impact of focusing on strengths is encouraging – with the Corporate Leadership Council’s research strongly correlating workplace performance with playing to strengths but there is still much more of an evidence base needed.

This isn’t stopping some managers doing it anyway and getting great results.  Here’s my guidance for leaders wanting to put strengths more at the heart of their work.

  1. Know your own strengths and let those guide your career plan – they are not always easy to spot so ask people what they see. Your superpowers will be obvious to those who know you well.
  2. Get specific about your strengths, really refine your list of strengths until they are granular, specific and really ‘you’. Your cocktail of qualities is unique in the human race.
  3. Seek the strengths of your people and tell them what you see.
  4. Recruit for the strengths your organisation needs not for whose face fits.
  5. Create a diverse team whose strengths complement each other – get used to the robust discussions that will lead to at team meetings.
  6. Make the diverse strengths of your people your competitive advantage.

For leadership development practitioners wanting to bring strengths-based approaches to leadership development into their organisations I would advise training in Appreciative Inquiry which provides a sound way of thinking and approaching most any organisation or leadership development intervention.

For coaches wanting to place strengths more centrally in their approach with their clients, you can’t beat Edwin and Sonia Nevis’s Cape Cod Model which provides a simple but rich coaching framework underpinned by an appreciative and optimistic stance.

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