Strengths-Based Leadership

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Recent years have brought about a substantial increase in scholarly interest in the strengths-based leadership approach - a specific form of a positive leadership style. Adopting a strengths-based approach has proven to have a positive relationship with individuals’ happiness, feeling of purpose, wellness in the workplace, and performance. [1] According to Rath's and Conchie's research [2], employees' probability of being engaged, when leaders place emphasis on leveraging each team member's distinctive strengths, increases by a factor of eight. That is, compared to a leader that does not value individual strengths. This article covers the three fundamental principles of strengths-based leadership: (1) the most effective leaders consistently invest in strengths, (2) the most effective leaders maximize their team by surrounding themselves with the right individuals, and (3) the most effective leaders have understanding of the needs of their followers. It is argued that by identifying and improving both their own and their team members' strengths, leaders may increase effectiveness and productivity within the team or organization. Additionally, actionable recommendations are made to develop a leadership style that is strengths-based.

Relevance of Strengths-Based Leadership

The English language has several different definitions for the abstract concept of strength. There are several interpretations of the word, and they all conceive a person's strengths in diverse yet related ways. All definitions do, however, acknowledge that strengths are varied, unique, and made up of positive traits, skills, thoughts, behaviours, and resources. When working with individuals in any setting, including employment, education, interpersonal relationships, psychotherapy, and so forth, it is crucial to recognize that strengths are a vital part of the human experience and should therefore be taken into consideration. [3]

Management of projects, programs, and portfolios are important aspects of organizational management that demand strong leadership skills. The leading professional organization for project managers in the world, the Project Management Institute (PMI), is frequently cited as the benchmark for current industry norms. [4] Although the books on project management (PMBOK Guide), [5] program management, [6] and portfolio management [7] do not specifically address strengths-based leadership, they do stress the importance of using approaches to leadership that are in line with the core values of strengths-based leadership. A competent project manager, according to the PMBOK Guide, is one who meets the needs, concerns, and expectations of the project's stakeholders while achieving the objectives of the project. The guide also stresses the significance of cultivating high-performance project teams that may benefit from using strengths-based approaches to leadership. [5] Similarly, the Program Management and Portfolio Management books underscore the value of managing, involving, and communicating with stakeholders. The managers may improve internal stakeholder performance and engagement by using a strengths-based approach to unlock each individual's and team's potential, leading to enhanced program and portfolio outcomes. [6] [7]

Brief Historical Overview

The "strengths movement" in the organizational and leadership area has roots that go back several decades, with Peter Drucker and Donald Clifton serving as its forerunners in 1967 and the 1990s, respectively. The theory that effective managers concentrate on their team members' strengths rather than their weaknesses was later expanded by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman. Individual strengths are unique and long-lasting, according to both Buckingham and Clifton, and prospects for personal development are greatest in areas of strength. With these claims, two prevailing myths about training programs at the time were challenged: (1) anyone can become proficient at anything with enough effort, and (2) areas of personal weakness offers the most potential for development. Clifton and his team developed and introduced the StrengthsFinder assessment, which is today often referred to as StrengthsFinder 2.0. The assessment is for individuals that want to uncover skills they possess and learn to use their strengths. The StrengthsFinder has made that process more structured and simple. [8] Tom Rath and Barry Conchie formalized the strengths-based leadership theory in 2008, when they published the book Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow, as a result of the expanding body of knowledge regarding the importance of strengths. [2]

Understanding Strengths-Based Leadership

By focusing on and consistently increasing individual's strengths, leadership that prioritizes strengths strives to increase an organization's effectiveness, productivity, and success. Organizations that are strengths-based focused put more emphasis on optimizing strengths, rather then eliminating weaknesses. Leaders employing the strengths-based approach, invest in their own strengths as well as their team member's strengths. [8]

Rath and Conchie's strengths-based leadership theory identifies three principles of effective leadership. The principles are demonstrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1 The fundamentals of Strengths-Based Leadership. Made by the author. * (Burkus, 2021) [8] (p. 56)

Investing in strengths

Instead of attempting to be excellent in every area, effective leadership requires placing emphasis on strengths. Many organizations seek out leaders who are skilled communicators, visionaries, and executors, but the truth is that no leader can be exceptional in all of these areas. Every leader has a different set of skills and limitations, so understanding the strengths is crucial to become an effective leader. Unfortunately, leaders frequently lack awareness of their own personalities, which causes issues. In addition, research studies have revealed that a considerable number of individuals feel unsatisfied with their lines of work and feel that they are not provided with the opportunity to make the most of their strengths. According to comprehensive research by Callup scientists, understanding individual's strengths through the StrengthsFinder assessment can increase confidence, engagement and productivity at work. Individuals have the opportunity to grow their self-confidence, at a younger age, may have a lasting advantage in life, according to a study conducted from 1979 to 2004. Early use of participants' strengths was associated with higher levels of job satisfaction and income.

Leaders must be self-aware of their own strengths and assist others in discovering theirs in order to build a strengths-based approach that boosts engagement, productivity, and overall performance inside organization. By making an long-term investment in strengths, leaders may create an environment where people feel valued and inspired to contribute with their unique strengths. This can then result in greater output, greater job satisfaction, and better general performance. Therefore, in order to enjoy these advantages, leaders must make sustained investments in strengths-based leadership.

Building well-rounded teams

The most effective leaders are those who surround themselves with the right people and take advantage of their individual strengths. But more often than not, leadership teams are the result of circumstance rather than design. This has the effect of causing new team members to be hired without taking into account the strengths of the team's existing members. Even when leaders recruit for strength, they unintentionally tend to gravitate toward individuals who act, think or behave like themselves. Executing, influencing, relationship building, and strategic thinking are four specific strength-based leadership domains presented by Rath and Conchie. It is suggested that thinking about how leaders might contribute to a team may be helpful when considering these broad types of abilities. In contrast to having one dominant leader who attempts to take on everything or individuals who all have similar strengths, Rath's and Conchie's research finds that a team must have a representation of strengths in each of these four domains. Teams should be well-rounded even when individuals are not required to be. Based on a statistical factor analysis and a clinical assessment by Gallup, the 34 themes that make up the StrengthsFinder assessment naturally cluster into these four categories of leadership strength, as seen in Figure 2.

In short, leaders that succeed in execution have the ability to transform an idea from a though to a reality. Influential leaders may take command, sell ideas, and ensure that the team is heard. Relationship building leaders play an important role in maintaining the team's unity and cohesion, which is crucial for creating a team that ultimately is more powerful and productive than the sum of its parts. Lastly, strategic thinking leaders keep the team's attention on the future while continuously gathering data and improving decision making.

Figure 2 The four Domains of Leadership Strengths and the corresponding Strengths Finder themes. Made by the author. * (Gallup et al., 2008) [2] (p. 29)

Indicators of high-performing teams

Assembling team members with the appropriate strengths is not sufficient to create a high-performing group. The team's leader must consistently invest time and efforts to develop the strengths of each member and establish solid bonds among the team members. According to Gallup's nearly four decades of research on leadership teams, there are several indicators that may be used to identify a strong and high-performing team. The following is a list of these indicators: (1) Strong teams are results-driven, which means that conflict doesn't derail them, (2) strong teams prioritize what's best for the organization before moving forward, (3) members of strong teams are equally committed to their personal lives and work, (4) strong teams embrace diversity, and (5) strong teams attract talent. [2] Similarly to Gallup's findings, the PMBOK Guide underscores the importance of establishing and sustaining high-performing project teams for effective project management. The value of strong teamwork, clear communication, trust, empowerment, and sense of recognition are all examples of factors mentioned. [5]

Understanding follower's needs

The most effective leaders are those who are capable of inspiring a wide range of individuals to support the missions and visions of an organization. Moreover, a leaders' key traits is their ability to motivate and coordinate the efforts of others to accomplish a desired outcome. Gallup conducted a systematic survey to gather thoughts on leadership from the general public between 2005 and 2008 in order to better understand this. Over 10.000 followers were contacted by The Gallup Poll for the study. According to the study's findings, it was evident what followers required and wanted from their leaders and as a result, Rath and Conchie presented the following four basics needs: Trust, compassion, stability and hope. [2]


Based on the aforementioned discussion, strengths-based leaders recognize the importance of discovering, developing and leveraging their own and their followers' strengths, which should improve organizational effectiveness and task performance. When establishing strengths-based leadership approach, the following suggestions should be noted.

Key Considerations

Identifying the leader's strengths

Strength-based leaders should begin with gaining profound understanding of their own distinctive strengths. [1] This may be accomplished through assessments such as the StrengthsFinder assessment. The assessment involves a forced-choice questionnaire to analyze how predictable patterns of behaviour are, and from the responses, it identifies key themes of skills, as seen in Figure 2. These themes highlight the areas where leaders and followers can most effectively build on their respective strengths. It's important to remember that reaching full strength utilization is not the intended objective. Instead, leaders who use the strengths method should be aware that some organizational tasks can require non-strengths activities, and they should allot staff a suitable amount of time, often around 25%, for such tasks.

Understanding the team's strengths

Once an understanding of the leader's strengths have been acquired, assessment of each team member's strengths should be conducted. Here as well, the StrengthsFinder assessment may prove to be helpful. [8]

Assign tasks, according to strengths

Tasks can be delegated in a way that optimizes each individual's skills and performance after the aforementioned steps have been completed. Team members frequently exhibit higher levels of motivation and engagement – increasing their work performance – when assigned tasks that play to their strengths. As a result, the team and the organization as a whole perform better, are more productive, and are more satisfied at work. [1]

Promote a strengths-based culture

Organizations that seek to foster strength-based leadership encouraged to promote a strengths-based culture. As a result, it can be valuable to match the organization's performance management philosophy with the strengths-based culture. During performance evaluations, managers should support their team members' strengths and offer appropriate rewards and opportunities for growth that are consistent with their strengths. Employees will feel appreciated and respected if they are given clear performance standards and goals to work toward. [9] However, even without the encouragement of the overall organizational culture, team leaders can have the influence to foster engagement and commitment within their own team. This is the situation in the case study that will be presented in the chapter that follows. [4]

Moreover, leaders that use a strengths-based approach should consider the following main approaches for addressing employees' weaknesses: (1) altering a role to suit the individual rather than the other way around, (2) enabling staff to seek assistance from those with favourable strengths, and (3) reassigning a person if their core abilities are not a fit for the role's essential criteria.

Having managers that are intrinsically suited for the position can make a difference in bringing a strengths culture to life. These managers should be enthused by supporting others develop their strengths and have an interest in how different individuals function. Furthermore, having experienced strengths coach may be valuable for organizations. Professionals, in the field of human resources for instance, who have a passion to coach and the coaching ability may become experts in strengths, coaching workers and ensuring they play to their strengths at work every day. Effective managers assemble teams with a strategic purpose, based on the preference and strengths of the individuals and the team, rather than hastily assemble the teams. [9]

Real-World Application

The program manager, Maggie, introduced in the book Be a Project Motivator: Unlock the Secrets of Strengths-Based Project Management is a composite character based on the author's actual experiences working on various projects and teams. Maggie's management approach reflected some of the strengths-based leadership's principles, which turned out to be vital to the project's success. Maggie had the difficult task of taking over an already established team, that previously had three different program managers over the course of the preceding 1,5 year. The team's objective was to successfully implement an online banking system. Maggie understood that in order to win her team's support and participation, she needed to establish trust with them. She also realized that creating a sense of hope and cohesiveness was crucial to inspiring and encouraging the team to have faith in the project's potential for success.

Maggie concentrated on fostering relationships with her team members by paying attention to their concerns and considering their recommendations in order to accomplish this. Along with, team meetings she had individual meetings with everyone. Instead of forcing her own vision on the team, she understood the value of a shared vision and the necessity of the team developing one together. Maggie was self-aware of her own strengths as a leader which from the case, appeared to have been valuable in her ability to engage the team effectively. It was apparent from the vision developed as a team that there was a desire to build on the knowledge within the entire team and the experience of the other teams around going forward. Additionally, they sought to make the most of each team member's unique interests and ambitions.

Maggie understood the benefit of investing in her team members' strengths. To do this, she began by evaluating the individual strengths of the team using the VIA assessment tool, which identifies 24 specific character strengths. As a result, the team was able to recognize each member's unique strengths and learn how to use them to help achieve the established goals. Maggie then concentrated on fostering an environment among the team that emphasizes raising strengths awareness. In stand-up meetings, the team spent time recognizing and respecting each other's strengths. A weekly email was even established with guidance on ways to identify and cultivate strengths. Through encouraging team members to contribute their own strengths, this approach promoted a positive and collaborative work atmosphere that enhanced engagement and productivity.

This case study illustrated how strengths-based leadership's principles can be applied by an experienced leader, determined to invest in strengths. Maggie was able to foster a sense of hope, trust, as well as boost engagement, improve communication and ultimately increase productivity within the project team. [4]

Limitations and Drawbacks

Any team or organization ought to have effective leadership if it is to succeed. The strengths-based leadership approach has been demonstrated to have a positive impact on work-related well-being, team's engagement and performance, as already described in this article. However, as anticipated, some researchers have voiced scepticism regarding the approach and pointed out potential drawbacks. Leaders who overuse their strengths might notice a decline in performance since, paradoxically, they have turned their strengths into weaknesses. Furthermore, leaders who concentrate solely on strengths risk ignoring other areas that requires attention, which may eventually have a detrimental effect on the performance of the team and the organization as a whole. Thus, it is essential for leaders to employ a balanced approach that acknowledges the value of focusing on strengths while simultaneously be aware of addressing areas that may need growth and development. [10] Pearce examines, in her book, the potential risks associated with under- and overusing strengths in a project team. In-depth examples of these limitations are provided using the case study of the program manager Maggie. For instance, the strength of honesty might be overused if a person is overly blunt. [4] This emphasizes the value of a well-balanced approach when leading with strengths. [10]

Additionally, it has been observed that many organizations struggle to successfully use the results of strengths identification assessments, despite the fact that they are widely used and can offer insightful information on character strengths. This may reduce the assessment's potential advantages and make it difficult for individuals to enhance and utilize their strengths. Therefore, simply acknowledging strengths is inadequate. For optimal utilization of the assessment's potential advantages, it is essential to engage in conversation about and comprehend the results. Hence, organizations should make sure that participants are appropriately debriefed and given opportunity to continue improving their identified strong areas. [11]

Moreover, it is important to note that, even when assessments are successfully conducted to identify team members' strengths, adopting a strengths-based approach in the workplace may still provide difficulties. Some leaders may find it difficult to continuously use this approach throughout the whole operations, despite the fact that they play a crucial role in establishing a strengths-based environment. Managers could come across a conflict between their responsibilities as a manager and a strengths coach. Organizations might want to provide managers with training on how to apply strengths-based approaches and encouraging a more widespread adoption of the approach. They might enhance both individual and team performance, as well as engagement at the workplace by doing so. [12]

In the context of project management, resource management and allocation must be done effectively for a project to be successful. Strengths-based leadership can be an effective strategy to produce positive project outcomes, as this article has demonstrated. However, in the real world of project management, resources—including time, budget, and employees— are limited and finite. [5] The strengths-based approach requires leaders to invest in strengths, but this may require prioritizing and resource allocation. A trade-off may exist between investing in team members' strengths as doing so requires devoting resources, such as time and effort, to fostering the strengths-based approach.

Annotated Bibliography

Gallup, Rath, T., & Conchie, B. (2008). Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow. Simon and Schuster.

The strengths-based leadership approach, which places a strong emphasis on acknowledging and using team and individual strengths to improve organizational performance, is thoroughly explained in this book. The authors explore the key components of strengths-based leadership, such as the significance of focusing on individual's strengths, creating an encouraging work environment, and establishing strong relationships with team members, by drawing on extensive research by Gallup and real-world experience. Along with strategies for implementing these newfound insights to use to increase leadership effectiveness, the book also includes a thorough assessment tool, the StrengthsFinder, for identifying personal and team strengths. For those looking to understand and incorporate strengths-based leadership principles into their own leadership practices, this book is a must-read.

Ding, H., Yu, E., & Li, Y. (2020). Strengths-based leadership and its impact on task performance: A preliminary study. South African Journal of Business Management, 51(1).

According to the study's findings, task performance may be positively impacted by leaders who put an emphasis on enhancing and leveraging team members' strengths. This study is pertinent to the subject of strengths-based leadership because it shows how this method of leadership may help teams complete tasks and projects more efficiently. Additionally, this study offers empirical proof of the value of strengths-based leadership, which may be relevant  for those interested in the approach.

Pearce, R. (2018). Be a Project Motivator: Unlock the Secrets of Strengths-Based Project Management (1st ed.). Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Project managers are provided with guidelines for incorporating strengths-based approaches and positive psychology into their projects in this book by R. Pearce. The book demonstrates how team strengths can be identified and used to increase productivity and the likelihood of project success through the use of practical examples. The author highlights the importance of being a project motivator and offers practical strategies for fully making use of team strengths. The book also offers suggestions for avoiding common pitfalls as well as insightful information about potential difficulties that might arise when strengths are prioritized. In general, this book is an invaluable tool for project managers who want to foster an encouraging and productive workplace environment.

Project Management Institute. (2021). A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) (7th ed.).

The guide offers a framework for project management procedures and practices and offers a thorough review of project management best practices and standards. This manual might be a helpful tool for project managers who want to comprehend the core elements of their work, such as their obligations and tasks, in the context of strengths-based leadership. Notably, the book highlights several abilities and key tasks related with effective leadership, emphasizing the significance of leadership behavior as a concept for project managers.



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Ding, H., Yu, E., & Li, Y. (2020). Strengths-based leadership and its impact on task performance: A preliminary study. South African Journal of Business Management, 51(1).
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Gallup, Rath, T., & Conchie, B. (2008). Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow. Simon and Schuster.
  3. Simmons, C., PhD, & Lehmann, P. (2013).Tools for Strengths-Based Assessment and Evaluation. Springer Publishing Company.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Pearce, R. (2018). Be a Project Motivator: Unlock the Secrets of Strengths-Based Project Management (1st ed.). Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Project Management Institute. (2021). A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) (7th ed.).
  6. 6.0 6.1 Project Management Institute. (2017). The Standard for Program Management (4th ed.).
  7. 7.0 7.1 Project Management Institute. (2017). The Standard for Portfolio Management (4th ed.).
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Burkus, D. (2011). Building the Strong Organization: Exploring the Role of Organizational Design in Strengths-Based Leadership. Journal of Strategic Leadership, 3(1). ISSN 1941-4668.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Flade, P., Asplund, J., & Elliot, G. (2015, October 8). Employees Who Use Their Strengths Outperform Those Who Don't. Gallup.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Kaiser, R. B., & Overfield, D. V. (2011). Strengths, strengths overused, and lopsided leadership. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 63(2), 89–109.
  11. Shutt, T. (2023). An Examination of Conflict Resolution in Dispersed Organizations Using Strengths-Based Leadership. Digital Commons @ ACU.
  12. Van Woerkom, M., Meyers, M. C., & Bakker, A. B. (2020). Considering strengths use in organizations as a multilevel construct.Human Resource Management Review, 32(3).
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