For much of the 12 years my husband worked for Best Buy, the company was committed to a philosophy of strength-based leadership. Every employee went through training on the StrengthFinders process. Each staffer’s top five strengths were posted outside his/her office or cube. The information was used to identify appropriate promotions and project assignments, leveraging strengths to drive business.
By nature, humans tend to look for the negative in everything first. Consider the current cycle of political news, for example. When something doesn’t go the way we think it should, our mind immediately jumps to negative thoughts and gloomy assumptions. It’s also human nature to want to solve problems and fix things. Not only do we use this approach with projects, but also with people, including employees who work for or with us.
This natural tendency is in direct opposition to the strength-based leadership approach my husband experienced and which many other companies use. The underlying belief in strength-based leadership is that people will be more successful and produce more if focus is on leveraging their strengths instead of fixing their weaknesses. This is not to say that employee’s opportunities for improvement should be ignored; the goal should be to minimize the negative effect of these weaknesses while maximizing the potential of their strengths.
The first step in maximizing individual and team strengths is to identify them. There are a variety of tools that help identify strengths, and your Human Resources department may be able to provide guidance and options for this process. It’s important as a part of this process to create a culture that values all strengths, and promotes the cooperation amongst skill sets to achieve your department’s goals.
Insights gained on employee’s strengths can be used to build highly effective and productive teams bringing together a diversity of skill sets much like assembling a puzzle. Is your current heavy in a particular strength? Where are gaps in strengths? For projects, identify the strengths you need for success and then select team members with those gifts to fill roles on the team. A common mistake made by companies is to promote an individual into people management because they have performed well or had success on an individual project. It would be more impactful to identify strengths of individuals that suggest they would be a great leader (think Developers, who see potential in others). When hiring additional team members, consider the strengths that work best for the role as well as strong points that would add to the effectiveness of the team.
A main criticism of a strength-based leadership approach is that individuals may start to feel like it’s all about him/her vs. the team. It’s essential to create that culture that focuses on the maximization of individual gifts to benefit the overall team. When they start to negatively impact productivity, the team, or work, individual weaknesses must be addressed.
In an environment where every staff person has a heavy work load and companies are still evaluating the effectiveness of retail RD programs, taking a strength-based leadership approach can make all the difference.