A Book Review: Strengths Based Leadership


Most of us have experienced this; the company retreat or off-site where a portion of the time is spent learning about ourselves, our teammates and a new way of looking at our relationships.  Communication skills, building trust, leadership through XYZ or a nature or wilderness experience designed to teach us more about ourselves and working together.  Perhaps you are asked to take an assessment prior to the gathering to understand your colors, a letter that describes your personality or your animal type.  You may have been through an experience like this several times.  Perhaps some helped you learn, perhaps others times you were just grateful to be away from your desk.

Unfortunately, many of these types of exercises become the “flavor of the month or quarter”, a new leadership initiative tried on by the company, soon to be replaced by the next initiative.  The result:  confusion, apathy and a lack of trust in leadership.

The book Strengths-based Leadership by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie addresses this head-on in the first chapter of the book as leadership by imitation.  Not clear about their own ability to lead, leadership continues to try on different styles of leadership to see what fits.  As described in Born or Made? Yes! there is not one trait or characteristic that makes a great leader, it is understanding your unique strengths and applying them effectively.

The book moves quickly into addressing what leaders are trying to accomplish by “trying on” these various techniques.  It is difficult to build an effective team if you lack understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses.  Here is where the four leadership domains come into play.

My favorite part of the book is the four living, breathing examples of leadership in action.

Four very different leaders leading four very different organizations each maximizing the use of their dominant leadership domain and surrounding themselves with team members to fill in the weak spots.

The book also addresses the other side of the coin, one that has been mentioned several times here, and that is why do people follow.  You’ll recognize the importance of some of these words, and how they are missing in the first paragraph:  Trust, Compassion, Stability, Hope.

My favorite part of the book, oh I can’t have two, my next favorite part of the book is the “how to” section.  How to lead with your strengths and how to lead others based on their strengths.  Coupled with your Strengths Insight guide (part of the output of the StrengthsFinder Assessment), you have all you need to call on the right strength at the right time.  

This book is a fantastic tool for anyone, not just “appointed” leaders.  Even with the “how to” section it can be difficult to fully understand your strengths without the input of another person.  Team up with someone and work through the StrengthsFinder assessment and this book together.  You’ll need feedback to spot your strengths in action.  Take it to the next level and find a certified strengths coach to lead you and your team in this process.  You will discover your own leadership style and the flavor of the month will become history.

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