My husband and I recently moved into a new home. As many of you can relate, there was a period of time where we couldn’t find simple tools that we needed – hammers for hanging pictures, flat-head screwdrivers for installing shelving, etc. We knew they had made the short trek down the road between homes but they were probably buried somewhere in a mountain of moving cartons in the garage or simply stowed away in our newly-developed “organization system” which is a fancy way of saying we can’t remember where we put them.
Did you know that you can pound a hammer into a wall with the handle of any old screwdriver, the side of a hefty kitchen utensil or even the heel of a really sturdy shoe? And did you know butter knives, dimes and binder clips all function perfectly well as a flat-head screwdriver in a pinch? Sometimes, we don’t get things done because we don’t recognize we already have tools that work, and wind up waiting (often indefinitely) for the tool we think we need.
Strengths-based development operates under the same principle. That’s not to say we should ignore weaknesses altogether, but we should be focusing on what we’re great at and figuring out how to do more with that while minimizing the effect the weaknesses have on our performance.
In a 1950’s study intended to evaluate several methods of speed-reading instruction for introduction into the Nebraska school system, researchers made an interesting (and tangential) observation. Although there were no statistically relevant differences regarding the efficacy of training interventions, there was a significant difference in improvement in students who already had a speed-reading talent as compared to their counterparts who read at an average pace (Clifton & Harter, 2003). Imagine the gains that could be had in the business world by focusing on strengths, rather than wasting all efforts on making incremental improvements on weaknesses.
Not only does strengths-based development support employees doing more with the tools they already have, thus improving productivity, it also has a real impact on employee engagement. According to a 2003 Gallup study on employee engagement, people who focus on using their strengths are three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life and six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs. Additionally, it was discovered that people who work from their “strengths zone” treat customers better, have more positive interactions with co-workers than negative, and achieve more on a daily basis.
As managers, understanding the inherent strengths of the individuals on your team allows you to identify ways in which they can use those strengths more often, discover their developmental needs and wants, and create individual development plans for each team member. Additionally, by understanding your own strengths, you can more fully integrate your management style into an approach that suits the individuals needs of your employees.
If you’re interested in learning more about Strengths-based development, check out StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath or Strengths Based Leadership by Barry Conchie and Tom Rath. And if you’re ready to integrate strengths-based leadership into your team, please give me a call so we can discuss how I can help you integrate strengths-based leadership into your organization.