Strengths-Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow

Strengths-Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow

by Tom Rath, Gallup Press


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From the author of the long-running #1 bestseller StrengthsFinder 2.0 comes a landmark study of great leaders, teams and the reasons why people follow.

Nearly a decade ago, Gallup unveiled the results of a landmark 30-year research project that ignited a global conversation on the topic of strengths. More than 19 million people have since taken Gallup’s StrengthsFinder assessment, which forms the core of several books on this topic, including the #1 international bestseller StrengthsFinder 2.0.

In recent years, while continuing to learn more about strengths, Gallup scientists have also been examining decades of data on the topic of leadership. They studied more than 1 million work teams, conducted more than 20,000 in-depth interviews with leaders and even interviewed more than 10,000 followers around the world to ask exactly why they followed the most important leader in their life.

In Strengths Based Leadership, #1 New York Times bestselling author Tom Rath and renowned leadership consultant Barry Conchie reveal the results of this research. Based on their discoveries, the book identifies three keys to being a more effective leader: knowing your strengths and investing in others’ strengths, getting people with the right strengths on your team, and understanding and meeting the four basic needs of those who look to you for leadership.

As you read Strengths Based Leadership, you’ll hear firsthand accounts from some of the most successful organizational leaders in recent history, from the founder of Teach For America to the president of The Ritz-Carlton, as they discuss how their unique strengths have driven their success. Filled with novel research and actionable ideas, Strengths Based Leadership will give you a new road map for leading people toward a better future.

A unique access code allows you to take a new leadership version of Gallup’s StrengthsFinder program. The new version of this program provides you with specific strategies for leading with your top five strengths and enables you to plot the strengths of your team based on the four domains of leadership strength revealed in the book.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781595620255
Publisher: Gallup Press
Publication date: 01/06/2009
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 5,267
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Tom Rath is one of the most influential authors of the last decade. He studies the role of human behavior in health, business and economics. Rath writes and speaks on a range of topics, from well-being to organizational leadership. He has written several international bestsellers, including the #1 New York Times bestseller How Full Is Your Bucket? In 2007, The Economist listed his book StrengthsFinder 2.0 as the top-selling business book worldwide. In total, Rath’s books have sold more than 5 million copies, been translated in 16 languages and made over 250 appearances on the Wall Street Journal bestseller list. Rath is a senior scientist and advisor to Gallup, where he previously spent 13 years leading the organization’s work on employee engagement, strengths and well-being. He has also served as vice chairman of the VHL cancer research organization.


An Interview With Tom Rath and Barry Conchie

Authors of Strengths Based Leadership

Q: This book challenges conventional business wisdom, suggesting that leaders are not, in fact, well-rounded. Did the research surprise you? What exactly does it mean?

A: The concept of the "well-rounded leader" is prevalent in many organizations. You can see this in how organizations select leaders and in the emphasis they place on the kinds of development programs they offer. Typically, selection attempts to find leaders who are almost superhuman -- who exhibit such a wide range of characteristics that those claiming to possess them are barely credible.

The whole idea of the "competent leader" who is well-rounded just doesn't stand up to examination against the evidence. The research shows that the best leaders excel at a limited number of things, and they are smart enough to know it. Thus, they surround themselves with people who provide a balance of talents and attributes. Those claiming to be good at everything tend to be masters of none, and the most successful organizations are not led by average leaders.

Organizations also tend to promote a sense of well-roundedness in their development programs. It's simply ingrained. Many of these programs are remedial; they attempt to correct deficiencies. However, some of this development activity fails to consider whether the desired outcomes are actually achievable. There is little evidence, for example, that you can teach someone to come up with big ideas or to be a creative, out-of-the-box thinker. The return on investment for such development would be very low for an individual without thebasic talent set. Rather than try to develop well-rounded leaders, organizations should help leaders define their key strengths and figure out how to use them to the fullest extent and build teams with complementary strengths.

Q: Is leadership an acquired skill or an innate talent?

A: Clearly, there are essential talents that leaders possess to succeed at different organizational levels. Some of these talents would seem to be enduring, and they are difficult to develop in people who don't already have them. Whether these talents existed at birth or were socialized is not a focus of our research, but having individuals more clearly understand their strengths gives them a greater chance of being a successful leader.

Now, if we consider leadership as an attitude and behavior -- as the capacity to influence people and create followership -- then many more individuals have the capacity to lead than probably know it. People can be taught how to identify their strengths and how those strengths can be used to develop their leadership potential. This is true whether someone is a cashier at a supermarket or a junior lawyer working in a law firm. The right leadership development might not lead certain people to become CEOs, but it will help them build influence and followership and create a positive effect on the lives of those they encounter.

Q: Although the studies did not point to a single skill set that all leaders possess, they did identify four key features of all successful TEAMS -- skills that are shared between the leader and the followers. Can you tell us about these?

A: The four domains of leadership strength provide an effective framework for identifying balance in a team. Each of these domains is broad in nature, but taken together, they represent key aspects of effective leadership. We don't tend to find individual leaders who excel in each of the domains; in fact, we often find leaders who are more accomplished in maybe one or two of them. This is why it's important that, overall, a leadership team shows evidence of each of these leadership domains. If a leadership team is comprised of individuals who are all weak in Relationship Building, for example, that would seriously limit the effectiveness of the team and potentially cause some limitations in terms of their performance.

Q: Gallup made a point of studying not only leaders, but followers as well. Can you tell us why you think that's important?

A: So much has been written either by or about specific leaders or leadership generally. But very little research had been published on how followers view effective leaders -- leaders they look up to. We thought this was a major gap in knowledge, and we wanted to close it -- and in the process see what we could learn about how followers looked at leaders and the particular qualities they needed from those leaders.

This is an important area to study because it provides leaders with a different lens through which to consider their behavior, focus, and impact. The results of our research provide leaders with a powerful framework for thinking about their leadership. And in the book, we give specific advice about how to meet these follower expectations through a focus on strengths.

Q: You also discuss in the book how effective teams are also teams made up of engaged workers. Can you tell us why there is a connection between the two?

A: High and improving levels of employee engagement correlate positively to a variety of business outcomes such as productivity, profitability, and turnover. This correlation exists at the organizational, division, team, and individual levels. One engaged employee on a team of actively disengaged employees is going to have a hard time making the kind of positive impact that a whole team of engaged employees could make. As the most effective teams deliver the best results and outcomes, we find that these teams are also the most engaged.

Managers and leaders in organizations create the conditions for teams to be highly engaged. One key factor in raising levels of engagement is managers and leaders focusing on the strengths of individual employees. If managers can help employees understand and leverage their strengths -- help them do what they do best every day -- that will have a positive impact on engagement. While it is possible to have a productive team that is not engaged, our research tells us that this situation is not sustainable for the long term. Unless the level of engagement increases, performance could deteriorate.

Q: The book's research found that successful leaders are more likely to pick successors who do not possess the same skills as they do. Can you tell us why that is?

A: The most successful leaders tend to know their leadership strengths and how to leverage them. They also know their leadership weaknesses and recognize that unless they get help and support in these areas, they will not be as effective. Consequently, they tend to surround themselves with other leaders who compensate for their shortcomings. This focus on leadership talent sometimes supersedes a focus on technical proficiency and knowledge, and great leaders are often extremely patient in their search for the specific blend of talents that fit best.

Less effective leaders tend to see balance in teams as a result of combining people with specific technical expertise and specialized knowledge -- but their teams lack an essential diversity in talent. This is a very important distinction, and one too few leaders make. Our research shows that many leadership teams with average and below-average performance "self-replicate" this lack of talent diversity on the teams that report to them. Without a diversity of talent -- and the range of perspectives that goes with it -- teams can miss growth opportunities altogether.

Q: What do you believe is the hallmark of effective leadership?

A: The most effective leaders are those who are aware of their strengths and who have fully optimized them. They are clear about their weaknesses and have found strategies, support mechanisms, and partners to successfully compensate for them.

Effective leaders assemble technically proficient and knowledgeable teams using these same principles, and they establish high and improving levels of engagement across the organization. They ensure that their leadership teams have abundant talent to strategically think, build relationships, influence, and execute.

Their leadership is stable and predictable. They show that they care about people. They operate with high levels of trust, and they inspire hope and optimism among their followers. They harness all of these elements to deliver world-class performance.

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Strengths-Based Leadership 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 32 reviews.
GLeMahieu More than 1 year ago
By knowing that my top 5 Clifton Strenghts are "Connector, Strategist, Ideation, Input and Learner", I am able to understand my past behaviors along with where my passion lies and why that is so... I bought a copy of Strenghts Finder 2.0 for my college aged daughter so she could understand what type of career fields and courses to study in order to experience better career and life choices. So many people take meds for anti-depression. This could help most people understand why they are not happy!
Boysan More than 1 year ago
If you are serious about leading teams and nurturing people, you should use this book to assess yourself.
M_L_Gooch_SPHR More than 1 year ago
As a corporate human resources director, I enjoyed StrengthsFinder 2.0. This new book is an inspiring read also. It contains a large amount of data and information especially from the Gallup scientists. For many years, they studied more than 1 million work teams and conducted more than thousands of interviews with leaders and followers to ask exactly why they followed their leader. Based on the authors' discoveries, the book focuses on three keys to being a great leader: 1. Knowing your strengths. 2. Getting people with the right strengths on your team. 3. Meeting the four basic needs of followers. Combined with the research are quite a few actionable ideas that you will be able to implement immediately or at least in the near future. As a criticism I would point out that eliminating or minimizing our weaknesses is just as important. I realize the book may disagree with this viewpoint but since entering management in 1975, I have seen many strong leaders fail because they couldn't or wouldn't control their; ego, sexual impulses, greed, etc., etc. I hope you find this review helpful. Michael L. Gooch, SPHR - Author of Cowboy Wisdom for Today's Business Leaders.
TheUtleyReader More than 1 year ago
For those familiar with the Strengths Finder materials coming out of the Gallup organization, Strengths Based Leadership adds a new dimension to the discussion. I have found it helpful in leadership training in our congregation. For several years I've thought that Gallup was publishing new books without new substance. This one takes their program a step further. The next step would be a huge leap - offer an individual profile based on the particular interactions of a person's five signature strengths. Hope they get there.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The strength-based leadership model is another way of looking at how you interact with people and how you learn. It didn't seem any more amazing than any of the other similar test I've taken. However, it seems to be as accurate as any other. The book comes with a code for an online test; the site then gives you the results that tie back to the info in the book. Interesting, especially if you haven't done tests like this before.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book was extremely useful. It not only showed me my strengths but also told me how to lead others with specific strenghts. I enjoyed it so much that I have purchased strengthsfinder for 4 of my employees as well.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The background research of the Gallup Organization. Tried and true principles. Is a must for those in leadership positions.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The authors in this book explain leadership in many ways. They showed how you should apply your strengths and the four basic needs of those who look to you as a leader. The book identifies three ways to be a more effective leader. Knowing your strength and investing in others, getting people with the right strengths on your team, and understanding those who look to you for leadership. The book gives interviews and statistics to discuss how some of the most successful organizational leaders have become successful. Rath and Conchie's purpose for writing the book was to make one think about what leaders they look up to and why. The authors overall did a great job with organization and explanation. I recommend reading this informational book. OSU Comp Student 2009
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RolfDobelli More than 1 year ago
This useful leadership book supports its advice, guidelines and recommendations with solid research. Gallup Inc., the well-known polling company, has done far more research on leadership and the social sciences than any author could do alone. Here, Gallup executives Tom Rath - already a best-selling author - and Barry Conchie extrapolate significant findings on leadership from their company's mountain of research. They explain what superior leadership requires and what a leader's followers seek. Their book comes with unique access codes to leadership strength assessment. In a world of mixed opinion and amorphous authority, getAbstract recommends this empirical approach to understanding leadership by way of reliable data.
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