Why knowing your strengths will make you a better leader

Do you ever wonder why some people seem to have found their calling and others haven't?

Maybe you're passionate about what you do but haven't quite found the utopia you were looking for in your career?

If that sounds familiar, consider this: what if the key to unlocking professional nirvana isn't a function of what you do but a function of who you are?

That’s precisely the thinking that Jane Wundersitz of WunderTraining (a consultancy that uses wellness and research based positive strategies in leadership development), wants to instil in her corporate clients.

“When we think of our strengths in the workplace, we often think about our skills and overlook our character. This is particularly true for business leaders, who tend to rely heavily on their skills to build trust with their staff and peers,” she says.

Character strengths, like creativity, perseverance, fairness and teamwork, represent our positive personality; in other words, our core capacities for thinking, feeling, and behaving in ways which benefit others and ourselves.

The characteristics that come most naturally to us are our signature strengths. They make us feel authentic, alive and engaged and ultimately lead to better business performance.

According to the Gallup white paper, Investing in Strengths, managers who use a strengths-focused leadership approach have an 89% higher incidence of above-average performance than those managers who don't.

When you play to your strengths you're less likely to hit burnout,” Wundersitz says.

“One of the reasons for this is that using our awareness of signature strengths is energising and taps into our intrinsic motivation, building positive emotion.

“Twenty-five per cent of stress levels are transferred by emotional contagion. That’s a very important statistic to know as a business leader. Knowing our signature strengths and how they lead us to emotion teaches us how we can respond – rather than react – to the people and circumstances around us,” she says.

How do you identify your signature strengths?

Many common personality assessments assign individuals into psychometric groups and then rank those groups according to a series of preferences – for example, for a particular role.

In comparison, the benefit of a strength assessment is that there are no preferred strengths; rather, the theory is that we all have the same core strengths, just in different amounts, and that an effective leader has the potential to exhibit any combination of strengths – and can learn to use them to their advantage.

To help leaders understand their personal profile, Wundersitz uses a survey from US-based VIA Institute, available online. The survey is based on a personality test developed by qualified psychologists that measures 24 individual character strengths.

“What is unique about your profile is the position of each strength. The strengths listed at, or near, the top are likely to be those that are most representative of the ‘real you’. These are the ones you should be drawing upon in your role in order to achieve your maximum potential.

“The strengths near the bottom of your profile are not weaknesses. Instead, they are strengths that come less naturally to you and require more effort to use.”

Having awareness of the position of your top and bottom strengths is critical to understanding how you operate in the workplace, and recognising when you need to consciously apply effort and tap into other strengths to help you deal with a given situation.

“What’s revealing about the strength survey is that leaders don’t have to have ‘leadership’ as one of their signature strengths. People can exhibit various strengths, for example, perspective, teamwork and judgment, and be excellent leaders,” Wundersitz says.

Team advantage

Knowing your own strengths can help you identify similar or complementary strengths within your team, allowing you to both tap into the passion of your people, and identify and fill any gaps to strengthen the overall team.

For example, a team full of creatively minded people may benefit from team members with analytic skills, and the strengths assessment can help guide that recruitment process.

Strength training also facilitates positive coaching conversations. For example, a 2015 survey on strengths at work, 71% of employees who believe their manager can name their strengths feel engaged and empowered at work.

“Strength coaching is one of the best ways to show appreciation for staff. It’s about who they are, not about what they do. It’s the difference between saying ‘I’m really happy with that report’ and ‘I love your perseverance.’”

“This is a really powerful tool for business leaders. When individuals and teams are disengaged, they retract their strengths and performance can decline.

“Conversely, if business leaders can tap into their top four signature strengths at work – and support their people to do the same – that’s when work becomes a calling.”

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