In order to become better leaders, people typically focus on improving their weaknesses. But now, research is showing that developing your strengths is actually more effective.
John Zenger, Joseph R. Folkman, Robert Sherwin, Jr., and Barbara Steel—authors of the book How To Be Exceptional: Drive Leadership Success By Magnifying Your Strengths—believe that working on strengths dramatically improves one’s leadership skills and leads to more successful business interactions.
"If you concur that leadership is a set of skills and not a body of knowledge or a personality type, then learning leadership skills probably has much in common with learning any other set of skills," they say.
Here are some tips they provided on improving leadership strengths:
1. Have humility. The authors believe that humility, or humbleness, is a difficult strength to improve on, but will make a good leader in the long term if mastered.
“It is difficult to come up with a plan for improving humility, and often leaders would write something like ‘just be more humble’ or ‘don’t be arrogant.’” Try exercises in and outside of the workplace where whenever someone describes a scenario or situation they’re in, you put yourself in their position. Do this over and over, and being able to relate to others will come more naturally.
2. Identify the behaviors that should be developed. “We propose a model with three important filters for identifying a behavior that could be expanded for strength. We label this the CPO model, where C stands for ‘competence (how effective you already are with this skill),’ P for ‘passion,’ and O for ‘organization need.’”
3. Ask for feedback. This will allow you to let your guard down and embrace open-mindedness. Good leaders should always welcome suggestions.
“A key competency of any successful leader is the ability to continually gather, accept and respond to feedback. Data collected from thousands of respondents on the coaching behavior of their boss confirm that asking for feedback is the behavior on which these leaders received the lowest single scores. Yet, when we look at the willingness of a leader to ask others for feedback, we find that there is an excellent overall leadership effectiveness.”
4. Take a behavior modeling class. An extremely powerful formal development process for teaching many leadership skills is behavior modeling. This technology utilizes video clips that show managers handling difficult situations well. The course content explains the key action steps that were being followed. The bulk of the learning process involves participants practicing and rehearsing these skills with one another.
5. Try cross-training. Once you've developed a particular skill to a high degree of competency, it's time to look at sharpening other skills which are complementary to the primary strength, such as communication or technical abilities.
"When athletes aspire to become more than just casual participants in a sport, they often turn to cross-training. Aspiring runners take up cycling, swimming, and weightlifting. Our favorite example is a football coach who scheduled several of the lumbering lineman to take ballet lessons in an attempt to make them more conscious of their footwork and acquire more agility."
Samantha Cortez writes for Business Insider, focusing on careers, growing start-ups, and social media. She has written entertainment pieces for the New York Daily News and retail design features at 20/20 Magazine.
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