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Exploring a Strengths-Based Integrative Leadership Paradigm

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by Krista Soria

In the beginning of Strengths-Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow (2009), Rath and Conchie cited three key findings from five decades of research: 1) the most effective leaders are always investing in strengths; 2) the most effective leaders surround themselves with the right people and then maximize their team; 3) the most effective leaders understand their followers' needs.

Embedded in those principles is the core concept of awareness--self-awareness of one's own strengths and awareness of others' strengths. With this knowledge, leaders can move forward to incite effective social change and tackle grand challenges within their teams.

Recently, the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities has emerged in the national spotlight as a strengths-based campus--each year, all new incoming first-year students are encouraged to take the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment to discover their top five talent themes--naturally occurring thoughts, feelings, and patterns of behaviors that can be productively applied. Many staff and faculty across the University have also joined strengths efforts by taking the StrengthsFinder and integrating strengths into their work with students. Combined with knowledge and skills, students, staff, and faculty can build their top five strengths from their dominant talent themes.

As more and more individuals across the University gain deeper insights into their strengths, the capacity for integrative cross-disciplinary leadership and team development can only continue to flourish. When integrative teams focus on strengths, they can work beyond their differences and develop common language and a cohesive team through their strengths--the results of these efforts are amazing: when leaders focus on and invest in others' strengths, the odds of each individual team member being engaged in the work increases eightfold (Rath & Conchie, 2009).

A strengths-based integrative leadership paradigm brings together others from different backgrounds, explores each individual's strengths, emphasizes the personal worth and value of each team member, and develops an understanding of the team's collective strengths. To that end, Rath and Conchie (2009) have offered four domains of leadership strength: executing, influencing, relationship building, and strategic thinking. Each domain is composed of specific strengths (e.g. strategic thinking has analytical, context, futuristic, etc.). While individuals do not need to be well-rounded with regards to leadership domains, Rath and Conchie (2009) advocate that teams should have individual contributions from all four domains to build a strong and cohesive team.

As I reflect upon my own experiences working on teams that have failed to accomplish tasks, meet goals, or achieve desired ends, in many instances, it is evident that some of the barriers preventing progress stemmed from not knowing each other well enough to maximize the strengths in our teams. Individual and team strengths were not discovered or acknowledged--this led to the development of assumptions about which team member could effectively undertake particular tasks, how the team could manage goals and opportunities, and whether we had the capacity to work together effectively on a common goal.

When we focus on the strengths of the individuals in our teams, we acknowledge their personal and unique contributions to the world; after all, the odds of receiving the exact same top five strengths as another person in the same order is 1 in 33.39 million and the odds of having the same top five strengths but in a different order is 1 in 340,000. Building upon that principle, when we consider the uniqueness of our teams as they are composed within the four leadership domains, we can begin to develop an understanding of our potential to be cohesive and successful as a team and work to intentionally design teams to maximize strengths.

Krista Soria is a doctoral candidate in educational policy and administration within the College of Education and Human Development and a member of the cross-disciplinary 2012 - 13 CIL Student Leadership Team. Her strengths - in case you are curious - are: Intellection, Input, Learner, Achiever, and Ideation.

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