Positive, Strengths-Based Leadership

You’ve heard of innovative leaders, visionary leaders, and charismatic leaders.  However, you may not be as familiar with what we call strengths-based leaders.  Strengths-based leaders focus their attention on what people do well (their strengths) rather than on what they don’t do so well (their weaknesses). They also focus more attention on what’s working well and then replicate those best practices in other areas, rather than constantly focusing on what’s broken.  Strengths-based leaders don’t ignore problems; rather they recognize that solving problems and shoring up weaknesses are only part of the results equation.

Why is it so Hard?
Being a strengths-based leader may sound easy enough, but there are three conditions that often make it difficult to actually become one: we really don’t like to manage others, we view our role as problem solvers, and we skew our attention to the negative.  Margaret shows business leaders how to shift their thinking to bring out the best in their people and their organizations.  See an excerpt  of an interview Margaret did for the VIA Strengths Institute on how she assesses a client’s strengths.



Below is an article from The MITRE Corporation’s on-line employee newsletter about a workshop Margaret Greenberg designed and facilitated for a group of 50+ engineers and other technical employees called “Take Charge of Your Career:  Know Your Strengths”.

Noticing What’s Right with You    2/10/12

*“Carving out a role that speaks to your strengths will make you feel fulfilled and successful. Remember, it’s who you are.”


When we want to improve our work performance, we sometimes find ourselves dwelling on our negatives instead of our positives.  Margaret Greenberg says that’s a big mistake.  Greenberg, a business coach and consultant and president of The Greenberg Group coaching and consulting firm, appeared at MITRE’s Bedford campus on January 25 to make the case for emphasizing strengths when assessing career progress. “Most development plans focus on areas of opportunity, a code phrase for what we’re not doing well, rather than leveraging our strengths,” Greenberg said. “We tend to ruminate on negative comments rather than bask in positive ones. We have a negativity bias, and it’s especially obvious with lawyers and engineers. People in these two professions have a more negative mindset. They’ve been trained to look for problems and solutions.”

Greenberg asked the audience to consider how they look at the people they work with, including their managers, peers, or direct reports. Said Greenberg: “Are you noticing what’s going right with them or are you focusing on and nitpicking what’s going wrong?”

Greenberg explained that Gallup, Inc. has researched human strengths for 40 years. A key question in their well-regarded Gallup Q12 survey is: At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?  “They’ve polled 10 million people worldwide, and they’ve learned that employees who play to their strengths are more engaged in their work,” said Greenberg. “When employees focus on their strengths, they love what they do and feel more fulfilled. Globally, only 20 percent of employees say they play to their strengths every day.”

So, what do you do about it?

To identify your strengths—which are defined here as a combination of your talents, knowledge, and skills—Greenberg suggests you ask yourself these questions: What kind of work really energizes you? What work can’t you wait to start doing?  To help you in this process, Greenberg refers to the book Strengthsfinder 2.0 by Tom Rath, a Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek bestseller that identifies 34 common strengths of employees. (MITRE Career Services offers employees access to an online assessment—available through a customized code on the back of Strengthsfinder 2.0—that asks 177 questions to determine your top five strengths.) Some of the strengths noted in the book include: achiever, arranger, competition, harmony, and includer. Greenberg advised employees to create goals and look for projects that play to their strengths, with the first step being a better awareness of those strengths. “The more we know about ourselves, the more we can create what we want,” she said. “Talk to your manager. Let him or her know what kind of work excites and energizes you.”

In the Bedford audience, session participants were asked to review the list of 34 Strengthsfinder 2.0 strengths and pick three that sounded like them. One employee said that one of his strengths was competition, but he was concerned that competition might not be viewed as a strength in the collaborative MITRE environment. He was advised by another employee to consider getting involved with the MITRE Innovation Program, which would allow him to capitalize on his competitive nature. Another employee volunteered that one of her strengths was communication. She was advised to consider using the phone more than email when reaching out and relating to people.

Does this mean we ignore our weaknesses?

No, says Greenberg—we need to manage them to some extent. She referred to a quote from Dr. Martin Seligman, bestselling author of Learned Optimism: “Working hard to manage weaknesses, while sometimes necessary, will only help us prevent failure. It will not help us reach excellence.”

“You can get a bit better in a weakness area through studying, coaching, and training,” she added. “Or, you can use your strengths to overcome your weakness. At the same time, you can’t be strong in everything. Find a partner who is strong in areas where you’re not.  But carving out a role that speaks to your strengths will make you feel fulfilled and successful,” said Greenberg. “Remember, it’s who you are.”

– Story by Nadine Monaco; photo by Michael Baker



Below are links to Strengths articles Margaret has published on Positive Psychology News Daily: