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Book Summary – Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow

Strengths Based Leadership - Book summary

Great leaders leave a real legacy because of the people they impact. In this book, Tom Rath and Barry Conchie explain how to leverage your unique leadership strengths, serve your team’s needs, and maximize your impact. This free Strengths Based Leadership summary presents the key insights in 2 parts:

  • The 3 key findings about effective leadership; and
  • How to build your leadership legacy.

What is Strengths Based Leadership?

For several decades, psychologist Dr. Donald Clifton worked with Gallup scientists to research the success factors behind great leaders and teams, and to study the role of strengths. This led to the StrengthsFinder® program which has since helped millions of people to uncover and engage their strengths.

In this book, the authors Tom Rath and Barry Conchie review decades of research by Gallup, including over 20,000 interviews with leaders, studies of more than a million teams, 50 years of leadership polls, and inputs from 10,000 followers worldwide. They zoom in on 3 effective leadership keys, and how you can apply them to identify/engage your leadership strengths and serve your team’s needs.

The 3 Keys to Being a More Effective leader

Through years of research, Gallup uncovered 3 key findings about effective leadership: they invest in strengths, build well-rounded teams, and fulfill 4 basic needs of their followers.

Strengths Based Leadership summary - 3 keys to effective leadership

1. Effective Leaders Invest in Strengths

Great leaders know and develop their own strengths and invest in others’ strengths. They know their unique strengths and can apply the right strength at the right time. They also focus on strengths (instead of weaknesses) to boost confidence, productivity and engagement.

2. Effective Leaders Maximize their Teams

It’s a myth that great leaders are well-rounded. In reality, they build well-rounded teams. Specifically, they surround surround themselves with the right people, and look for talents who complement other team members’ strengths.

The best leadership teams jointly possess 4 sets of leadership strengths: Executing, Influencing, Relationship Building and Strategic Thinking. These 4 domains are made up of 34 leadership themes (see below).

Due to our unique strength-sets, each leader will approach the same challenge differently. Certain strengths are more suited for certain challenges. For example, someone strong in Execution is ideal for implementing a pre-defined solution, while someone strong in Influencing is ideal for selling an idea to stakeholders.

3. Effective Leaders Understand Their Followers’ Needs

You’re only a leader if you have followers. Gallup’s research uncovered 4 basic needs of followers: trust, compassion, stability and hope.

For details on the specific research findings and more insights on the 3 leadership keys above, do get a copy of our complete Strengths Based Leadership summary.

Applying Strengths Based Leadership

Great leaders maximize their own results and help their followers to develop/use their strengths. They create a lasting legacy through the people they impact. So, to become a more effective leader, you must:

  • Know your strengths and weaknesses, so you can engage your strengths and partner with people who complement you; and
  • Nurture your team’s collective talent. Identify your people’s strengths so you can lead them effectively, match them to their ideal roles, and build well-rounded teams where members support one another.

Here’s an overview of the 4 Strengthsfinder leadership domains and 34 leadership themes:Strengths Based Leadership summary - The 4 Strengths DomainThe idea is to identify your Top 5 Signature Themes out of the 34 themes above.  There are 33 million possible combinations, so the easiest way to identify your strengths-set is to do the online StrengthsFinder assessment. Or, you can try to decipher your own strengths using the list of descriptions in the book, our full Strengths Based Leadership summary and/or ask people who know you well for their inputs.

Here are 2 sample themes:

Achiever (Domain: Executing)

People strong in this theme have a need for achievement. They have great stamina, work hard and enjoy being busy and productive.

Serve followers’ needs with ethics and dedication

  • Trust: Work with others as an equal. Deliver on your promises.
  • Compassion: Do projects with people you wish to spend time with. Include relationship goals in your daily to-do list.
  • Stability: Reassure others with your consistency, effort and stamina. Help them to find/use their ideal approach.
  • Hope: Help others achieve their goals with systems, timelines and checklists.

Leading Achievers effectively

When leading Achievers, work alongside them, keep them busy and recognize their achievements. Set stretch goals, help them measure what gets done and do more of what they thrive in.

Activator (Domain: Influencing)

People strong in this theme are great at translating thoughts into action. They make things happen but can be impatient.

Serve followers’ needs through consistent, authentic action

  • Built trust: Seek others’ inputs to get buy-in for your action plan. Walk the talk and act in line with your espoused values.
  • Compassion: Offer to help others and always follow through.
  • Stability: Be a consistent resource for your team, both as a talent and someone to push people/ideas forward.
  • Create hope by helping people to overcome their fear of failure, get started and persist.

Leading Activators effectively

When leading Activators, give them the freedom to initiate/handle projects, assign them to teams that’re procrastinating, address their concerns quickly, and partner them with people strong in Analytical or Strategic.

Other strengthsfinder leadership themes

You can get similar information on the remaining 32 themes from our full 25-page summary. Here’s a very quick overview:

  • Adaptability: Prefer to live in the moment and go with the flow. Can be flexible, aware and present.
  • Analytical: Great at identifying factors, reasons and root causes for an issue or situation.
  • Arranger: Talented at organizing things and aligning components/resources for maximum productivity.
  • Belief: Possess a clear sense of purpose which comes from solid, unchanging core values.
  • Command: Naturally radiate presence. Can take charge of a situation and make decisions.
  • Communication: Can easily express their thoughts, making them good presenters and conversationalists.
  • Competition: Like to win and outperform others.
  • Connectedness: Believe in treating everyone the same way. Crave clear rules, procedures and routines.
  • Consistency: Believe in treating everyone the same way. Crave clear rules, procedures and routines.
  • Context: Understand the present by researching and thinking about the past.
  • Deliberative: Carefully anticipate obstacles. Take great care in their choices or decisions.
  • Developer: Great at recognizing & nurturing potential in people. Enjoy seeing others’ growth/progress.
  • Discipline: Love structure and routine. Great at creating order.
  • Empathy: Can put themselves in others’ shoes to sense their feelings.
  • Focus: Set direction/priorities, follow through and make adjustments to stay on track.
  • Futuristic: Inspired by possibilities in the future. Energize others with their vision.
  • Harmony: Seek consensus/agreement. Dislike conflict.
  • Includer: Automatically accept others. Make a deliberate effort to include those who feel left out.
  • Ideation: Love exploring ideas. Can connect seemingly-divergent concepts.
  • Individualization: Fascinated by people’s unique qualities. Can get different people to collaborate productively.
  • Input: Need to collect and accumulate information, ideas, artifacts, and even relationships.
  • Intellection: Strong mental capacity. Introspective and enjoy intellectual discussions.
  • Learner: Love for continuous improvement. Care more about the learning process than outcome.
  • Maximizer: Use existing strengths to spur individual/group excellence, bringing them from good to great.
  • Positivity: Infect others with their enthusiasm, optimism and excitement.
  • Relator: Enjoy deep relationships and working closely with friends to achieve a goal.
  • Responsibility: Take full ownership of their commitments. Hold stable values like loyalty and honesty.
  • Restorative: Great at handling problems. Can identify what’s wrong and resolve it.
  • Self-Assurance: Confident of managing their lives. Guided by a strong inner compass.
  • Significance: Wish to make a huge impact. Prioritize projects where they can exert a real influence.
  • Strategic: Can identify patterns/issues in any situation to create alternative solutions.
  • Woo: Love to meet and win over new people. Can easily break the ice and make a connection.

Getting the Most from Strengths Based Leadership

In our Strengths Based Leadership summary, we’ve captured the keys to effective leadership and the essence of the 34 StrengthsFinder themes. If you’d like to develop engage your strengths (and those of your team), do get our full book summary bundle which includes an infographic, 25-page text summary, and a 30-minute audio summary.
Strengths Based Leadership summary - Book summary bundle

The book includes more details on each theme, a unique access code that you can use for your online assessment, and details on the research methods that led to the findings outlined above. You can purchase the book here, or visit for more information.

Read more about employee engagement, coaching and the future of work in It’s The Manager summary! You can also take the online StrengthsFinder assessment here.

About the Authors of Strengths Based Leadership

Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow is written by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie.

Tom Rath is a consultant and author. He holds a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Michigan, and a M.S. in Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. He was a senior scientist, consultant and advisor at Gallup, Inc., served as vice chairman of the VHL cancer research organization and is a regular guest lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania.

Barry Conchie is the Founder and President of Conchie Associates LLC with 35 years’ experience in psychometric assessment, organizational effectiveness and strategic alignment. He was a public sector leader in the UK before joining Gallup, where he headed its Global Leadership Research and Development business and served as a Senior Scientist.

Strengths Based Leadership Quotes

“If you spend your life trying to be good at everything, you will never be great at anything.”

“You are a leader only if others follow.”

“Perhaps the ultimate test of a leader is not what you are able to do in the here and now – but instead what continues to grow long after you’re gone.”

“For people to truly love their organization, it [needs] to have a heart.”

“Winning at all costs isn’t winning; it’s defeating yourself.”

“For every need, there is a person with a gift to match.”

“Done is never done because improvement is always possible.”

Click here to download the Strengths Based Leadership summary & infographic

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