Strength-Based Leadership

Arden Executive Coaching | Strength-Based Leadership….. From “Problem-Solving” to “Success Analysis”

By Kathy Poehnert, M,Ed,Psych, PCC

If you are a parent (or were once a child!) you know the typical reaction to a report card that looks like this:

Where does the eye and attention tend to go? For most, the attention is directed immediately to that “D”- to that glaring problem area. “Why is there a ‘D?’ … What went wrong? … What is the root of this problem?”

But stop and think for a minute: what does the fact that there are four excellent grades on this report tell us? It certainly tells us that there is a capacity to achieve success…. that the receiver of these grades has many strengths that have come into play to achieve that level of accomplishment. Wouldn’t it make sense to de-construct that success to determine how it was achieved and then apply those strengths to the area of challenge? (And by the way, how does it feel if you bring that report card home and your parents only focus on the ‘D?’)

Now take this thinking into the business arena. As a leader, you are charged with motivating others and helping them to utilize their potential and achieve success for bottom line results. While we often pay lip service to areas of strength (particularly in performance reviews) because that seems politically correct, I would venture to say that most leaders spend a majority of the time focusing on the areas for improvement, figuring the root cause of problems and then trying to “solve” those problem areas.

If we apply our “report card” thinking above, we would recognize that really looking at the employee’s strengths and figuring out the “Root Cause” of any of their successes (however small) will be very beneficial in motivating and producing positive results.

Knowing our own strengths, as well as the strengths of those we lead is of critical importance. We know from brain research that when we tap into and utilize our strengths we think more accurately, are more productive, are happier, and become much better “problem-solvers”. Because we tend to pay so little attention to strengths, however, (remember the report card?) we miss many opportunities to increase productivity and engender more “flow” states within our workplace.

Kurt Wright, in his book Breaking the Rules  suggests that we ask ourselves the following five questions on a regular basis, or in response to any specific challenge:

1. “What IS working here?
2. “Why is it working? (this will focus on strengths)
3. “What would be ideally right?
4. “What is not quite right yet?”
5. “What needs to happen to make it right?” (using the info received in question 2)

This line of questioning allows us to continually focus on the reasons for success, and then helps us to utilize those in the areas of challenge.

There are many ways to discover strengths:

Certainly simple observation through a strength-based lens is very important (though how many of us really take the time to do this?)

We may also employ simple assessments, often with no fees involved. A great one is the VIA strengths questionnaire on the University of Pennsylvania’s Authentic Happiness website. ( I have recommended this to several clients, as a basis for always knowing and calling upon their strengths in their daily leadership roles. It has been of tremendous value in aiding clients to not only understand and use their own strengths, but to be more conscious of focusing on strengths in general. In many cases, there have been incredible results!

Strengthsfinder 2.0 by Tom Rath (
This book offers a special code for a free on-line assessment that offers a very comprehensive list of strengths.

Shifting to this strength-based mindset is not often easy, because of the brain’s proclivity to focus on threat and negativity (the negativity bias).  Once we start to actually train our brains to focus on strengths instead and create new neural pathways in this direction, it can become our default system for interacting with others and getting amazing results!

For a more thorough examination of your strengths or those of your team through our thorough assessments, contact Kathy today!