Earlier this year Consulting Psychology Journal published an article with a long title: “Strength-Based Leadership Development: Insights from Expert Coaches.” The authors did in-depth interviews with six expert coaches (from the United States and United Kingdom) each of whom had written books or won awards for their strength-based coaching with leaders. Conclusions from these interviews were discussed in the context of classical and most recent published research on strength-based coaching and leadership development.
Despite the small sample size and limiting the study to coaches in the Western cultures, the conclusions are informative and intensely practical. Four themes emerged from the analysis of the interview data.
First, any of us can be motivated and energized when we identify and develop our strengths. Leaders become stronger, perhaps more effective, and more engaged with their work when they better understand and can draw on their strengths. The expert leadership coaches all put a strong emphasis on these strength-based approaches.
Second, strengths develop through relationships. There is value in the use of psychological inventories that help leaders know their strengths, but this knowledge in itself is limited. Leaders and other coaching clients need to use their strengths in “high quality relationship connections” where there is mutual support and an openness to new possibilities and learning.
Third, the most effective coaching does not ignore a leader’s blind spots, flaws and areas of weakness. These need to be addressed. Even strengths can be misused. To give a personal example, I’m a good story-teller who can use relevant stories to assist my clients. But like coaching, effective leadership clearly involves listening and questioning, not hearing about someone else’s experiences. If overused, one of my strengths can become a detriment to my work and to the growth of my clients.
Fourth, leadership coaching is most effective when the coach and the clients both have a high commitment to self-development, life-long learning and a commitment to growing in self-awareness. Each of the coaches in this study spends consistent, usually daily time in reflection and growing understanding of his or her purpose, beliefs, core values and relationships.
Most leadership coaches will not have opportunity to find or read this article but its conclusions are worth applying to our work as coaches or leaders. What do you think? Please comment.