In my 1989 book, “The Way of the Tiger: Gentle Wisdom for Turbulent Times” (still going strong!) I introduced the concept of leading with strengths, since popularized by Gallup, among others, as “strengths-based leadership”. In the 25 years since I helped to found this movement, I have begun to rethink about the “strengths-emphasis” more.
Focusing only on our strengths and ignoring our weaknesses is like taking a Pollyanna approach to who we are, because, in truth, we are both our strengths and our weaknesses. The strengths-based movement also encourages stereotypical leadership: strong, powerful, charismatic and heroic. It would be nice if this was who we are all the time but, in reality, most of us aren’t.
If strengths, or being strong, is at one end of the continuum, then vulnerability (not weakness) is that the other. So this raises another opportunity: Could we be more effective as leaders if we became stronger with our strengths and more transparent with our vulnerabilities?
Leadership is a human activity, not just a business activity. It is about building effective and inspiring relationships. We can do this by playing our strongest cards – our strengths – AND we can also effectively use our vulnerabilities by, for example, asking for help, saying sorry or asking for forgiveness, telling someone we love them, or showing appreciation and gratitude. In other words, effective leaders use ALL their gifts. It is this self-awareness that leads to great leadership.
Saint Francis de Sales said “Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength”, and Gandhi said, “In a gentle way you can shake the world.”
Could you be a stronger leader by being more gentle?