Are you a leader or a follower? Actually, that’s a trick question. In times like these, we are all leaders and all followers, depending on who we’re with and what we’re doing.
It’s not so much whether we lead but how. And this is determined at least in part by our strengths.
CliftonStrengths – themes of cognitive talent
There are various psychometric assessments that can tell you what your strengths are, but one of the most accessible ones is the CliftonStrengths assessment.
The educational psychologist, Donald Clifton (a.k.a The Father of Strengths Psychology), and his researchers spent years studying cognitive talent. They did this by conducting semi-structured interviews with 1,000s of people in a wide range of work settings and analysing what it was that made them so effective in their roles. The most common of the talents that they identified were grouped into 34 ‘themes’, more generally referred to as ‘strengths’. The patterns of thinking and behaviour associated with each theme are described as ‘talent’ because they are what a person is naturally good at at. Once you know what your innate talents are, it’s possible to invest in them, develop them into strengths, and direct them towards the things you want to do in life.
The themes of talent (or ‘strength’) group together into four ‘domains’:
- those associated with influencing and persuading others
- those associated with strategic thinking
- those associated with building relationships
- and those associated with executing – i.e. getting stuff done
If you take the CliftonStrengths assessment and get your full 34 theme sequence, you will be told which of these domains is the dominant one for you.
For example, your greatest contribution right now as a leader may be strategy – identifying the end goal and determining the best way to get there. Or you may be the leader who takes a stand and persuades others to come with you on the journey. Alternatively, your focus may be on executing – making things happen so that the strategy gets implemented. Or, you might be the leader who is adept at building and strengthening relationships that unite others and keep them moving in the right direction.
VIA Character Strengths
A second psychometric tool that can be used to gain insight into leadership style, is the VIA Character Strengths survey.
This was developed by the psychologists Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman. They wanted to understand what is best about human beings and though a massive review of literatures from the so-called ‘Big Three’ cultures (East, West, and South Asia), they identified 24 strengths of character (such as honesty, open-mindedness, kindness, curiosity, fairness, etc.) that appeared to be common across time and culture.
We are each predisposed to certain types of moral behaviour and thinking because of the particular combination of traits (strengths of character) that we possess. Our behaviour is driven by our strengths of character.
While the 34 strengths in the CliftonStrengths assessment fall into the four domains mentioned above (strategic thinking, executing, relationship building, and persuading), the 24 strengths of character also group together. Each one contributes to the development of one of the ‘High Six’ virtues:
- Wisdom – this is the end result of behaviour driven by the character strengths of Creativity, Curiosity, Judgement, Love of Learning, or Perspective
- Humanity – arising from the expression of Kindness, Love, and Social Intelligence
- Courage – demonstrated through Bravery, Honesty, Perseverance, or Zest
- Justice – promoted through Fairness, Leadership, or Teamwork
- Temperance – developed through Forgiveness, Humility, Prudence or Self-Regulation
- Transcendence – experienced through Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence, Gratitude, Hope, Humour or Spirituality.
No-one has the perfect balance of virtues, or indeed all six of them, but our strengths of character contribute to the development of the virtues as we mature.
In my professional practice, I find it helpful to view character strengths as core values, the principles by which a person lives. When talking to clients about their character strengths, it becomes clear that these strengths underpin their approach to life. Not surprisingly, their strengths of character also determine their leadership style.
What is the difference between CliftonStrengths and VIA Character Strengths?
Clients often ask what the difference is between CliftonStrengths and VIA Character Strengths. I like to use the analogy of a family tree of values, with the core virtues along the top, the person’s top five character strengths underneath, and their CliftonStrengths then associated with whichever character strengths that the client sees a connection with.
In effect, our CliftonStrengths – our natural ways of thinking and behaving – operate in service to our Character Strengths. They explain how we do what we do: how we strive toward those things we hold most important.
Conversely, character strengths explain why we apply those talents in the way that we do.
Knowing what our top five VIA character strengths are can help us to understand what’s good about ourselves and what our deeper motivations are.
Furthermore, having some general understanding of the 24 character strengths, can help us to understand the possible motivations of our colleagues, friends, customers, and loved ones.
In a crisis situation like the one we’re experiencing now which is forcing us all to live in unusually close quarters with other people over an extended period of time, taking a moment to consider the motivations of those people may help us to understand where they’re ‘coming from’ and reduce the strain.
Am I really a leader?
In these testing times, we are all leaders and we are all followers. In some situations, we will need to be there for others: to guide them, to lift them out of negative thinking, to show compassion, to create a sense of stability, and to inspire hope for the future.
In other situations, we will be followers. We will look to the people around us for trust, compassion, stability and hope, the four ‘needs’ of followers identified by Tom Rath and Barrie Conchie ((Rath, T. and Conchie, B. (2008). Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow. Gallup Press, New York.)
The people that we as followers look to could be political leaders. But equally, they could be the neighbour next door, the friend who calls out of the blue to see how we are, the parent, the boss. Sometimes even a child may be the person we look to for hope and inspiration.
Given that you may need to be a leader for others in the coming months, it may be beneficial:
- to find out what your strengths of character are
- and to identify the positive ways in which you can express those strengths of character using your CliftonStrengths.
If you’d like to find out more, please send me a message through my contact form.