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Strengths-Based Leadership: The 4 Things Followers Need

Strengths-Based Leadership: The 4 Things Followers Need

by Brian J. Brim, Ed.D.

Read our extensive guide on Effective Leadership: How to Be a Better Leader.

In their bestselling book, Strengths Based Leadership, coauthors Tom Rath and Barry Conchie explore the topic of leadership through the lens of strengths. In addition to discussing how different leaders can create success through the application of their own strengths, Rath and Conchie's research also examined the specific emotional needs people have to experience with their leaders in order to feel engaged and connected to the organization and their day-to-day work. Through this research, the authors brought forth four key areas of focus: trust, compassion, stability and hope. When people feel those things, they feel more involved in their companies.

Followers' Four Basic Needs

Trust: Building trust is the foundation for leading. Honesty, clarity and behavioral predictability all make up trust. Leaders must adopt the trait of trustworthiness and prioritize it as one of their most important skills.

Compassion: Being compassionate means caring about your followers holistically while seeing them as more than just their ability to perform. Compassionate leaders should be willing to share their own struggles and accept the same honesty from others.

Stability: Providing stability looks like creating space where people feel psychologically safe, like they can depend on you to answer their questions, hear their ideas and address their concerns. Communication is key for this trait. Stability puts emphasis on the current moment, keeping people grounded in the here and now -- knowing they can count on you.

Hope: Encourage people to believe in a better future. While stability focuses on today, hopefulness deals with the future. People need to see that their leaders have a clear direction in mind. When leaders communicate hope, they can help followers feel more enthusiastic about the future.

The Impact of Trust, Compassion, Stability and Hope

Gallup studied 10,000 people in "follower" job roles between 2005 and 2008. We found that leaders who are perceived to be trustworthy and compassionate and who offer stability and hope have a significant impact on their employees. For example:

  • When followers trust their leaders, one in two are engaged. When followers don't find leaders trustworthy, only one in 12 are engaged at work.
  • Followers expect compassion and "general positive energy" from high-level organizational and global leaders. More locally, when followers were asked if their "supervisor or someone at work" cared about them, they were significantly more likely to stay with companies, have much more engaged customers, were substantially more productive and were more profitable to their employers.
  • Employees need to feel their jobs are stable for them to do their best work. In fact, followers are nine times more likely to be engaged in their jobs if they feel the company's financial future is secure.
  • The most powerful question Gallup asked followers was about hope -- 69% who strongly agreed that their leaders made them "feel enthusiastic about the future" were engaged. Only 1% of those who disagreed with the statement were engaged.

The goal of this blog series will be to explore these four areas more deeply, as well as to look at how leaders can leverage their strengths to more effectively provide what their people need as it pertains to these four areas.

For those of us who coach leaders, these articles will serve as a template for things to consider as we work with leaders to help them leverage the best of who they are. Often organizations will establish a set of leadership expectations they feel their leaders need to emulate. However, if we can better understand what is at the heart of each of these four needs and then help leaders understand how to fulfill those needs through their strengths, leaders will be able to more effectively build their business, while also building their people. Ultimately, as a coach, building people through our work is a powerful and meaningful goal.

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Learn more about using CliftonStrengths to help yourself and others succeed:


Brian Brim's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Futuristic, Maximizer, Strategic, Relator and Achiever.

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