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Called to Coach
Strengths-Based Leadership: How to Be an Effective Leader
Called to Coach

Strengths-Based Leadership: How to Be an Effective Leader

Webcast Details

  • What does "strengths-based leadership" mean?
  • How can you use your unique strengths to be a leader, regardless of your role?
  • What are barrier labels, and how can knowledge of others' strengths (and your own) help remove them?

Below are audio and video plus a transcript of the conversation, including time stamps.


The "heart and soul of strengths-based leadership" is "not just being high performers. ... It's about doing it in a sustainable way, where people really love being a part of it. ... They feel like they're able to bring the best of themselves to the work environment every day." Dr. Brian Brim -- who brings more than three decades of research, writing, advising and coaching to the study of strengths -- knows a thing or two about strengths and leadership. These include how you can develop your own leadership style that aligns with your unique strengths; how knowing your team's strengths empowers you and your team toward greater excellence and appreciation of others; and how to synchronize your strengths for greater success. Join us for a great half-hour of learning.


Do I have the right themes to be a leader? ... The bottom line is, of course you do. Because it's all about leaning into the best of who you are in a way that drives ... the impact that you need to bring as a leader.

Brian Brim, 6:53

We have to start out with what success looks like for that leader. And then looking at, say, Executing, for example, to be able to say, How is it that my Achiever contributes uniquely to that success?

Brian Brim, 17:06

Jim Collison 0:00
We're about to dive into a topic on Strengths Based Leadership. Have you heard about our brand new report, CliftonStrengths for Leaders? This report is a tool you can use to tie your unique strengths to the daily tasks in your role. Click on the link in the description of this episode to learn more, or get yours today. I am Jim Collison, and welcome to The CliftonStrengths Podcast. On this podcast, we'll be covering topics such as wellbeing, teamwork, professional development and more. Now enjoy this episode. This episode was previously recorded on LinkedIn® Live.

Meet Our Guest on This Episode

Jim Collison 0:35
I'm here with Dr. Brian Brim. And we're talking a little bit about leadership today. Brian, let's get started. Can you tell us your Top 5, and then how maybe you're using those, those, one of those themes right now in what you're doing, from a leadership perspective?

Brian Brim 0:50
Yes, my Top 5 are Futuristic, Maximizer, Strategic, Relator and Achiever.

Jim Collison 0:58
And from a, when you think about your own leadership and what you're doing right now, how are you leaning into those themes?

Brian Brim 1:07
Yeah, it's, you know, I have to say that I'm always leaning into Futuristic. Because I'm always, I'm always moving forward. And that's, my clients are always moving forward; all my client teams are always moving forward. And by the way, our research is always moving forward. So when you think about Futuristic, it's just one of those themes that I can't not be leaning into in my leadership role, because it really propels us to the future, obviously. And we mentioned Maximizer. And that's always about, How is it that we're making the world a better place? I always, you know, say, if you want to boil down what I do, I always say my job is to send people home better at night, right? And so Maximizer, How are we creating these environments, these cultures, this world that's a better place to be a part of?

Brian Brim 1:59
And then Strategic helps me think about, What are the things that I need to be focusing on? What are the different approaches? Relator is big in that it's always about the partnerships. Relator always comes up every time you and I talk, because we both ... for so long, and I always feel that reconnect with Jim. And then Achiever is just about, now let's get it done. Right. So the leadership element of Achiever for me, though, is How do I really support teams, support our organization, our clients in really being productive in, in these times, as well? So all those kind of come together all the time for me.

What Does Being a Strengths-Based Leader Mean?

Jim Collison 2:39
Brian, you talk about us knowing each other for a long time. Almost a decade ago, you and I got together and started a podcast that didn't last very long. It was talk, we were talking about managing, and the Great Manager Program that we had at the time. And in those days, we just silently kind of let it go. But I think as we're bringing it back, this idea of strengths-based leadership, for folks who maybe not -- I mean, I think we've got folks who've been around a while who know what that means. But maybe someone's new to this concept. What does it mean to be a strengths-based leader?

Brian Brim 3:12
You know, one way to begin to get your head around it is we, we wrote a book about it a long time ago called Strengths Based Leadership, so you can dig into that. But I'm gonna boil that down pretty simply, for me. I think it always starts with the premise of sustainable high performance. And I think that at the heart of everything we do as an organization, that becomes an incredibly important framework. And the reason that's so important is because ultimately, creating sustainable high performance means that we as leaders are establishing leadership practices that allow us to bring out the best version of ourselves, while doing the same for the people we lead. And when we do that, in addition to that, as leaders, we need to be creating these highly engaging work environments, in order to enable that sustainability factor.

Brian Brim 4:06
So it's not just being high performers. Because we can, you can create high performance out of fear and command and control and a lot of other things. It's about doing it in a sustainable way, where people really love being a part of it. They're excited to be a part of it. They feel like they're able to bring the best of themselves to the work environment every day. And I think that's ultimately all at the heart and soul of strengths-based leadership.

Do You Have to Be Leading People to Be a Leader?

Jim Collison 4:33
I love the way you use that word "sustained" in that, because I think oftentimes, that's a mark, it's a metric. It's how we know we're being successful in that, when that success is sustained over time, right? Do I have to be, do I have to be leading people to be a leader? In other words, do I have to have people under me or managing or whatever we call, whatever those terms we are -- do we have to have that to be a leader?

Brian Brim 5:00
Absolutely not. I work with, I coach, all sorts of leaders. And some of the leaders I coach would be -- well, look at me. I would tell you that I don't have direct reports anymore. I led, led a lot of folks over my career. But in this phase of my, my career, I am, I'm on a lot of different teams, matrixed teams, etcetera, where I don't have direct reporting relationships, but I have a big influence on the people around me. One of my goals is to always create, you know, be on teams where we're creating positive, productive relationships. And I absolutely have a big impact on, on how people feel about their environment. I have a big impact on how people want to show up to our client meetings, and all of those types of things. And even shaping some of the research and the future of how we're going to do work and all that -- that's all leadership. So, no, I think that everyone has the opportunity to lead, no matter what their position.

Do You Have to Have Specific (Influencing) Themes to Be a Leader?

Jim Collison 6:04
We have now 3 different kind of breakout reports folks can purchase additionally to their All 34 report. We have a Manager Report, we have a Sales Report, and we now have this new Leadership Report coming out here in the next few weeks, depending on when people are listening to this, early November. I like to kind of call those -- and you use this word -- an "influencer package," right? Managing, leading, selling -- those are all Influencing. Brian, some people have said, Well, but I don't, my themes don't, I don't have in my Top 5, maybe, a lot of Influencing themes. Do I have to have Influencing themes to be an influencer, to have this, this leadership strength? Or -- talk a little bit about that.

Brian Brim 6:46
Yeah, absolutely not. It's kind of funny, Jim. I have a lot of leaders that I'll coach that'll say, "Well, do I have the right themes to be a leader?" Right? And if I'm feeling ornery, I might look at their report and gosh, "Well, gosh, no, you know, probably not, you know. But the bottom line is, of course you do. Because it's all about leaning into the best of who you are in a way that drives that -- the impact that you need to bring as a leader. And so, simple examples I give all the time to leaders who, in those domains, may not have a lot of Influencing themes. And then I always just ask them, "How do you influence?" And just let them think about it, and ask them to start to unpack their strengths through that lens, no matter what domain they're sitting in. And it's a really powerful thing for them to realize.

Brian Brim 7:36
You know, I had one recently who we're chatting, and he had a lot of Strategic Thinking. And he had some very specific types of Relationship Building themes. And I asked him, "When are you your best as an influencer?" And his answer was, "When I'm teaching people something." And that's a great example of, of where he really influenced was he was a credible adviser. And that's a powerful way to influence, and that was his right way to influence. So everyone has to really think about the fact that you may not be a big salesy influencer, which is kind of what people think they should be; you need to think about how you influence, because it's going to be unique for you.

Jim Collison 8:24
I spend a lot of time online influencing people with the things that I do; yet, I don't consider myself a great salesperson, because I have trouble closing. So I've always, right, I've always told people, like, if you're gonna put me in a sales role, you're gonna have to partner with me -- partner me with someone who's just, closes like a race horse -- that I can't do that; I'm not good at it, right. But as a leader, Brian, understanding that has given me, has put me in better positions to be able to be more effective, knowing what I can and can't do. As you work with leaders, How do you really get that point across? Or what kind of advice do you give them about that self-awareness of knowing their own themes, and then using that for their own momentum?

Brian Brim 9:09
Yeah, I always, I always spend a lot of time helping them start with, What's the outcome you're striving for? Because I think what happens is when leaders get confused about their strengths, it's because they're getting too caught up on style. And so they'll see someone that they, they, they see, wow, this person's, they can walk into the room and light up the room. And they'll see that as the only way to influence effectively. And I think the real power in, in helping them push pause and just say, What is it that the, what's the outcome, the critical outcome of your leadership? And get them to start there first. Because if they do, then they start to realize that OK, if the outcome is that I just need to get people to understand something, I need to get them to buy into something or begin to believe in something, then you have to really then help them understand now What's the most genuine way you can do that through your strengths? Because if you try being this other person, that's probably going to be the worst thing that you could do. So I think it starts with a really great outcome, a real clear outcome, I should say. And then working towards that through your strengths, in the most genuine way possible.

Sustaining Your Unique Leadership Style

Jim Collison 10:21
I love that. I think, in this social media age that we live in now, there's this tendency to find great leaders, find out what they're made of, and then reverse engineer their success. Right. And, and I don't know if that always is a great idea, in the sense of what you just said, is, as leaders, we have our own unique -- and we're all leaders, you know, let's like get that, let that cat out of the bag. We're all leaders. We all lead something, right. So as leaders, we need to find our own unique, you talk a little bit of a, so you work somebody through their report, right? Then how can they sustain that? How does that get to be a little bit more than just a moment of self-discovery? What could leaders be doing? What could all of us be doing to kind of sustain that leadership, or at least those areas of leadership we need to be, we really need to move towards, as we create our own unique leadership role?

Brian Brim 11:18
Yeah, I always talk to, to the leaders I coach, about, What are the, what are those moments? And moments can be so many different things. But the way that it stays alive for them is they start to recognize those moments. And that could be a one-on-one conversation; it can be the way they're running a meeting; it could be the way, the way, you know, as we were chatting earlier, the way they're prioritizing their week. That it's all of those different moments, that once they start to recognize those, those are switches for them to remember their strengths. And it gets them to say, Ah! I've got this conversation with Jim coming up. I need to be mindful of -- and then, then really lean into their strengths through that lens. But it's, it becomes less kind of not able to get your hands around it when you start to make it practical and tied to your work. And so they start to see it as being something that's very practical and tangible. And it's in those moments that I try to get them to connect those dots at that's a strengths moment. That's a strengths moment for you to be thinking about, How do I need to lean into this, based on who I naturally am, in order to get the best out of this situation with Jim or get the best out of this team meeting, or whatever that case might be?

Understanding Your Team's Strengths

Jim Collison 12:46
That's so great. And I think it's so super important. We're taking your questions, live from chat, if you want to put those in there. And I'll, we'll get to those here in just a second. If you're, just joined us, you can continue to put your Top 5 in chat as well. We'd love to see that as well; Reilly will throw that up on the screen. So we've talked about, Brian, we've talked about ourselves as leaders, and ways we can discover self-aware and then deploy those forward, some ways to check it. What about the team? Why is it important that we know and understand the team -- however that construct works? Could be a volunteer organization; it could be a sports team of sorts; it could be a, you know, or it could be a formal team that you have at work. Why is it important that we know their strengths?

Brian Brim 13:25
Yeah, I always, I always start with a very simple statement, which is, "We all need each other." And I think that the power of, of the team through the lens of strengths is that it creates some really great transparency, because the strengths-based language creates a positive way through which we can describe ourselves. And when we're able to start to celebrate that, we also can celebrate who we're not, which I think is incredibly freeing. That's one of the most powerful things I've seen happen on teams is, is when people have been able to say, you know, I'm not the person that wants to go into the room and meet all these people I've never met before. Yet someone else is fully energized by that.

Brian Brim 14:10
And so I think that the team element of this is, is, I say this to Jim -- I think that whenever people talk about "team," they think team, the whole group. And I always say, Anytime you talk about yourself, and you're building your own self-awareness, that helps the team. Anytime you build a greater partnership with a, one other person on that team, that helps the team. And then we can continue to build on that by looking at our whole team, right? So I always encourage people to think about the individual learning that you have, the partnership interactions you have and the holistic team perspective. All of those dynamics then create a much more robust opportunity for us to be able to truly optimize all the excellence and strengths that exists. And so it's just a super powerful thing, because it also allows people to appreciate and even recognize one another differently. They start to look at each other differently. They start to point out, Wow, you do that really well! And it becomes a very, very powerful kind of culture of appreciation when you do that right with strengths through the team lens.

How Can You Lead When You're High in Executing Themes?

Jim Collison 15:23
You talked about this just a second ago, but I'll bring it back up. Jennifer asks this question. She says, Influencing seems to be the top strengths connected to leadership. What I mentioned, when we think of leadership, we often think of those high in Influencing. But can you talk a little bit about how Strategic Thinking, Relationship Building and Executing -- the other 3 of the 4 -- might be tied into leadership? So as we think, Brian, let me, I'll just ask you the question. As we think about Executing, right, we often think of, in that scenario, they're like, well, that's doing, that's not leading. How would you tie the Executing Domain, or how would you coach someone high in Executing?

Brian Brim 15:57
Yeah. So that's a, and it's really a great question that she asks. And what's quite interesting is I would tell you with, with the countless leaders I've coached, I would have to say that the, quote, domain of Influencing is not always the top theme. It's not always the top domain. And interestingly, I would, I would tell you that that's because a lot of the leaders that are in those positions of leadership today were, first and foremost, really successful individual contributors. And that was often due to really high Executing, right. They were the ones that were showing up and getting the work done. I think one of the most powerful things for those leaders that are, say, high Executing as their, let's say their top domain, is learning that they have to own the work differently now; that their work and the success that -- the way they measure success today is very different than when they were in the individual contributor role.

Brian Brim 17:01
And so it's, it's really, ultimate, ultimately, going back to what I said earlier, that we have to start out with what success looks like for that leader. And then looking at, say, Executing, for example, to be able to say, How is it that my Achiever contributes uniquely to that success? Or my Responsibility or, or whatever it might be in our Executing domain. But it's always about putting a clear goal in mind, or a clear perspective in mind, about what success looks like. And then all the rest of it just leads to that, right. And we just have to figure out which levers we're pulling effectively to get there.

Understanding and Removing Barrier Labels

Jim Collison 17:42
Question about barrier labels. And I think interesting, from that stance: Can we discuss barrier labels and how prevalent they are in our current environment and society? And leadership may be one of the last areas -- don't quote me on that -- is where are we, we may come at it from a weakness perspective sometimes, right? We're trying to shore up those things that we're not good at. Can you talk a little bit about that, this idea of barrier labels?

Brian Brim 18:10
Yeah, so barrier labels, I think, are a really important thing to understand. And leaders, it comes up all the time when I'm working with leadership teams. And what's great about the strengths-based approach is that allows them to recognize it. So they'll say, Oh, my gosh, I've been saying that Jim's stubborn, or he doesn't see things my way. And in reality, he leads with Deliberative, and I lead with Activator, right? I'm making this up, obviously. But the bottom line is, it's oftentimes the real uniqueness that they bring that they've actually labeled in a barrier way, which is fascinating, because they often need each other the most in those particular areas.

Brian Brim 18:53
And so I think that's the real power that I see with strengths-based leadership is that it actually helps them pull away the cloudiness around barrier labels. And it allows them to work through that dissonance and actually say, Oh, my gosh, that's actually this theme. And now that I know that it's a theme that could be positively applied, I start to appreciate that more and differently. And so I think that's actually one of the best ways to remove those barrier labels is to have those strengths-based conversations. And frankly, a lot of leaders have to remove those barrier labels for themselves. Because they'll create their own, where some, a leader that tends to be more direct and, and straightforward may have even labeled themselves as a jerk, right? "Well, I'm just a jerk sometimes."

Brian Brim 19:49
Well, you know what? It's not that simple. Let's talk about why. Where does that come from? How does that happen? And then they start to realize, Oh, my gosh, that's really the manifestation of my themes, but it's happening in a way that's actually getting in our way of success. And so now they start to unpack that "barrier label" that they've created, and they start to realize they don't want to show up in that way; that it's not good for the team or the organization. And so they can work through that in a much more practical way at that point.

Jim Collison 20:17
I think one of those hidden barrier labels we don't often say, but exists is this idea of imposter syndrome. I am a leader, but I don't belong here. Like, I don't belong in this position. I don't belong with this kind of -- I don't, I shouldn't have been given this kind of authority. Vince asks this question too about How should we balance, how should the balance look, with regards to studying your strengths and your weaknesses, in hopes of building the better self? So as we think about that, studying on either side, and maybe adding in those barrier labels, What is the balance there, Brian? How, what kind of advice do you give on that?

Brian Brim 20:53
Yeah, and it sounds like a broken record. But I'm gonna go back to, you start by clarifying what success looks like. And the rest of it comes into play then. So if I'm very clear about what's, what success looks like, then, as I'm coaching a leader, the conversation, whatever it is -- whether it be barrier labels, whether it be leaning into your strengths in a more profound way -- that just happens organically, because we know what success looks like. And so the real power, though, is challenging leaders to really get clear about what that looks like.

Brian Brim 21:29
So if I'm coaching a leader who is getting a lot done but destroying their team, that's not success. And so we have to start by getting that right first, and then helping that leader understand that ultimately, whether they're removing barrier labels, whether they're determining how to stay kind of in that helping zone versus the hindering zone, regardless of any of that, if they're doing that work, that's all strengths-based. And so it helps to begin to realize that, OK, I'm leaning in the, to the best of myself. And that means even getting sharper about when some of my dominant themes might be pulling me off track occasionally. And so it doesn't mean that it's always a weakness; sometimes I just need to tweak my approach, in order to bring the best out of that strength for myself.

Synchronizing Your Strengths

Jim Collison 22:21
I spend a lot of time -- when I get in that mode, where I'm thinking, "I'm doing this too much," I've actually started thinking, "No, maybe what I'm doing is, is not enough for the theme." Like, right, it's like, maybe I'm, I haven't put myself in the perfect situation or created the environment in a way that totally takes advantage. I mean, if I can turn the dial to 11 -- and that might be a term not a lot of folks know, but if we think about a volume dial that goes 1 to 10, right -- 10 being really loud, ears bleeding -- if I can turn that thing to 11, if, yeah, some say would maybe overusing that. But if I get the opportunity to take advantage of that, right, that 11 volume. And so I think sometimes we come at it from, if we come at it from a different perspective of saying, No, How can I place myself in a position where 11 is valued? To me, that seems like another way, right? Do you want to add anything to that, Brian?

Brian Brim 23:17
Yeah, another way I've talked about it very similarly -- and, and you can kind of think about the old, old-school receivers like you're talking about -- sometimes it's, it's a lack of synchronizing your strengths. So I think it's that I'm, I'm knee-jerk reacting to always grab my Achiever, right? But kind of like your analogy, if we think about an equalizer, right? That sometimes I need to be saying, OK, Why is it that I'm overindexing on Achiever? And then I stop and push pause and say, You know what? It's because I haven't leaned enough into my Maximizer first. And that goes back to what we said earlier: I need to turn up the Maximizer, so that I'm doing a better job of prioritizing, which will then fundamentally enhance my Achiever in a way to help me be really successful for this project or for my team or what. So I'm always encouraging leaders to think about, What theme aren't you leaning into right now that you need to? What was your first reaction? And what theme do you think that was? And what theme do you need to lean into differently? Or how do you need to?

Brian Brim 24:24
So I'll give a real quick example on that one. One that comes up a lot, and it just came up in a conversation I had last week, is the theme of Responsibility. So leaders with high Responsibility, that is a theme that helped them do. It helped them own, as an individual contributor. And what they have to be very mindful of is, How am I, like your, how am I tweaking those dials, to make sure that I'm not owning things I shouldn't own and therefore taking over the job of my people? And how instead do I redefine what my leadership ownership is? And that's one of the biggest kind of Aha!s for leaders to say, I need to redefine what I own and lean into my Responsibility differently. Because I own involving my people; I own growing my people; I own creating a highly engaged culture. When they get there, that's a real eye opener for them. They're still leaning heavily into their Responsibility; they're just leaning into it differently, through the lens of leadership.

Jim Collison 25:29
We just had this conversation on another podcast about Responsibility, and I, how I felt so fortunate -- Responsibility is middle for me, and so, because I have high Arranger and high, but that's not always valued oftentimes, like especially in the American culture, you know, getting things done is really, really important in the American culture, right? And in younger times, I would ditch things pretty easily, right? Yeah, not gonna do it. And that wasn't always valued, right? As a firefighter, though, and I think myself of that with this Arranger, kind of Maximizer, Activator, different every day. And letting go of Responsibility to say, Look, I'm going to trust others to have that follow-up and follow-through. You can always have me on the tip of the spear, where every day is different. It's where I'm fighting, I'm putting out fires every day. And letting go of that was also freeing, right, to be able to say, yeah, no -- it's not that I don't want to be responsible; It's just not what I'm best at. Put me on the tip of the spear. Right. Put me out front.

Brian Brim 26:32
And guess what? You get a lot of stuff done.

Jim Collison 26:35
We do. We produce a lot of things. And in the final few minutes, and actually we just have 1 minute, Brian, as you think, if you were going to encourage leaders today from a strengths-based perspective, what kind of encouragement would you give them, as we kind of wrap this up?

Brian Brim 26:50
You know, real simple: Play your weekly highlight reels. Have your strengths in front of you. Friday morning, pour your cup of coffee or tea, review your week. And think about, Where'd I do well? Where did I struggle? What could I have done differently through my strengths, in order to impact my world in a positive, productive way?

Jim Collison 27:10
I love that. I mean, oftentimes on Monday, you know, football is a big deal United States on Sundays. I watch all the highlight reels. Why don't we do that for, in the week? Like, I love that. Friday, go back. Hey, what went well? What, what, what did I do right? Brian, thanks for coming on and being a part of this. Always great to be with you. I wish we had more time -- and we do, but we, for others, we're gonna limit it to the 30 minutes that we have. So Brian, thanks for coming out. I appreciate it.

Brian Brim 27:38
My pleasure, Jim.

Jim Collison 27:39
Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of The CliftonStrengths Podcast. Make sure you like and subscribe wherever you listen, so you never miss an episode. And if you're really enjoying this podcast, please leave a review. This helps us promote strengths globally.

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

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

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