Before learning about the steps necessary to leverage your own strength, we must recognize that leadership is a social construct. It is a concept created and developed through social interactions and influences. It is not a fixed set of traits or qualities, but is instead shaped by and dependent upon the context, culture, and environment in which it is practiced. Leadership is a fluid concept, meaning it can be interpreted differently depending on the situation. Leadership styles, approaches, and strategies vary widely and are influenced by culture, values, and beliefs. Leadership is a dynamic process that involves the leader and followers, and is dependent upon the relationships between them. Leadership is also strongly influenced by power dynamics and societal norms, which shape the way people behave and interact with one another.

Strength-based leadership is an important leadership style because it focuses on developing the strengths of individuals and teams, rather than trying to fix their weaknesses. It is also a style that allows for fluidity in leadership which we just reviewed as being essential. This type of leadership encourages employees to use their talents and skills based on the goals of the team. Additionally, strength-based leadership helps to create a positive working environment, as employees feel valued and appreciated for the things they do well, rather than constantly being told what they are doing wrong. This helps to foster a sense of trust and collaboration between the leader and their team, which results in higher rates of engagement, motivation, well-being, and productivity (Table 1).

 

Table 1:  Focusing on strength improves engagement.
Managers Disengagement
Ignore you 40%
Focus on your weaknesses 22%
Focus on your strengths 1%
Brim BJ and Asplund J. Driving Engagement by Focusing on Strengths. Business Journal. 2009: https://news.gallup.com/businessjournal/124214/driving-engagement-focusing-strengths.aspx

 

Strength-based leadership is therefore an important leadership style for any leader, but especially those in medical education. Medical education leaders are tasked with facilitating the education and learning of medical students, residents, and fellows, while also managing the clinical environment in which they are learning. Strength-based leadership emphasizes the importance of leveraging the strengths of team members to promote collaboration, creativity, and success. By recognizing and building on the strengths of their team members, medical education leaders can foster an environment that encourages learning and growth, as well as create a culture of mutual respect and collaboration. This approach also helps to identify areas for improvement and ensure that team members feel empowered and valued for their contributions. In this way, strength-based leadership is essential for the success of medical education leaders and the students they serve.

 

For anyone interested in adding strength-based leadership to leadership repertoire, you may want to start with the following four steps:

 

1. Understand your own talents.

To become a strength-based leader, you must first identify and reflect on your own unique strengths and weaknesses. This can be done by taking a self-assessment (such as the Clifton Strengths at https://www.gallup.com/cliftonstrengths) or asking for feedback from co-workers and mentors. It can be helpful to ask yourself questions such as “What am I naturally good at?” or “What skills do I have that can help me lead?” Additionally, it can be helpful to ask those close to you for their input and feedback on your strengths. Once you’ve identified your strengths, it will be important to focus on developing and leveraging them in order to maximize their potential and create the best possible results. By taking the time to identify your strengths, you will be able to effectively lead in a strength-based manner. By the end of this step, you should be left with a list of five to ten talents – something that you are naturally good at.

 

2. Practice your talents to turn them into strengths.

Practicing your natural talents is the best way to turn them into strengths. Start by reflecting on what you are naturally good at and make a list of the skills you possess. Then, take the time to practice and refine these skills. If you took a self-assessment, start by practicing your top talent. A talent is something that you are naturally good at but it takes practice to turn it into a strength. For example, if you are naturally good at creating a consensus, start by paying attention to when and how you or others use it at work. Take notes and reflect frequently. Once you feel that you are ready, move on to the next talent and practice every talent on your list from Step 1.

 

3. Identify potential blind spots or overuse.

Practicing and using your talents can help you identify potential blind spots. Each talent may have unique blind spots. For example, if you are a consensus builder, you may tend to avoid conflict even when that is not the best strategy to complete your goal. Blind spots are hard to discover, so read about your talents and potential blind spots or seek out feedback from others. Talents can also end up being a weakness if you overuse your talent. In addition to blind spots, pay attention to times that you may use a talent when it is not necessary.

 

4. Learn to recognize talents of your team members.

Now that you have turned your own talents into strengths, you will want to start learning to recognize the talents of your team members. I like to use one of these five ice breakers listed in Table 2 when I am first getting to know a new team.

 

Table 2: Ice breakers to identify talents of others.
Yearning To what kinds of activities are you naturally drawn?
If you had an entire week of your calendar open and you could not work on any previous commitments, what would you do?
Rapid Learning What kinds of activities do you seem to pick up quickly?
What have you done well that you didn’t need explained?
Flow What are you doing when time seems to disappear?
What activities are so engaging that you lose track of time?
Glimpses of Excellence What have other people told you that you are great at?
What are you known for doing well?
Satisfaction What sorts of activities do you finish and think “I can’t wait to do that again” or what are you doing when you’re truly enjoying yourself?
Stumme A. Coaching Conversations: 5 Clues to Talent. Linkedin. 2019. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/coaching-conversations-5-clues-talent-amy-stumme

 

Strength-based leadership in medical education has many benefits for both the leader and the learner. It helps the leader to understand the strengths of their learners and to better motivate them to reach their goals. It also helps the learner to feel supported and encouraged to develop their strengths, which can lead to greater job satisfaction and better performance. By focusing on the strengths of each learner, strength-based leadership can foster a more positive learning environment and help the learner to reach their full potential.

 

Jessica Dine, MD, MSHP is an Associate Professor in the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care at the Perelman School of Medicine. She is also Associate Dean of Assessment, Evaluation and Medical Education Research for the Perelman School of Medicine. Dr. Dine’s clinical focus is on consultative pulmonary medicine. Her education role focuses on the development of robust evaluation systems and professional development with a particular focus on career theory.