Maximising Your Team

14 May 2009 Barry Conchie

In an excerpt from Strengths-Based Leadership, author Barry Conchie describes the main components of a great leadership team.

Effective leaders surround themselves with the right people and build on each person’s strengths. But in most cases, leadership teams are a product of circumstance more than design. Among the executive teams we have studied, team members were selected or promoted based primarily on knowledge or competence. So, the best salesperson becomes the chief sales manager, even if he is not a great people manager. The smartest person in IT winds up as the CIO. The top financial expert gets promoted to CFO, and so on.

Rarely are people recruited to an executive team because their strengths are the best complement to those of the existing team members. When is the last time you heard a leader talking about how your team needed to add a person who not only had the technical competence but who could also help build stronger relationships within the group? Or someone who could help influence others on behalf of the entire team? The vast majority of the time, we recruit by job function — and all but ignore individuals’ strengths.

What’s worse, when leaders do recruit for strength, they all too often pick people who act, think, or behave like themselves, albeit unintentionally in most cases. It is an age-old dilemma. How is a company supposed to grow, adapt, and change if a domineering CEO continues to pick people who agree with him and who have a similar background and personality?

Israeli President Shimon Peres expressed his views on this topic in an interview with Gallup:

"What you have to think of is the potential of the person, not his appearance. And if you can discover hidden potentials, that can make a great difference to your organisation. You have to distinguish between loyalty and brilliance. Most leaders prefer loyalty over brilliance; they’re afraid that they’re going to be undercut. My view is different."

Peres went on to describe the importance of getting talented people on his leadership teams and helping them discover more about their unique strengths.

What makes a great leadership team?

Over the years, Gallup has studied thousands of executive teams. In most cases, our leadership consultants conduct an in-depth interview with a team’s formal leader (usually the CEO) and also talk with each member of the leadership team. This enables us to compare the strengths of each person sitting around the table so that we can start thinking about each one’s individual development and succession planning — and perhaps most importantly, how the team looks as a whole.

"Rarely are people recruited to an executive team because their strengths are the best complement to those of the existing team members."

As we worked with these leadership teams, we began to see that while each member had his or her own unique strengths, the most cohesive and successful teams possessed broader groupings of strengths. So we went back and initiated our most thorough review of this research to date. From this dataset, four distinct domains of leadership strength emerged: Executing, Influencing, Relationship Building, and Strategic Thinking.

While these categories appear to be general, it struck us that these broader categories of strengths could be useful for thinking about how leaders can contribute to a team. A more detailed language may work best for individual development, but these broad domains offer a more practical lens for looking at the composition of a team.

We found that it serves a team well to have a representation of strengths in each of these four domains. Instead of one dominant leader who tries to do everything or individuals who all have similar strengths, contributions from all four domains lead to a strong and cohesive team. Although individuals need not be well-rounded, teams should be.

This doesn’t mean that each person on a team must have strengths exclusively in a single category. In most cases, each team member will possess some strength in multiple domains. According to our latest research, there are four domains of leadership strength based on a statistical factor analysis and a clinical evaluation by Gallup’s top scientists. As you think about how you can contribute to a team and who you need to surround yourself with, this may be a good starting point.

Leaders with dominant strength in the Executing domain know how to make things happen. When you need someone to implement a solution, these are the people who will work tirelessly to get it done. Leaders with a strength to execute have the ability to ‘catch’ an idea and make it a reality.

For example, one leader may excel at establishing a quality process using themes such as Deliberative or Discipline, while the next leader will use her Achiever theme to work tirelessly toward a goal. Or a leader with strong Arranger may determine the optimal configuration of people needed to complete a task.

Those who lead by Influencing help their team reach a much broader audience. People with strength in this domain are always selling the team’s ideas inside and outside the organisation. When you need someone to take charge, speak up, and make sure your group is heard, look to someone with the strength to influence.

For example, a leader with a lot of Command or Self-Assurance may use few words, but her confidence will continue to project authority and win followers. In contrast, a leader using Communication or Woo might get people involved by helping individuals feel comfortable and connected to the issue at hand.

Those who lead through Relationship Building are the essential glue that holds a team together. Without these strengths on a team, in many cases, the group is simply a composite of individuals. In contrast, leaders with exceptional Relationship Building strength have the unique ability to create groups and organisations that are much greater than the sum of their parts.

Within this domain, a leader with Positivity and Harmony may work hard to minimise distractions and to keep the team’s collective energy high. On the other hand, a leader with Individualisation might use a more targeted approach to getting people involved. Or a leader with strong Relator or Developer may be a great mentor and guide as he pushes others toward bigger and better achievements.

Leaders with great Strategic Thinking strengths are the ones who keep us all focused on what could be. They are constantly absorbing and analysing information and helping the team make better decisions. People with strength in this domain continually stretch our thinking for the future.

Within this domain, a leader using Context or Strategic might explain how past events influenced present circumstances or navigate the best route for future possibilities. Someone with strong Ideation or Input may see countless opportunities for growth based on all of the information she reviews. Or a leader drawing from his Analytical theme might help the team drill into the details of cause and effect.

Excerpted from Strengths-Based Leadership by Rath and Conchie. Copyright ©2008 Gallup Press. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.