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Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow
Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow
by Tom Rath
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.85
708 used & new from $0.91

118 of 157 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Strengths, strengths, strengths... but could there be more?, February 18, 2009
I read this book with great interest. Most leadership books are part of the cult of personality celebrating some charismatic big ego while neglecting the team it took to realize the vision. The emphasis here on followers and teams is commendable. There are heartwarming stories of leadership who brought people together to achieve BIG things--e.g., Martin Luther King, Jr.

But I had to think about the focus on strengths aspect. Strengths are important, but leaders' weaknesses can kill a company, economy, and nation. There has been a lot of ballyhoo about "play to strengths" the last few years, and an equally raucous bantering about how "fixing weaknesses is a waste of time." But what about $18.5 Billion in Wall St. bonuses subsidized by government bailouts; the derailments of Prince at Citi, Fuld at Lehman, and then Thain and O'Neal at Merrill; the 600,000 lost jobs as of January 2009; or 401(k)'s down the drain? The current global financial crisis seems like a line extension of this line of thought.

The relentless strengths, strengths, strengths mantra is like betting the farm on upside potential without considering downside risk. Strengths are compelling, but weaknesses can be lethal. In politics, one need look no further than George W. Bush in the U.S. or Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. In business, Morgan McCall and Mike Lombardo studied how executives run down companies and get fired back in the 1980s. They found that so-called "derailed" managers had plenty of strengths. But these strengths were mitigated by very real and dangerous weaknesses. These weaknesses took two forms: (1) a lack of ability or aptitude and (2) a strength used to the point of excess (e.g., when Gallup StrengthsFinder Command themes become micro-management; when Gallup StrengthsFinder Self-assurance themes become arrogance).

Several modern management researchers have extended the seminal work of McCall and Lombardo to further reveal the perils of accentuating the positive (see resources at [...] and the case seems pretty compelling: a single-minded focus on strengths might not be the silver bullet to fixing our current crisis of leadership in business, government, and politics.

It is curious that none of this other research is cited, refuted, or even acknowledged in any of the Gallup and Buckingham work on strengths. Perhaps they are only self-referential and pay no attention to what other people have learned about leadership. The reference list to Strengths Based Development, for instance, is larded with Gallup internal publications, but precious little that has been peer-reviewed. It starts to look suspicious.

While Strengths Based Development has some interesting ideas and lots of feel-good stories, definitely be sure to see the other side of the argument. A one-sided perspective will get you one-sided results, and that tips the scale down, down, down--kind of like the Dow and S&P right now.
Comment Comments (11) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 13, 2011 11:30 AM PST


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