Building Strengths-Based Partnerships

You probably have heard the name Michael Phelps, but have you heard the name Bob Bowman? Phelps won the most Olympic medals of any athlete (28) and is most known for winning eight gold medals in a single Olympics. However, if not for Bowman, you may not have ever heard of Phelps.

Bowman was Phelps’ long-time coach and Phelps credits Bowman for much of his success. Together they built a partnership that achieved extraordinary results. What could a strengths-based partnership do for you?

Photo courtesy of NBC

In the book, Who Not How, Dan Sullivan and Benjamin Hardy write:

“What would be possible for you if your capabilities and potential were expanded by other brilliant Who’s?”

In other words, if you teamed with the right people, how much more would be possible? A strengths-based partnership leverages the strengths of both individuals to create a unified force stronger than each separately.

Sometimes people think the goal of learning about their strengths will ensure they won’t have to depend on others. They think their strengths will increase their self-sufficiency, so they can achieve all things independently. But this perspective is limiting.

So, with that in mind which colleagues would you go to for their strengths? In terms of the CliftonStrengths® assessment, I’m very low in Deliberative®. I don’t like to stop and think about all the angles. I don’t like to make long, drawn-out decisions; I like to act.

Sometimes this tendency gets me into trouble. Over time, I’ve come to appreciate the Deliberative talent. Instead of trying to be more Deliberative, I’ve learned to partner with someone who is naturally Deliberative. Together we create something I could not create on my own—a careful, deliberate approach.

But a partnership goes both ways.

I’ve noticed that colleagues have appreciated my Developer® talent. I naturally like to help people grow and develop, and I’ve learned skills like coaching and teaching that flow from my Developer talent. They get something from me that they didn’t have on their own.

Some strengths-based partnerships happen without much effort, i.e., she looks organized and I’m not, I need her help, but these tend to form out of desperation or proximity. There will be a cap on your potential if you only form partnerships when it’s convenient or necessary.

On the other hand, you will achieve more than you ever dreamed if you are strategic and intentional—dare I say deliberate!—about building strengths-based partnerships. Keep in mind that the goal is not building partnerships for their own sake, but rather to unleash your potential and use the strengths of others to get there. Keep the goal in mind, not the method.

Here are five areas and questions that can inform your strengths-based partnerships:

  • Outcome – What’s possible to achieve?
  • Gap – What’s missing in me to get there?
  • Person – Who's got what I need to get there?
  • Barriers – Which of my talents might get in the way?
  • Accelerators – Which talents empower my 'ask'?

Let’s break these down:


This is where we think about the end goal. What’s possible? What’s required to get there? What would be better than the current status quo?


This is where we focus on the distance between what is and the outcome (what can be). What’s the shortage? What’s missing? What can’t I do that seems important in getting me there? What will cause me to fall short?


This is where we select someone to help. Who can contribute? Whom do I call on to get involved? Who would improve the work? Who sees or acts differently than I do?


Keep in mind that some of your talents may get in the way. Not every talent I have wants to reach out for help or give up autonomy. Some talents want to keep you small, keep you thinking you can do this on your own.

For example:

  • Responsibility®: I can’t let anyone down, so I’m going to do the work myself because then I know it’ll get done right
  • Activator®: I want to do it now, so I might as well get it done or else I’ll have to wait around
  • Strategic®: I’ve already figured out the possible successful path forward, so I’ll just move ahead

How can your talents be barriers in building partnerships?


Your talents may also move you toward partnerships. Some talents are wired for connection, interdependency, and teamwork. These can be useful for you.

For example:

  • Learner®: I already know a lot, but there’s more that I don’t know, and I bet I can learn from my partner
  • Relator®: I enjoy working with others toward common goals, so here’s an opportunity to do that
  • Achiever®: I don’t like to be slowed down, but if I partner with the right person, I can stay productive in what I’m good at

How can your talents accelerate strengths-based partnerships?


You may not be competing for gold medals on the world stage, but what is possible if your strengths were expanded by others using their strengths? Strengths are not meant to be solitary; they’re meant to be used in collaboration with others who are together creating outcomes that are impossible alone.

CliftonStrengths® and CliftonStrengths® theme names are registered trademarks of the Gallup Organization.

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