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How STRONG of a Leader are You?

In today’s uncertain times, strong leadership is more critical than ever. Dealing with factors like a changing workplace, fears and doubts of team members, unpredictable customer behavior, and financial concerns can impact teams negatively. But the strong leader was made for times like this.

Using the acronym S-T-R-O-N-G, let’s look at the four core needs of followers and the three things strong leaders do. If you’re a leader, consider how you will meet your follower’s needs given your context. For example, if your team has suddenly become a remote team, how will you adjust your leadership to this new environment?

These insights come from a massive leadership study by Gallup, explained in the book, Strengths-based Leadership by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie. In the study, Gallup scientists studied more than one million work teams including 20,000 interviews with leaders and 10,000 followers. Their goal was to discover why followers followed their leader.

S stands for Strengths

The study found that strong leaders are always investing in their own strengths. They understand what they’re good at, they utilize their strengths to meet their goals, and they seek ways to develop them. In addition, they also maximize the strengths of their team. Strong leaders surround themselves with the right people and then optimize the team so they’re operating in their strengths too.

T stands for Trust

When Gallup studied the four needs of followers, they found that a core need is trust. Followers need to trust their leader. You see this confirmed in Patrick Lencioni’s work on healthy teams, where trust is the foundation of a healthy team, and distrust is the most basic dysfunction of a team. Followers want to trust that the leader will do what she says she’ll do, will keep confidences, and will prioritize relationships.

R stands for Resilience

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity. Resilience produces a sense of overriding security no matter what is happening. Feeling safe and secure is a basic need of team members, according to Gallup. So strong leaders are resilient leaders who spring back into shape regardless of the circumstances and produce confidence in team members that they can bounce back too.

O stands for Optimism

The sense that the future looks good and is headed in a positive direction is another need of team members. They want their leader to feel hopeful and optimistic about what’s coming, and then to project this forecast onto them.

Followers are not looking for a naïve optimism that is digging its head in the sand and ignoring the obvious signs, but rather a hope derived from solid data, reflection, and vision. When leaders give their followers that, they give them the tools to feel hopeful for themselves.

N stands for Needs

We already covered two of the strong behaviors of leaders, and that is investing in their own strengths and maximizing the strengths of their teams. The third behavior is understanding the needs of their followers and addressing them using their strengths. Strong leadership can come from any talent, core drive, or personality profile. The key is understanding your capabilities and aiming them in the right direction.

This is a good time to talk about the needs of a remote team, since many teams have suddenly become remote. For that, let's look at the research of Dr. Karen Sobel Lojeski, who works from SUNY Stontbrook (a client of EnergyCAP, Inc., which is my day job).

She has identified three kinds of virtual distance that can obstruct team productivity and performance. They are:

  • Physical distance - not being in the same physical space
  • Operational distance - the way you work that can either help or hinder
  • Affinity distance - how connected team members are to one another

The irony is that when teams become remote, most of the attention is on mitigating the first two types of distance:

  • How will we work together now that we're apart?
  • What will be my work space?
  • Which tools, technologies, norms, and schedules will we keep?

However, the third type of distance--affinity distance--is really what distinguishes great remote teams from the rest. That is to say, tools and technologies are important, but the real focus ought to be on strengthening relationships. And that is the real need of teams, whether the members acknowledge it or not.

G stands for Grace

Finally, G stands for grace. The Gallup study found that the fourth basic need of followers is being treated with grace, compassion, and care by the leader. They want their leader to care for them, appreciate them, and include them. This need points to the more human, relating side of leadership, namely treating others with understanding, tolerance, and care.

We’ve just explored the three behaviors of strong leaders:

  • Investing in their own strengths
  • Maximizing the strengths of their team
  • Paying attention to the needs of their followers

We also looked at the four core needs of followers:

  • Trust
  • Resilience/security
  • Optimism/hope
  • Grace/compassion

The question is, how STRONG of a leader are you? Use this worksheet to answer this question and become a stronger leader.

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