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You Can’t Be a Great Leader Without This

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The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question “What is the most important quality a leader should demonstrate?” is by Russ Becker, president of The Forum Corporation.

Effective leadership requires a combination of several different qualities. However, if I had to name just one that really sets the foundation, I would say that strength-based management is key. Strength-based management is when a company’s leadership embraces the idea of aligning individuals’ roles within the company with the strengths and passions of those employees. According to a 2013 Gallup study, when a company has engaged employees, it is linked to higher productivity, profitability, and customer ratings, in addition to less turnover and absenteeism. Ultimately, it is up to the leader to help maximize employee capabilities to achieve these results. But to really understand the natural talent and abilities that their employees have and where that potential can be maximized requires a two-way, honest dialogue.

So how is this achieved? It starts with showing some emotional vulnerability to humanize yourself as a leader and create a connection with the people with whom you lead. Show your team that you, too, have struggled and overcome issues that are similar to what they are experiencing. Asking thoughtful questions to understand what is important to each employee, discussing expectations of each position and how success is measured — and what they want to accomplish — goes a long way in understanding their strengths. This goes beyond just asking the right questions in an interview setting. An important part of this dialogue is ongoing observation and evaluation throughout employment, as well as soliciting feedback from each employee.

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For example, one question that I frequently ask of my employees companywide is, “If you could give me one piece of advice on how to make the organization better what would it be?” Sure, naysayers may say that some people would only give fluffy feedback or not feel comfortable flagging the truth. And that may certainly be true for some employees. However, I have been amazed throughout my career at the power of listening and the feedback that I have received through these dialogues that have truly made me a better leader. Recently, such feedback to this exact question helped us to restructure how our sales and delivery teams collaborate, leading to more effective communication and operations.

Inevitably, leaders will come across someone who is not in the right position for various reasons. It is up to leaders to help recast them or put them in a place where they will have a better opportunity to be successful from the bottom-line perspective and their own morale. There will also be situations where a leader will inherit a team through a new position or a promotion. At Forum, we have a program called “Leading Through Transitions.” The first part of this process is observation. We always recommend that leaders come in and first focus on understanding not only the operations but observing the workflow, before making any changes to team structure and organization.

Finally, strength-based leadership cannot be successful without sincerity. People want to be involved in something that they believe in and that they feel they can contribute to. Employees want to know where they are headed and why their leadership team truly cares about their individual paths. By focusing on strength-based management, leaders can actively work to set the vision of where the company is going, and then help their employees to understand their role in playing a part of that outlook.