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Focusing on Strengths

written by Francesco Caso 10 September 2015

Francesco Caso is a (positive) executive coach in Melbourne, Australia. He grew up in Italy where he studied Law at the University of Naples. He moved to Melbourne in 2007, graduating in Psychology at Melbourne University. He is currently finishing his MAPP degree at Melbourne University. His research is on defining happiness. He is also attending a course in Leadership at Melbourne Business School. Website. Full bio. Francesco's articles are here.

Employee productivity is a favorite parameter of performance in workplaces. Organizations keep looking for ways to increase productivity, especially when they have fewer resources than before.

Many managers do not realize that by focusing on the positives, top and middle-level management can enable performance improvement. A positive leader focuses more on the qualities that make the organization and its employees successful than on their weaknesses.

Positive leadership increases teamwork, creativity, and innovation, thereby leading to higher performance. Positive leaders encourage their employees to increase their performance on the job.

Managing Teams

A good example of the difference can be seen in the implementation of group projects. Group dynamics can very easily derail the progress of the project, just as much as they can enhance the quality of the outcome. Personalities, attitudes, and rivalries can get in the way of progress. In many cases, different people are involved in the project, each with different roles. These roles often require different technical know-how that might not be easy for the other members of the group to understand. The lack of compatibility in knowledge among the various members of the group can be a major problem.

In other cases, the final product or the procedures are not strictly defined, often with high pressure for completion by the deadline provided.

A positive leader is one that brings out the best from all employees, encouraging them to harness their strengths to fulfill the conditions of the group project, and helping them to perceive the contributions of other members of the team. The positivity of a leader can help a group work past obvious obstacles and through sacrifice, innovation, and teamwork, deliver what can seem like a miracle outcome.

Positive Psychology in Action

Concepts from positive psychology can contribute to successful leadership and business. Employees high in self-efficacy believe that they are agents of success in their lives. Positive leaders help all employees increase self-efficacy. One should not be made a leader if his or her vision for leadership involves a focus only on the weaknesses of opponents without a clear plan for increasing the strengths and self-efficacy of the local staff.

The leader that can only see what people cannot do often ends up undermining the very spirit of the organization. While it is necessary to correct mistakes when they happen, this is not enough for success, as many people in management positions seem to think. Instead of seeing limitations as weaknesses, positive leaders see opportunities to do better. Many managers often suffer from confirmation bias, having fixed views on the characteristics of their employees and only waiting to confirm their negative thoughts. In contrast, managers with positive growth mindsets encourage continuous performance improvement. Instead of believing that low performance is a permanent indicator of lack of ability, a manager with a growth mindset believes that people can increase their abilities through effective practice and effort.

Firm-based versus Industry-based

There is a modern idea that firm-based strengths and dynamics are often stronger indicators of success than industry-based factors. This is the idea that internal competencies influence firm performance more than the external conditions of the industry. This is especially true for the companies at the helm of their industries, those that seem to do well regardless of the status of the market. Their managers help employees believe that they are the best in the business and that they can always push themselves to become better regardless of the situation.

To be the best, there needs to be constant innovation and creativity in terms of product delivery to the market. Even though every season brings with it different products, the base philosophy is that companies often concentrate on their strengths, and by extension, employee strengths. Such companies enjoy high rates of success and loyalty.

A good example of strength-based philosophy is Apple. It is a multinational company that manufactures and markets electronics, software, and computers. It is one of the most successful companies in the world, thought to have more in reserve than even the richest countries in the world, yet only some years ago it was on the verge of bankruptcy. The recovery of Apple is often attributed to the philosophy of one of the founders, Steve Jobs. His method involved eliminating any other distractions, and concentrating on one major aspect, design, therefore making it the company’s core competence.

This way, the employees at the company can then focus on their strengths, and deliver world class products. Even though he concentrated on simplicity, Steve Jobs always pushed the limits, bringing to reality designs and concepts never before thought of in the industry. This pushed his employees to get the best out of their work.

Oswald and colleagues argue that the happiness of employees is directly related to their ability to perform. Workplaces that do not focus on employee happiness not only reduce the ability of the employee to perform but also impacts the company retention rate.

When managers focus on the core strengths of employees and give them the freedom to pursue these strengths and push the limits, employees are more successful in their work and feel valued and effective. Such employees tend to feel that they belong in their companies and therefore tend to stay longer. Positive minded managers can have a powerful impact on their teams.




Cameron, K. (2008, 2012). Positive Leadership: Strategies for Extraordinary Performance. Edition 2. San Francisco: Berrett-Kohler.

Cameron, K. (2013). Practicing Positive Leadership: Tools and Techniques That Create Extraordinary Results. San Francisco: Berrett-Kohler.

Eadicicco, L. (2015, June 2015). A former Apple employee describes what it was like to work on the design team under Steve Jobs. Retrieved from The Business Insider.

Hawawini, G., Subrahamian, V., & Verdin, P. (2000). Is profitability driven by industry or firm specific factors? A new look at the evidence. Insead Working Paper. Abstract

Oswald, A. J., Proto, E., & Sgroi, D. (2014). Happiness and Productivity. IZA Discussion Paper number 465. Coventry: University of Warwick. From the abstract: “The paper provides evidence that happiness raises productivity.”


Photo Credit: via Compfight with Creative Commons licenses
Conductor courtesy of gordon_landon
Inspired team courtesy of cityyear
Apple people courtesy of chrisdejabet

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