Building A Culture On Strengths

We’ve all heard how Zappos, Google, and Southwest are dreams to work for because of their stellar company cultures. Earlier this month, the Oregon Business Journal published its 25th annual list of 100 Best Companies to Work For. One of the characteristics these companies have in common is a commitment to creating a space that leverages their employees’ strengths. Much has been documented on the advantages leaders have when they strive to discover their employees’ strengths and make the best use of them. According to Gallup surveys, 67% of employees who feel that their strengths are used and appreciated by their leaders are engaged in their work. This compares to a general engagement rate of 15% in the workplace as a whole.

As a leader, have you noticed how employees who are permitted to use their strengths are more interested in what they’re doing and apply themselves more fully? They are more productive, inspired, and loyal. It has been long shown that when organizations lead people through their strengths, they benefit in many ways: higher sales and profits, lower turnover and absenteeism, and better customer reviews. For example, a small accounting firm in Texas raised strengths-based culture development to a high art form. As soon as a new member is added to the team—which has grown more than 120% in five years—he or she is paired with a “buddy” to ensure that their social integration to the new culture is seamless. They even have Performance Stewards—team supervisors that responsibly and carefully manage the performance of teammates through coaching, feedback, encouragement and training opportunities.

Clearly, it’s to your advantage to maximize the use of your peoples’ strengths. The strength of the organization depends on the applied strength its employees. But this is more than just assessing peoples’ skills. Leaders who establish a culture of strength-mindedness instill a collective focus on and value in the strengths of people. It’s a focus that must be engrained into everything and everyone.

Discover People’s Strengths

For you to know the strengths of your people, you first need to know your people. Focusing on strengths is inherently a focus on people: their abilities, interests, knowledge, and aspirations. Technical strengths are only a portion of the picture. Strengths are also measured in the softer skills: character, courage, confidence, and communication. Leaders who spend time with their people, getting to know them, have the greatest ability to assess these kinds of strengths and know how they can be applied in the workplace.

As a trained researcher, I place a great deal of importance on proven methods of measuring a person’s strengths. There are many validated instruments available, including the Clifton Strengths Finder available at If you would like to know more about my methods, give me a call. But you can do a credible job of figuring out the strengths on your bench just by buying a few cups of coffee, asking some authentic questions, and being willing to truly sit back and listen…deeply listen.

Many personal strengths are revealed through one-on-one conversations. Another way to discover character strengths is to observe how your people handle themselves, how they behave, respond, and make decisions. Getting insights from coworkers or other leaders adds to the collection of information on a person’s strengths.

Technical strengths are often more straightforward to judge by reviewing a person’s work: its thoroughness, accuracy, and inventiveness. You can see peoples’ strengths by how well they tackle challenges and find solutions to problems. Their values are revealed in how they take on their responsibilities. Making note of these things gives you a good sense of the strengths of your people.

What do you think? Are you building a culture on strengths? How well do you know the strengths of your people? What methods do you use to measure those strengths? I’d love to hear from you. You can reach me by email, by phone at (503) 459-8393, or on LinkedIn.


David McNamee, Ph.D.
David McNamee, Ph.D.
David McNamee, Ph.D. is an author, master educator, and leadership expert with documented success in public, private, domestic, and international sectors. David is a Professor of Leadership at the University of Arkansas Grantham, International Faculty at Jesuit Worldwide Learning, and a member of the Board of Directors at the Rotary Fellowship of Leadership Education and Development. With his son, he is co-author of "Servant Leadership Lessons for Middle School" available on Amazon.

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