Strengths-based leadership – Does this make leadership more human?


The following is my own point of view with little evidence or fact (@JoKandola would tell me off!).  It is an opinion piece, but one that I am passionately trying to discuss/review


This will be a short blog, but I wanted to propagate a discussion following that which I joined via #HRHour very late this evening after an afternoon out in Philadelphia.  It was a question / defence of strengths-based leadership (SBL)

Now I must be honest.  I have always had a bee in my bonnet about this approach.  I get it.  I understand the top line concept, but for some reason it just does not sit right.  I just don’t ‘believe’ in it, it does not seem to focus on the ‘whole person’ for me, but I may misunderstand and that is the point of this blog.

I am looking for some clarity, challenge and education as to why this approach is so freely banded about – what is the evidence that it delivers (vs non strengths-based or even vulnerability-based) and why is it so popular (as in the truth so I can have my bias challenged!) 🙂

SB leadership 1.PNG

SB leadership 2

SB leadership 3

Internet searches

When I look for Strengths-based Leadership on Google I find 2.26 million webpages within 0.567 seconds: Most of the top hits appears to be books of some description.


When I look at Vulnerability-based leadership I find 55.2 million pages within 0.41 seconds:  Most of the top hits appear to be articles or journal contributions.

Vulnerability BL.PNG

As such it ‘appears’ that more money & time is being invested in researching/building strengths-based models over vulnerability-based models.

What is going on here?

If we look at the top half a dozen webpages which of course all have ad spend behind them, we can see that all of theme are linked to what appears to be business related leadership.

So why then, when there is so much literature out there supporting vulnerability based leadership (25X more info on Google) is there such a lack of focus on development areas or areas where people need help? (this is a crude assumption but I feel justified to put out there)

I think it is all about the language that is used.

Personally for me, strengths-based leadership sounds more masculine,stronger & invulnerable.  It reinforces the current (and outdated) belief that men are somehow more capable & deserving to be in control/have power.

Vulnerability-based leadership however sounds more feminine,humble & vulnerable.

How many senior leaders do we hear or see talking about how humble, self-aware & vulnerable they are leading a FTSE 100, 250 or Wall Street organisation?  I have recently completed new book Braving the Wilderness and here she talks about 7 key areas of focus to ensure you can build your wilderness skills as follows:


I can state with 100% confidence I have only ever had one leader that has met all 7 criteria and he is my current line manager.

Before him however, boundaries were never respected, integrity was regularly missing from most if not all leaders, you shared your true self at work at your peril etc  One could ask where they getting any strengths-based training or indeed any training at all?

I would trust an openly communicative vulnerability-based leader more any day than a strengths-based leader, but that’s just me.

So is now the time, at a time of low trust in so many areas of public life, to move towards more BRAVING, #Onlyness seeking vulnerability-based leadership?

This is clearly not a evidenced based opinion, but as a white male man who has only recently joined the dots as to his unique (nod to #Onlyness (white, male, good at international sales, passionate about future of work & people, bullied at ages 12&13, self harmed, substance abuse & mental health issues) it seems fair to challenge the notion that strengths-based leadership, as a concept, reinforces male dominance in senior leadership roles, the very challenge that many appear to be focussing on fixing using strengths-based leadership.

In a heavily male dominated (at the top), invulnerable work environment I am and have not felt able to be the true ‘me’ until recently.

“Jesus Garry this a big challenge with loads of assumptions” I can hear being shouting and maybe it is, however language is so, so important and if we do not at least challenge language being used, we do not move the dial of understanding, something I am keen to learn following this post.

So I said this would be short.  I am open to being challenged back and welcome any further discussion & education around this topic.

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