The Leadership Challenge and Gallup's StrengthsFinder—What's the Difference?

Craig Haptonstall

Given the many resources and training strategies in today's marketplace, we are challenged to better understand the differences between all these various resources. Gaining clarity around what each has to offer will help us determine which tool to apply to a given situation to more effectively achieve our desired outcomes and goals.

Currently, one of the more popular tools used in a variety of training initiatives is The Gallup Organization's StrengthsFinder. As described in a recent article provided by the Career Planning and Adult Development Network, "StrengthsFinder is a talent assessment instrument developed expressly for the Internet. It is built upon three primary discoveries that resulted from decades of research of successful human beings. Skills can be learned, and knowledge can be obtained. However, talent—the key to strength and peak performance - must exist naturally within a person. A talent is a naturally recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied. Talents are spontaneous, top-of-mind, perhaps even subconscious reactions to situations…what one does well "without even thinking about it." They are innate, non-teachable.

Based on 34 StrengthsFinder talent themes, the StrengthsFinder instrument presents 180 paired-choice comparisons in sets that present two potential self-descriptors-each anchoring polar ends of a continuum. Using online connectivity that is fully secure and easy to use, participants are prompted to choose from each pair the statement that best describes them, and the extent to which that chosen option is self-descriptive. Participants are given 20 seconds to respond to a given item before the system moves on.

For those interested in finding their best "fit" among the possible organizational roles and positions, the StrengthsFinder instrument is a great tool. Gaining talent clarity allows us to pursue roles and positions that are best suited to our innate talents, and can offer the greatest opportunity to achieve superior performance and personal satisfaction. With talents, we are not trying to develop anything new; we are simply working to become more aware of what is already there.

So, what about the position or role of leading others?

Different than the StrengthsFinder model, The Leadership Challenge discusses a role that transcends any specific position in an organization: the role or position of a strong leader that demonstrates leadership in the eyes of others.

The 25 years of academic evidence collected and reported on by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner suggests it is possible for anyone-independent of role or talent-to become a better leader, developing our abilities to influence others to achieve extraordinary results. In their best-selling book, The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner identify The Five Leadership Practices®—Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act, and Encourage the Heart—as five behavior sets we can develop and enhance with practice.

In over 13 years of applying and practicing the principles of The Leadership Challenge with people and organizations, I have also become convinced that leadership is a learnable behavior set, if three things happen:

  1. First and foremost, we must make a conscious decision to become a better leader and to become more effective in demonstrating leadership. Until this personal decision is made, no amount of evidence or research will make a difference.
  2. We need to gain some "outsight": information beyond what we currently have to work with, which can come from research, books, assessments, or any number of places. This is also where The Leadership Challenge book and The Leadership Practices Inventory® (LPI) can really support learning. While the book represents over 25 years of academic research, the LPI is a valid and reliable 360- degree assessment that uses 30 questions to identify developmental benchmarks within The Five Leadership Practices®.
  3. In order for leadership (or any other skill set) to develop, we must practice new behavior. This is where The Leadership Challenge® Workshop supports development. By creating a safe learning environment, with proven instructional practice, we can document elevated leadership levels as a positive learning outcome. This workshop can be delivered in a variety of ways and days, as best identified by the participating party.

So, if the goal is to increase awareness of innate strengths and talents, the Stengthsfinder is a great resource. With this information we can pursue positions and roles that will enable us to do what we like to do, and will potentially be the best at doing.

On the other hand, if the goal is to develop our skills and abilities in influencing others to achieve extraordinary outcomes, The Leadership Challenge is the very best resource in the market today as a comprehensive set of tools for succeeding in our roles as leaders and demonstrating higher leadership levels.

Craig Haponstall is president and CEO of Leadership Mechanics, LLC and a Master Facilitator of The Leadership Challenge® Workshop. An experienced and results-oriented speaker and coach whose corporate career has included positions with Southwest Airlines and The Tom Peters Company, he can be reached at www.leadershipmechanics.com

RELATED RESOURCES