Now, Discover Your Strengths (later updated as just StrengthsFinder) is a self-help book written by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton, first published in 2001. At the heart of the book is the internet based "Clifton Strengths Finder," an online personal assessment test that outlines the user's strengths. The authors advocate focusing on building strengths rather than focusing on weaknesses.
The theory behind the book is that each adult individual possesses a certain number of fixed universal personal-character attributes, defined by the authors as "talent themes," which, together, result in an individual's tendency to develop certain skills more easily and excel in certain fields in a sustainable way while failing or not being able to sustain success or high levels of effectiveness in other fields.
The authors claim that by identifying the individual strength of the members of the organization, its members can be utilized in more suiting positions, hence developing the required skills easily, helping to reduce turnover, improve employee morale and the organization's overall performance.
Criticisms of the strengths-based leadership model include:
- Strengths-only is not viable: They cite research that few have more than five strengths (defined as competencies where one is stronger than other managers) and that those five typically aren't in areas that are aligned with business needs. Just because one has strengths, they argue, doesn't mean that those strengths will allow someone to be effective.
- Strengths can become weaknesses: Research from groups like the Center for Creative Leadership and numerous personality psychologists shows that leadership derailers—behaviors that negatively impact a leader's potential success—can be defined as overdone strengths. For example, attention to detail can become micro-management; ability to influence can become highly political behavior. Continuing to focus on your strengths, they argue, at a certain point will create negative consequences.
- Weaknesses matter: We typically fail because of our weaknesses, not because we haven't focused enough on our strengths, they argue. By ignoring our "dark side" of personality and focusing only on our strengths we are guaranteeing our failure.