Are Strengths Natural or Acquired?

The strengths movement has been an important part of organizational leadership for the past few decades. The premise of strengths-based teams is that the most effective method for motivating people is to build on their strengths rather than correcting their weaknesses. Marcus Buckingham and the Gallop Organization have been the major proponents of the movement. Rodney Cox of Ministry Insights has developed the Leading From Your Strengths profile to help leaders discover their strengths and blend them with others to maximize their effectiveness.

This begs the question, can strengths be acquired or developed? Or are they natural qualities?

The Leading From Your Strengths profile uses a concept of natural strengths and adapted strengths. Adapted Strengths measure how your current environment impacts your strengths positively and negatively. Situational Leadership is a concept championed by Ken Blanchard, author of the One Minute Manager. The key is to adapt to the situation and use the appropriate strength for each situation. Both of these approaches imply that strengths can be acquired to meet the current situation or environment.

Developing strengths is similar to improving your emotional intelligence. Travis Bradbury, coauthor of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, says unlike your IQ, your EQ is highly malleable. As you train your brain by repeatedly practicing new emotionally intelligent behaviors, your brain builds the pathways needed to make them into habits. Before long, you will begin responding to your surroundings with emotional intelligence without even having to think about it.

Determining if strengths can be acquired is similar to developing leadership ability. John Maxwell who is recognized as an authority on leadership says that leadership is not an exclusive club for those who were “born with it”. The traits that are the raw materials of leadership can be acquired. Leadership is developed, not discovered. The truly “born leader” will always emerge; but, to stay on top, natural leadership characteristics must be developed.

In conclusion, we have natural strengths, but additional strengths can be developed by intentionally placing ourselves in environments that require certain strengths. This requires getting out of our comfort zone, but ultimately makes us a more effective and versatile leader.

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