We live in a time of constant change and our working world is changing rapidly. Many employees are overwhelmed by the resulting challenges, a major problem for themselves, but also for their employers. Only employees with a solid personality, the right mindset, and an adequate working environment can work successfully and be satisfied in such a world. But what exactly does that mean and why do leaders play a crucial role in it?
Let me explain how I see this based on my many years of experience as a leader, expert, and consultant.
Digitalization, technical, economic, social, and political developments, new market rules and regulations lead to new, complex, and frequently changing challenges. Nothing seems to be the way it used to be, and there is no end in sight. On the contrary, e.g., the rapid development of artificial intelligence will influence our working world in a way that we can hardly imagine today.
Many employees cannot cope with this which can lead to insecurity, anxiety, frustration, stress or, in the worst case, resignation, resistance or illness. These employees can't perform at their best, which companies need to succeed. Companies need self-confident, resilient, engaged, and competent employees who accept these changes as the new normal and deal with them successfully.
Only employees who have a mature personality can deliver that in the long run, which in this case means they know exactly what they can do, what they want, and what they stand for.
A structured and sound self-reflection is focused on the questions of:
“What I am particularly good at?” (strengths and talents),
“What drives me?” (ambitions and motivators) and
“What do I stand for?” (brand and what makes me unique),
This is a prerequisite for the development of such a mature personality. You certainly know people who have that kind of personality. They impress us because they radiate knowing what they can do and strive for. They know what value they have in the job market because they are particularly good at their subject. They are among the best. This applies equally to all job profiles, e.g., machine operator, controller, or project manager.
But why is it so important to know the strengths and ambitions of a person?
Employees are particularly successful and engaged when they work on what they do best, what they enjoy doing, and when their essential needs (not wishes!) are met. And according to research, these employees are significantly more satisfied with their lives - their risk of being overwhelmed is very low.
Therefore, focusing on individual strengths and the corresponding tailoring of the respective area of responsibility is key - a real game changer!
In addition to that, however, it also requires the right attitude of the employees. They must accept that the responsibility for their own professional development lies with themselves. There can no longer be a centrally controlled people development. It is not possible to consider the expectations and opportunities of all employees and to do justice to their individuality -there is no blueprint for individual development. The employees must take over the responsibility for recognizing and developing their talents. This makes them attractive to the job market and it is easier for them to realize their ideas for professional development. In doing so, they also take responsibility for their own learning.
In my experience, it is very unusual for many to take on this role, and the reflection of strengths and ambitions is demanding. They need support and guidance. Leaders have a special role to play in this, in addition to technical and content-related topics.
Leaders have two essential tasks:
We are not used to reflecting on our strengths, but our weaknesses are made clear to us from an early age. In job interviews, I always ask the question of what a person's particular strength is. The answers are similar and often boring because they are self-evident. For example: "I am solution-oriented" or "I am a team player". These answers are not very impressive because you do not recognize what makes this person unique. And if the applicants themselves don't know what makes them unique, how is an interviewer supposed to find out? But a person with a mature personality knows.
Strengths should be identified e.g., as a result of reflecting on an experienced work situation like, what contribution someone has made to the success of a project and – important - based on which strengths was this contribution possible. To illustrate, one could say: "One of my strengths is communication, especially conflict resolution. For example, I manage to get members of a project team back on a common, constructive line in deadlocked situations. For example, in project xyz...".
Many employees also do not seriously reflect on what drives them in their jobs, they often remain very superficial. In several workshops, I asked about the ambitions of the participants, i.e., “What really drives you and what is important to you in a job?”. The answers were initially superficial and not surprising, like money, status, etc. But after intensive questioning, more and more "hidden" but important subjects came to light. For example, one said “to do something good for society.” It was surprising for the participants themselves that it took time to realize that there is something hidden here.
Well-founded self-reflection seems simple at first glance, but it takes time and competent guidance. With some employees and clients of mine, it took even weeks till they felt comfortable with the results. And the results change over working life, e.g., because ambitions change. Self-reflection is a lifelong task.
Supporting this is a new, challenging task for leaders.
The decisive point here is that the tasks in the team are not tailored according to rigid functional profiles, but individually, based on the recognized strengths and ambitions of the employees. The talents of the employees are as individual as their motivators. Leaders must not only know the individual strengths and ambitions of their employees, but also use them accordingly. In the past. We tried to adapt the individual profiles of employees to given functional profiles by means of appropriate development measures. However, it is much more efficient to distribute the tasks a team must accomplish according to the strengths and ambitions of the team members. You will quickly see whether you cover all requirements with the available resources or whether you have to make adjustments in the composition of the team.
An adequate working environment is therefore characterized by strengths-orientation and adaptable, flexible structures. Learning must be more individualized and an important part of our daily work. Daily learning complements the daily routine; this is the goal and leads to the high motivation and performance.
Part of learning is making mistakes. Embracing this, discussing it, etc., is an important part of a work environment that promotes learning. Main target is to develop the identified strengths and bring them to a high level in a targeted manner. In contrast, working on weaknesses leads to mediocrity at most. Working on strengths quickly leads to an improvement in a person's self-esteem and, as a result, contributes to the development of a mature personality.
I experienced many times that just talking about the strengths of someone quickly changed the attitude of this person in a positive way. The same happened in team workshops. Just talking about the strengths that are present in the team and that everyone can rely on created a very positive and constructive atmosphere in a short time. The focus of learning must therefore be on strengthening strengths.
However, a crucial success factor for the implementation of the strengths-oriented leadership approach is the mindset of the Leaders. They must be convinced that the primary responsibility for professional development has to lie with the employees themselves – that means giving up responsibility. And acting, for example, as a coach, consultant, or sparring partner on people development topics, is unfamiliar to many. But they must encourage, empower, and enable their employees to take on this responsibility to be successful in the future.
The role of leaders and the question of what makes a good leader is being redefined, no one can ignore that.
In summary, I can say that successful leadership in times of constant change means recognizing the strengths and ambitions of employees in a joint process and consistently using them as a basis for tailoring individual areas of responsibility. In addition, Leaders must encourage, empower, and enable employees to take responsibility for their own development and create an appropriate flexible environment. Considering the individuality of the employees is a crucial success factor.
For me, strengths-oriented leadership is the most promising approach to mastering the challenges of a rapidly changing world with competent, committed, and satisfied employees.
For further insights into effective leadership strategies in times of constant change, dive into Becoming a Change Champion: A Pathway to Leadership and The Change Champion: The Missing Link to Organizational Success. Or get to know our resilient leadership program where Christian Lasch, the author of this insightful piece, shares his expertise. These resources offer valuable perspectives and guidance for those aspiring to enhance their leadership skills and drive meaningful organizational transformation.