What all managers want. Positive psychology, strengths leadership

About five years ago I stopped using the usual ‘ice-breaker’ exercises to kick off training workshops. I found it was a better use of time to simply ask people what they hoped to gain from a session that was supposed to be about positive teams or advanced coaching skills etc.

To this day it still intrigues me how the same answers keep coming up. 

“I just want my staff to be happy.” 

“I want my team to be more positive and motivated.” 

“We’re going through a lot of change and I want people to feel supported.” 

If your job involves leading people you just want your staff to be happy. You want them to know that you’re one of the ‘good guys’ and you want them to enjoy coming to work and being in your team.  You want them to trust you, to be on the same page and to feel valued. When they are coping with change or stress you want them to appreciate that you want to support them.  And, very occasionally, when they are determined to keep complaining or being negative you wish, under your breath, they would just grow up and get on with it! 

Consider this: 

There is a growing body of evidence that the most powerful way to boost staff satisfaction is to focus, not on correcting people’s weaknesses but on growing people’s strengths. Traditionally managers assume their job is to address problems and weaknesses. But there’s more productivity and job satisfaction to be found by focusing on growing strengths.

In one large study of more than 5000 workers in New Zealand, those who were highly aware of their strengths were nine times more likely to be flourishing at work. And, beyond just knowing their strengths, those workers who reported actively using those strengths at work were 18 times more likely to be flourishing. These kinds of findings are increasingly common and are being found in studies around the world.

Management researcher Marcus Buckingham contrasts the two approaches by comparing checkers with chess.  Checkers is a board game where all the pieces are identical and are moved the same way. However, with chess, the pieces are unique and are moved according to different characteristics.  

While most managers play checkers, great managers play chess. 

So instead of allocating work, task or projects in an orderly manner and treating everyone the same, take the extra minute or so to match tasks to people’s strengths.  Think like a sports coach who puts his or her players in the positions that make the best use of their talents. Remember, we all want to be treated this way, to be known for our ‘good thing.’  So embrace the diversity, quirks and eccentricities of your staff and allocate work accordingly. 


As individuals specialise in their areas of strength the overall capacity and repertoire of the team expands.

Job satisfaction increases as people feel they are doing the ‘good thing’ more at work. 

Staff begin to see you as a boss who really gets them.

Trust increases as people realise you’d rather celebrate their talents than catch them out.


Marcus Buckingham. Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance. Free Press, New York.

 Hone, L. C., Jarden, A., Duncan, S., & Schofield, G. M. (2015). Flourishing in New Zealand workers: Associations with lifestyle behaviours, physical health, psychosocial, and work-related indicators. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 57(9), 973-983. positive psychology leadership