Strengths-Based Leadership

Interview with Megan Dalla-Camina, Director of Strategy for IBM in Australia and New Zealand, where she is also responsible for Organizational Culture and Change and Gender Diversity. Megan is Executive Sponsor of the Positive Leadership Program.

1. Why did IBM A/NZ (Australia/NZ) go down the strengths-based leadership path?

We were impressed by the overwhelming research that has emerged from the positive psychology and related fields, linking strengths use to a range of outcomes, including better work performance, greater engagement, higher levels of energy and vitality, less stress and greater resilience. All of this adds up to a more efficient and higher performing organization. We wanted to share these findings with our employees and demonstrate how taking a strengths-based approach, both to leadership and their own work can have an enormous impact, for a relatively small investment of their time. Our strengths program was underpinned by the VIA Character Strengths questionnaire and we could not have been as successful as we were without such a thorough and easy to use tool.

2. What did you do?

Positive Leadership Program (Executives & Senior Leadership)

We first began using the VIA Character Strengths questionnaire in a major way as part of a ‘Positive Leadership’ program offered to Executives and our Senior Leadership team in 2010. The goal of the program was to give our senior business leaders the tools and resources to enhance their own leadership capability, personal resiliency and positive mindset, to enable them to provide greater support for their teams and impact in the business. As part of the strengths-based leadership component, Executives completed the VIA online survey and undertook exercises to help them identify, understand and build their strengths. They also had the opportunity to take part in one- on-one coaching sessions. Feedback from those who attended the Positive Leadership program was outstanding.

Strengths-based Leadership (Managers)

A Strengths-based leadership classroom session was offered to all managers during 2011. This session formed part of a three session program, called the Positive Leadership Program for managers. The goal of this program was to support all of our managers with the tools they needed to flourish and foster positive relationships with their employees, focus on a strengths-based approach to leadership, manage attention, energy and resilience and develop a positive mindset. In the strengths-based leadership module, managers completed the VIA online survey. They were then provided with information on the science and research behind the growing strengths movement and completed exercises to help them explore and build their signature strengths.  As well as the classroom sessions, all participants received an interactive toolkit with information and practical tips on how to apply strengths individually and with their teams. They also had the opportunity to attend a coaching call where subject matter experts and key business leaders talked about how they had personally applied strengths at work – both individually and with their teams. Once more feedback was highly positive.

Strengths Workshops (Business Units/teams)

We have also run tailored strengths sessions for different business groups within IBM A/NZ such as our sales, finance and communications teams. There has been a great demand for these sessions which focus on providing an introduction to the principles of positive psychology and the strengths based approach to maximizing human potential. Participants have the opportunity to explore their individual strengths and how to best use them to build performance and drive greater work and life satisfaction in themselves and their teams.

3. What did we find?

A very high percentage of participants have reported being very satisfied with the positive leadership program and recommended that it be available for a wider audience and that it continue as an offering in IBM A/NZ. There is also evidence of a change in thinking amongst attendees and signs that strengths-based behaviors are being adopted in the business e.g. strengths-based coaching/development and performance management discussions.

4. What’s next?

We see the positive leadership program as a longer term initiative as it requires significant behavior and culture change. With this in mind, we plan to continue embedding the messages of strengths-based leadership through different mediums and audiences in 2012 and beyond until we reach the critical tipping point where the change becomes contagious.

5. What is your personal experience of strengths?

I have found that the strengths module has been an invaluable way of looking at what intrinsically motivates me, and how I can use these internal drivers to cast a new lens on my work, and derive more enjoyment and satisfaction from it. As a manager, it has given me a new method of engaging with my team and understanding what drives them, which helps me to enable growth and satisfaction for them in their projects and also in their development.

Peter Drucker argued that “to make strengths productive is the unique purpose of an organization” calling on leaders to embrace a mindset of abundance and identify, understand, enable and sustain the highest potential of what people, both individually and collectively, have to offer. For me, the Positive Leadership program has enabled me to enhance my own mindset as a leader, and in turn, to better lead those I engage with.

By Sally Noblet / Megan Dalla-Camina

IBM Australia/New Zealand

January 9, 2012