Strengths Based Leadership: Book Summary

Strengths Based Leadership: Book Summary

As many of you know, I am trying to become more of an avid reader. Each year I have tried to increase the amount of books I read. This year my goal is 38 books.
Throughout the year, I am going to post a summary of a few of those books. My hope is that this summary will help you decide if this particular book is worth adding to your reading list and also provide some insight on some of the key points and nuggets of wisdom.
My first book summary of this year is Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow by Tom Rath.



The most effective leaders:

    1. Are always investing in strengths 
    2. Surround themselves with the right people and then maximize their team
    3. Understand their followers’ needs


Part 1: Investing In Your Strengths

  • If you spend your life trying to be good at everything, you will never be great at anything.
  • When Clifton was asked, just a few months before his death in 2003, what his greatest discovery was from three decades of leadership research, this was his response: “A leader needs to know his strengths as a carpenter knows his tools, or as a physician knows the instruments at her disposal. What great leaders have in common is that each truly knows his or her strengths—and can call on the right strength at the right time. This explains why there is no definitive list of characteristics that describes all leaders.” 


Part 2: Maximizing Your Team

  • The Four Domains of Leadership Strength
      1. Leaders with dominant strength in the Executing domain know how to make things happen
      2. Those who lead by Influencing help their team reach a much broader audience 
      3. Those who lead through Relationship Building are the essential glue that holds a team together
      4. Leaders with great Strategic Thinking strengths are the ones who keep us all focused on what could be
  • Mervyn Davies, Chairman, Standard Chartered Bank: “If you focus on people’s weaknesses, they lose confidence.”
  • What high-performing teams have in common: 
      1. Conflict doesn’t destroy strong teams because strong teams focus on results 
      2. Strong teams prioritize what’s best for the organization and then move forward
      3. Members of strong teams are as committed to their personal lives as they are to their work
      4. Strong teams embrace diversity 
      5. Strong teams are magnets for talent


Part 3: Understanding Why People Follow

  • Warren Buffett: “A leader is someone who can get things done through other people.”
  • The most influential leaders display these four qualities:
      1. Trust
      2. Compassion
      3. Stability
      4. Hope
  • When Gallup studied the impact that leaders can have throughout an organization, the single most powerful question they asked employees was whether their company’s leadership made them feel “enthusiastic about the future.” Sixty-nine percent of employees who strongly agreed with this statement were engaged in their jobs, compared to a mere one percent of employees who disagreed or strongly disagreed. Based on this data, it appears that this may be the one area in which higher level leaders can have the most influence in their organization.


Conclusion: Leadership That Lasts Beyond a Lifetime

Leaders stay true to who they are—and then make sure they have the right people around them. Those who surround themselves with similar personalities will always be at a disadvantage in the long run to those who are secure enough in themselves to enlist partners with complementary strengths.


Game Plan

  • Read the full book here (using our affiliate link)
  • Which of the four Leadership Strength Domains are you strongest in? (Executing, Influencing, Relationship Building, Strategic Thinking)
  • Out of the four key qualities of influential leaders (trust, compassion, stability, and hope), which one are you strongest in? Which one are you weakest in?


Tweetable Lesson

My Top 10 Leadership Books of All Time (1-2)

My Top 10 Leadership Books of All Time (1-2)

I frequently get asked by aspiring leaders what leadership books I recommend; or what my five most favorite leadership books are.

So I’ve decided to compile a list of my top leadership books of all time. Today, I share my top 2. 


2. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

This book is one of those leadership classics. I recently re-read it and was again amazed at the depth and relevancy of its content. Covey adopts an inside-out approach to leadership, meaning leadership begins within the leader first with what he calls “private victories”. We must have private victories before we move to leading others to “public victories”.

This is a book that you can read every year and get something new out of it each time. Here are a few of my favorite quotes: 

  • “Private victories precede public victory.”
  • “The power to make and keep commitments to ourselves is the essence of developing the basic habits of effectiveness.”
  • “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”
  • “Time management is really a misnomer—the challenge is not to manage time, but to manage ourselves.”
  • “Trust is the highest form of human motivation.”
  • “You can’t be successful with other people if you haven’t paid the price of success with yourself.”


1. Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders

If I had to recommend only one book, it would be this one. In my opinion, it is one of the most comprehensive books I have found on leadership. It is specifically directed at faith-based leaders, but can be applied to all contexts of leadership.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book:

  • “We can lead others only as far along the road as we ourselves have travelled. Merely pointing the way is not enough.”
  • “Leaders who want to show sensitivity should listen often and long, and talk short and seldom.”
  • “The true leader is concerned primarily with the welfare of others, not his own comfort or prestige.”
  • “True greatness, true leadership, is found in giving yourself in service to others, not in coaxing or inducing others to serve you. True service is never without cost. Often it comes with a bitter cup of challenges and a painful baptism of suffering.”
  • “The final estimate of men shows that history cares not an iota for the rank or title a man has borne, or the office he has held, but only the quality of his deeds and the character of his mind and heart.”


Game Plan

  1. Choose one book that will help you along your leadership journey (it doesn’t have to be on this list). Any book on leadership will do.
  2. Make a goal to finish it this next month. It might sound hard now, but it’s very doable. For example, if you select a 200-page book and read only 7 pages per day, you will complete it in less than a month. If you kept that up, you could read 12 books in a year.


Below are more posts from my top leadership books of all time series:


Tweetable Lesson

My Top 10 Leadership Books of All Time (3-5)

My Top 10 Leadership Books of All Time (3-5)


I frequently get asked by aspiring leaders what leadership books I recommend; or what my five most favorite leadership books are.

So I’ve decided to compile a list of my top leadership books of all time. Today, I share numbers 3-5.


5. The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson

At some point, all leaders have to manage.  This book is one of the best at teaching the basic skills and systems a manager needs. In typical Ken Blanchard fashion, the lessons of the book are presented in parable form, which makes it an easy read.

If you are just starting out as a manager or your managerial skills need some refinement, then this book is perfect for you. As an added bonus, this book is only about 100 pages, so you can likely finish it in two hours or less.

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

  • “The best managers manage themselves and the people they work with so both the organization and their employees win.”
  • “Catch people doing something right.”
  • “A praise that is earned builds confidence.”
  • “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”


4. What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast by Laura Vanderkam

This book is part of a series called, “What the Most Successful People Do”. Laura Vanderkam also wrote books entitled, “What the Most Successful People Do at Work” and “What the Most Successful People Don the Weekend”.

Vanderkam’s premise is that the most important or highest priority tasks should be done in the morning. I’m not a morning person by nature, but I decided to try out her premise and was amazed at the results. Four years later, I still wake up early and workout. I haven’t been this consistent with working out since my college days playing basketball! My whole morning routine (and by extension, the rest of my daily routine) have been changed due to the principles in this book.

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

  • “These are your highest-value activities: nurturing your career, nurturing your family beyond basic personal care, and nurturing yourself. By that last category, I mean activities such as exercise, a hobby, meditation, prayer, and the like.”
  • “Learning to use mornings well is, in our distracted world, what separates achievement from madness.”
  • “New research into that old-fashioned concept of willpower is showing that tasks that require self-discipline are simply easier to do while the day is young.”


3. Getting Things Done by David Allen

In order for any leader to be effective, they have to be productive. And reading this book is like viewing the answer key for an exam on efficiency and productivity. It’s not flashy, but David Allen gets into the nitty-gritty principles of effective work and, as the title says, “getting things done”. I use his principles every single day, from my task management system to the way I check email.

If you need to bring some order and organization to the busy chaos surrounding you, then this book will help.

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

  • “Anything that causes you to overreact or underreact can control you, and often does.”
  • “It’s a waste of time and energy to keep thinking about something that you make no progress on. And it only adds to your anxieties about what you should be doing and aren’t.”
  • “Those who make the worst use of their time are the first to complain of its shortness.”
  • “Your best thoughts about work won’t happen while you’re at work.”


Game Plan 

  1. What leadership books are in your top five? Take some time to think through your bookshelf and narrow it down.
  2. I’d encourage you to begin re-reading those five books over the next two years. I’ve started to do this and it’s been so valuable to my personal leadership development. Re-reading reminds of key lessons and principles, but I can always find something new to take away from the book since I’m in a different season of life than when I first read it.


Below are more posts from my top leadership books series:


Tweetable Lesson 

The 8 Habits of Highly Significant Leaders: Habit #5

The 8 Habits of Highly Significant Leaders: Habit #5

Today, in our series on The 8 Habits of Highly Significant Leaders, I’m discussing Habit #5. In this video, I share how an axe and tree can increase your motivation to accomplish any goal or projects.


Game Plan

Today, our Game Plan is this: create and celebrate milestones. Remember, what gets rewarded, gets repeated. So what are you rewarding? What milestones should you celebrate, so you can continue to make progress toward your most important goals?


Tweetable Lesson


Top 10 Posts From 2020

Top 10 Posts From 2020

I know all of us are ready to leave 2020 behind and focus on 2021. But like many of you, I spent some time reflecting on the last year, and there were certainly lessons I learned. Here are my top 10 posts from 2020, a sample of lessons I learned and shared over the last year.


  1. The First Ingredient of All Great Leaders (Part 2)

There is no “one size fits all” leader or leadership style. But there are characteristics or qualities that all great leaders have in common. In the first session of an ongoing series entitled “The Ingredients That All Great Leaders Have,” I share the characteristic that is foundational to effective leadership.

  1. The Art of Goal-Making: How I Read 25 Books in a Year (Part 2)

In this series, I share some tips that have helped me become more consistent in accomplishing my goals. In fact, these techniques helped me go from reading 13 books in 2018 to nearly doubling it to 25 books in 2019. Part 2 is focused on what most people forget when it comes to creating their goals.

  1. A Type of Learning That Transforms

We are inundated with information. And when it comes to learning, the opportunities are endless. However, for all this intake of information, is it producing growth and development? Here’s why this is an important question. Information, in and of itself, doesn’t produce transformation. Transformation is in the application. Simply knowing a fact or point of view cognitively doesn’t help us develop. So, how do we create a type of learning that actually transforms instead of one that simply informs?

  1. The Top 5 Temptations That Will Derail All Leaders

We have all heard stories of highly talented leaders (and celebrities) who never reached their potential because poor choices ended up derailing their career. Our leadership journey is a marathon, not a sprint. And if you are going to be a leader that finishes well you must stay away from these common temptations.

  1. Leading in Uncertainty 

Leadership, (or the lack thereof), is revealed through adversity and uncertainty. The measure of leadership is not found in how one leads in security and success; it’s how one leads in uncertainty and chaos. Here are five tools to help you lead both yourself and your team effectively through uncertainty.

  1. How to Lead With Significance: Vision

Significance is more important (and impactful) than success. If leaders want to lead with significance, there are 10 qualities or skills they must develop. In this video session, I share the first skill of leading with significance (vision), why it’s vital to leadership, and how to develop vision.

  1. How Not to Stand Out

In this Sixty(ish) Seconds with Shawn video, I share two traits that will guarantee that you don’t stand out and will eventually cripple your leadership. 

  1. A Leadership Lesson From a Janitor

The President and a janitor walk into NASA…that sounds like the start of a joke. But it’s actually a powerful story about the importance of vision, how to increase employee engagement, and how to be self-motivated at work. In this Sixty(ish) Seconds with Shawn video, I share a great leadership lesson that I learned from a janitor.

  1. How to Stand Out

Most of us want to stand out, whether at a job interview, at our current place of work, or even among our family and friends. But let’s be honest: few of us do. In this Sixty(ish) Seconds with Shawn video, I share the eight traits that will guarantee you stand out and make you a more effective leader.

  1. My Top 10 Leadership Books of All Time (1-2)

Many of us understand the importance of reading, but due to busy schedules or an overabundance of options, we struggle with consistency (or perhaps we even struggle to get started). In this video session, I share my top two leadership books of all time.




What if you could get a grip on your business or team and make significant progress in key areas?

That’s what Gino Wickman’s book Traction is all about. It’s about creating a system that allows you to focus and make progress on your highest goals.

In this Your Leadership Coach session, I give a summary of the book and also share some of my favorite quotes.



Game Plan

Do you have the right people in the right seats? Remember:

  • Right people: Fit your core values
  • Right seats: Competency, willingness, and capacity to perform that job


Tweetable Lesson



Order Traction from Amazon (using our affiliate link)