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Be the best possible leader you can be

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The future best-possible self

As authors of the paper, 'Be the best possible leader', we want to encourage leaders to continue developing their understanding of their current strengths, as well as sharing another important aspect of leadership – the future best-possible self. We advocate a focus on both the current and future aspects of personal leadership, because we have learned from participants that this enables them to enter an upward spiral of continuous change, learning and growth.

In organisations, there has been a tendency to focus on negative feedback much more than positive performance reviews. Other forms of evaluation and feedback often focus on what is not working well or areas for improvement and not on areas of strength and how to build on them.

We have found that encouraging participants to increase their focus on strengths and to develop an accurate picture of their current best self and action plans to be at their best as often as possible has had a positive impact on their development. This is not to say that we should ignore or deny areas of weakness, just that we should take a more balanced approach to both and recognise the impact a strengths focus has on performance and potential. Knowing your strengths also offers a better understanding of how to deal with weaknesses and help you gain the confidence to do this.

Some weaker areas may need development if they are detracting from your best self, but we should be conscious that too much focus on our flaws may take time away from identifying and harnessing our unique strengths. As Quinn et al suggest in their Harvard Business Review paper ‘Playing to your strengths’, if talented leaders over-invest in shoring up or papering over perceived weaknesses, it can detract from reaping the best performance from them. In a similar way, overplaying our strengths can also turn them into weaknesses, for example, the leader who builds good relationships but is reluctant to challenge others when it is needed in case those relationships will damaged, or the leader who develops great ideas but resists ideas that come from anyone other than themselves.

Of course, the better you understand your best self, the better you can pursue it and the more you can make a difference. In the recent book, How to Be a Positive Leader, edited by Jane Dutton and Gretchen Spreitzer of the University of Michigan, there is a useful chapter on the power of cultivating positive identities. It emphasises the valuable psychological and social resources that we can unlock by cultivating positive identities and offers models and strategies for doing this. They believe that the more positive characteristics you seek in yourself and in others, the more you will find.

Read Graham Louden-Carter and Suzanne Pollack’s full paper, 'Be the best possible leader'.


  1. Dutton, Jane E., Spreitzer, Gretchen M. How To Be A Positive Leader, 2014, Berrett-Koehler
  2. Quinn, Robert E., Dutton, Jane E., Spreitzer, Gretchen M., Roberts, Laura M., Heaphy, Emily., Barker, Brianna How to Play to Your Strengths Harvard Business Review, January 2005
Published 17 January 2019

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