Escaping Cookie Cutter Leadership Through Utilizing Our Strengths Tools

Do you love to read the books that give insight into what great leadership looks like? I know I do! I think many of us have, “Start With Why”, “Turn Your Ship Around”, “Good to Great”, “Leading Change”, “The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People” … the list goes on and on.  These books are important, and I urge all leaders to read and embrace the ideas shared in these books and others.

That said, leaders must not assume replication will always be successful. Read these books, but don’t feel disappointed if the “lists” don’t necessarily work in your specific business culture. Don’t feel discouraged if you can’t make the formulas work in your world.

In the Harvard Business Review Article, Stop Reading Lists of Things Successful People Do the suggestion is made that these “lists” can actually be harmful. The idea being, among other things, that very successful people have certain luxuries that may only be leveraged after one is truly successful. Also that content and context by which to implement these ideas aren’t necessarily universal to all.

I am adding one more reason: our strengths. As Gallup has shown, everyone can be their greatest “them” if they discover, harness, and leverage their strengths. As I read some of these lists presented by incredibly successful business leaders, I am struck at how often I say to myself, “um, not thinking I could do that”. And it isn’t some self-deprecating reaction, in that I feel I am unable to succeed, it is that the WAY in which this leader reaches his or her goal is DIFFERENT than the way I might approach my goal. Have you ever experienced that?

The Right Tool For The Right Job

My father did a lot of woodworking, he was truly artistic when it came to creating magnificent pieces out of wood. He taught me early on that you must always choose the RIGHT material for the job, and must always use the RIGHT tool for the job.

Perhaps, if success is the goal, then the right tool may be different for me than for you. It may be different for Bill Gates than it was for Steve Jobs – different, because their strengths are different, their approaches are different…they are different and that uniqueness is what is brilliant.  In fact, when asked about the differences between them, Bill Gates once said of Steve Jobs:

“He had an expectation of superlative things in his own work and in the products they would create. Steve had a design mind-set. When I get to a hotel room, I don’t go, ‘Oh, if I had designed this car I would have done this and this.’ People like Jony Ive and Steve Jobs are always looking at stuff that way. You know, I look at code and say, ‘Okay, this is architected well,’ but it’s just a different way of understanding the world. His most natural, innate sense was a world-class instinct about whether this or that object met certain standards.” (Business Insider)

Here are two men that have changed the world, both more successful than most people can even imagine…yet they are also so different. If Steve Jobs read a list of Bill Gates’ top ten secrets of success, and attempted to apply them, he may never have become the success he has (and I wouldn’t have my precious MacBook and iPhone). And visa versa, if Bill Gates were to read a list of Steve Jobs’ top ten secrets to success, odds are that he would never have achieved what he has – and let’s face it, what would our current world be without Microsoft?!

The thing is, they BOTH succeeded because they BOTH created their own path to success, using their own strengths as their tools. What they characterize as success is even fundamentally different through the filter of their strengths as highlighted in the Gates quote. They used the right tools for the job and in the words of Steve Jobs: “Have successfully put a dent in the universe.”

There is a significant value in these books and lists, and if nothing else leaders get insight into different approaches, unique perspectives and to experience the path successful individuals took to attain their greatness. I simply caution that you hold on to this reality  – there is no such thing as cookie cutter success, no such thing as cookie cutter leaders…no such thing as cookie cutter strengths…while paths may look similar, you must create your path using your strengths! What are some ways that you have created success using your strengths? Was your approach different than others? What are ways others around you have created success using their strengths in ways that were very different than what you would have done?


Shelley Hom is a technology manager with the State of California who was introduced to Strengths Finder through a leadership academy at work. Using what she has learned both in her work and personal life, she mentors colleagues, family and friends on using ones’ strengths to get them where they want to go! When she isn’t working, she loves hanging out with people and enjoying the simple things life has to offer; laughing, chatting, reading, and let’s not forget writing – all usually done with a really good cup of coffee close at hand! Outside of blogging for 34 Strong Shelley’s own blog can be found at: www.myhomworld.com