UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


To be a Better Leader: Know Your Strengths and Use Them Effectively


Peter Romanella, associate director of leadership development at UNC Kenan-Flagler, likes to use the 1993 movie Rudy to underscore the importance of leaders identifying strengths and practicing them to be successful.

The movie details the life of Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger, who overcame a learning disability and other obstacles to achieve his dream of taking the field as a member of the Notre Dame football team. Rudy, who only took the field for two plays in one game, sacks the opposing quarterback.

“Rudy had a vision of what he wanted to do,” Romanella says. “He played on a major college football team by using his strengths and developing a plan to manage his vulnerabilities. He was celebrated by being carried off the field by his teammates. If that is not an example of somebody using their strengths effectively, I don’t know what is.”

While Rudy used his internal motivation and drive to find success, too many people today have not identified and built upon their strengths in their careers. In fact, they might spend so much time focusing on the negative that they forget to take advantage of what they have to offer.

Romanella recommends assessment tools, like Gallup’s StrengthFinder 2.0, to pinpoint strengths. “Most people start trying to identify and fix vulnerabilities,” Romanella added. “By using the StrengthFinder, people can realign by looking at their natural talents and what they need to enhance rather than fix.”

This new understanding of strengths may allow you to:

  • Identify jobs that best fit your talents or possibly focus your time on the tasks where you can add the most value. For example, a current job might not be a good fit if your natural talents include being innovative and your current role calls for tactical, daily tasks. As a leader, you might want to take advantage of a team member’s strength in taking ideas and putting them into action and step back from those details
  • Be a stronger team member by stepping up to offer your strengths to fit the needs of the team, or offering to help others who might not have the same strength
  • Hire employees with strengths that match the type of jobs you need in the future and build teams of people with diverse strengths
  • Match your strengths with your passions to identify the career opportunities where you are most likely to excel and have fun
  • Interview for jobs more successfully by highlighting strengths in addition to accomplishments, which might not tie directly to strengths
  • Identify coaches/mentors who can help you build on your strengths
  • Network more effectively by linking words and topics people mention in a conversation to what you know the person’s own strengths and talents to be

Another way to identify strengths could be to e-mail 5-10 people including family, friends and coworkers and tell them you are working to expand your strengths. You should ask each person to relay two or three stories about when you were at your best and why they thought you were so effective.

“If I get that from five or eight people I am building almost a collage of strength-related experience,” Romanella notes. You can use this information to more clearly express your unique talents. Whether it’s for a promotion or in a new job interview, knowing what strengths you can leverage and apply can lead to new opportunities that match your talents. Knowing and using your strengths can make you a better leader, as well as open the door to more opportunities.’”

Peter Romanella has more than 30 years of experience in leadership development, including working with corporations, the Center for Creative Leadership and Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, prior to joining UNC. Peter designs and delivers workshops for all of UNC Kenan-Flagler’s degreed programs and teaches in UNC Executive Development.