Collaborative Artistic Leadership: 3 Tips on Leveraging Strengths to Enhance the Power of Your Team

Recently, I conducted a leadership training at Ensemble Connect, the wonderful fellowship program at Carnegie Hall that prepares young professional classical musicians for careers that combine excellence in performing with teaching, community advocacy, entrepreneurship and leadership. Our session focused on helping the Fellows develop an authentic leadership style in team settings, using strengths and communication styles.  The Fellows particularly enjoyed discovering their strengths and learning how to leverage their strengths in team settings.

Ensemble Connect is the perfect environment for learning about the power of strengths for high-impact leadership as an artist.  The Fellows not only perform together but also present interactive group performances, speak to audiences and partner with New York City public school teachers to provide classroom instruction. Thus, they frequently interact with others towards a shared goal in order to spread the power of music to communities with whom they interact.

Discovering Strengths

Authentic leadership begins with knowing yourself. Thus, the start of our training was to know your strengths both in order to set the right goals and to find the inner motivation to achieve.

One great tool for discovering strengths is Gallup’s Strengths-based Leadership Assessment which generates a report of your top 5 leadership strengths. The report also categorizes your strengths in one of four domains of leadership:

  • Executing: the ability to get things done
  • Influencing: the ability to sell your ideas and get other people on board
  • Relationship Building: the ability to make people work together effectively and smoothly
  • Strategic Thinking: the ability to learn, generate and organize ideas

Once you know your strengths, you can figure out the best way to use those particular strengths, no matter what domain they fall into, in orders to lead effectively.  The good news is that you do not have to be good at everything! Instead, the idea is to leverage your strengths so that you can maximize your effectiveness.

Leveraging Strengths in Teams

Another key aspect of leadership strengths is how to leverage your strengths in a group setting. This is fundamental to the collaborative model of leadership whereby each member of an ensemble or working group contributes his or her talents and strengths towards the successful completion of a project.

There are 3 fundamental premises to working with strengths in teams:

  • Leaders do not have to be well-rounded but teams should be well-rounded.
  • The most high-performing work groups have members with strengths in all 4 domains.
  • Leaders help others to discover and play to their strengths.

With these principles in mind, here are 3 tips on how to leverage your strengths so that your team or ensemble can maximize the talents of each group member to achieve better results:

  1. Know the strengths of your team members
  2. Have a strengths conversation at the outset of your project
  3. Allocate roles based on the strengths of your team mates


  1. Know the Strengths of Your Team 

The first step in leveraging strengths in teams is to know what your collaborators are good at. How can you discover the strengths of your team mates?

  • Take a Strengths Assessment

In the case of Ensemble Connect, I created a chart of everyone’s strengths based on the results of the Leadership Strengths Assessment.

I do the same thing with my class at Yale so that every student takes the assessment and then I prepare a Strengths grid. In fact, some of the studios at Yale have taken it upon themselves to take the strengths assessment!

  • Strengths Spotting

What about when you are working with people and you don’t have the benefit of the strength assessment?

You can learn to spot strengths in others even without a formal assessment.

At our training, I asked the Fellows to spot the strengths of their partner teachers. One young man mentioned that his partner teacher is great at classroom management and that the teacher likes his Fellows to come up with the actual teaching ideas.

In other words, he noticed what his partner teacher does really well and what he volunteers to do (his strengths). He also was mindful of what his partner teacher delegated to him (recognizing the strength of the Fellow and perhaps indicating that this was less of a strength for the partner teacher).

Other Fellows were able to spot strengths based on the level of enthusiasm that their partner teachers exhibited while talking and what their partner teachers were able to do quickly and effectively.

  • Pay attention to compliments

Yet another way to discover strengths is to pay attention to what other people compliment you about. The way others perceive you can be a strong indication of strengths that you may not even know about yourself!

Bottom line:

Pay attention to what other people like to do, what they do well and what excites them. And then cement your relationship by complimenting the person on that strength! If you regularly point out the strengths of your collaborators, they will feel very motivated.

  1. Have a Team Strengths Conversation

The next step in leveraging strengths in teams is to have a strengths conversation at the outset of a project whereby each member tells her collaborators what aspect of a project she does well and enjoys doing.

The Ensemble Connect Fellows practiced this conversation by dividing up into 3 different working groups:

  • Planning an Interactive Performance
  • Producing a Fellows’ Concert
  • Setting rehearsal schedules and rules

Each member talked about which strengths he or she could contribute to making the project a success, something that they had not previously done. The Fellows found that by discussing their strengths as they were organizing their work, they were more inclined to divide up the different tasks based on who was good at what, with the result of creating more motivation to tackle their tasks.

  1. Allocate Roles based on Strengths

The third step in leveraging strengths in teams is to allocate project roles based on strengths.

At our training, once the Fellows had their strengths conversation, they broke down their projects into segments and assigned roles based on their strengths. They discovered that great teams include people with complementary strengths because each person is excited and motivated to work on what he or she is good at.

For example, one team of 3 had one person who was great at generating lots of ideas and by his own admission, less successful in following through on them. Another person excelled at organizing information.  Moreover, while her inclination was to work alone, she was excited to see how leveraging the strengths of an entire team might create better balance among the members of the group and better results. The third person on the team was committed to getting things done and was thus an excellent partner to the first member who thrived on generating ideas.

The group found it very easy to allocate the responsibilities so that the idea person could contribute his many wonderful ideas and the other two team members would concentrate their efforts on organizing the team and making sure that the tasks were actually completed.  In addition, all three team members had relationship strengths so that they were sensitive to the needs of their fellow team mates and encouraged them to be at their best. This turned out to be very helpful one of the team members who tended to focus on her weaknesses, rather than on her strengths.

What’s great about allocating work based on strengths is that you can use each other for support, delegate a task that you would rather not do to someone who has it as a strength and then take on the work that you would prefer to do.

As one Fellow commented,

“I can find the right partners to help me realize my big ideas!”

Bottom line:

The Fellows felt energized and excited to work with their strengths in a team setting. So see how you can contribute your strengths in a team setting to motivate and energize yourself and your team mates as well as create better results!