What are Strength Builders?

October 10, 2023

Non linear development

In the annals of history, warfare evolved from regimented rows of soldiers marching headlong into battle to a more strategic and unconventional approach. This transformation was particularly evident during the American Revolution when revolutionary soldiers challenged the norm by using trees for cover and adopting guerrilla tactics. Similarly, in the realm of leadership development, Zenger Folkman introduces a revolutionary concept known as “Strength Builders,” which challenges traditional methods and offers a fresh perspective on enhancing leadership skills.

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Discovering Strength Builders

Strength Builders represent a groundbreaking approach to behavioral change, often referred to as “nonlinear development.” Unlike conventional linear methods, which dominate the leadership development landscape, this novel approach taps into the subtle interplay between skills and their companions. By identifying behaviors closely correlated with high competency ratings, we unveil a collection of related behaviors we call “Strength Builders.” These behaviors are like inseparable companions, providing vital clues for a different path toward enhancing essential leadership qualities.

Mechanisms of Strength Builders

Understanding why Strength Builders are effective hinges on recognizing the intricate mechanisms at play. Here are six key explanations for their impact:

  1. Behavior Alignment: Strength Builders work because they align with related behaviors. When you exhibit one attribute (Attribute A), people naturally assume you possess another (Attribute B). This perceptual link between characteristics creates a reinforcing effect, enhancing both attributes.
  1. Core Element: Some Strength Builders are core elements of particular behaviors. Consider the link between interpersonal skills and technical skills. What appears to be happening is that having strong interpersonal skills facilitates the sharing of knowledge, the persuasion of others to a new position, and positive interactions in terms of solving problem. We do not believed that improving interpersonal skills makes technical knowledge grow. For the most part, the impact of interpersonal skills on technical ability seem to be that it facilitates the communication of technical knowledge and enhances the appreciation other people have of a person’s technical skills. When Jane speaks up in meetings, others start to see how smart and capable she is and their perception of her technical ability goes up.
  1. Skill Transfer: Developing a high level of proficiency in one behavior often facilitates the development of related behaviors. For example, leaders who excel in self-development are better equipped to assist their direct reports in career planning.
  1. Context Transformation: Strength Builders can alter the context in which we operate. For instance, trust in a leader can significantly impact the effectiveness of their communication. Trust can make people more receptive to a leader’s message, irrespective of the quality of their speech.
  1. Personal Transformation: Developing a Strength Builder can lead to unforeseen personal growth, including increased confidence, reduced stress, and improved outlook on life.

Practical Implications of Strength Builders

Consider a leader receiving feedback about their lack of motivation and inspiration. The conventional approach might involve enrolling in public-speaking courses or reading books on motivation.

However, Strength Builders offer a different perspective. High scores in “inspires and motivates others” correlate with high scores in “communicating clear expectations.” Therefore, a manager aiming to inspire might find success in improving clarity and simplicity in their communication.

The message here isn’t that traditional methods are ineffective but rather that a non-linear approach, incorporating Strength Builders, offers additional avenues to enhance leadership perception. Leaders who display multiple Strength Builders are more likely to be perceived as highly effective motivators and inspirers.


 Zenger Folkman’s Strength Builders provide a novel roadmap for leadership development, offering unconventional and unintuitive routes to success. While linear development strategies are effective for moving from “bad” to “neutral,” Strength Builders are especially valuable for those aspiring to transition from “good” to “great” or “extraordinary.” These exciting new paths open doors to fresh opportunities for leadership growth, enabling leaders to chart their own unique course towards excellence.

-Joe Folkman

Register for Course Preview: The Extraordinary Leader—Cultivate a Leadership Lifestyle, October 18, 2023, 11:00am PT.