As a young aspiring manager, I had the privilege to work for organisations that believed in investing time in developing their people. I benefitted from several great management development courses and completed all the usual personality and leadership-style questionnaires, designed to help me understand my strengths and weaknesses.
Only thing is, it always seemed that the emphasis was on the weaknesses: what would it take to be’better’ at these things? – training? learned techniques? more practice?…. I don’t agree; for two reasons:
1. I’ve always thought of strengths and weaknesses as being two sides of the same coin: Enthusiasm and drive to get things done, is impatience; an ability to process lots of disparate information and make decisions quickly, looks like impulsiveness; an interest in engaging and listening to others, is indecisiveness… and so on.
2. At the risk of sounding arrogant, what sense does it make to spend time and energy on your weaknesses? so that you can move up to ‘average’?! wouldn’t it be better to invest that effort in doing more of what you’re good at? and so become excellent!!
By the way, I don’t mean ignore your weaknesses – being self-aware means you can work with others who have complementary strengths, and thereby the team becomes excellent!!
Nowadays there’s a lot more interest in strengths, with many career development, appraisal, and leadership development activities focussing on identifying and making full use of people’s strengths. After all, if we can all do what we are best at, the chances are we will be more successful, be surrounded by other more successful people, and have more fun at work.
Perhaps most well known is Rath and Conchie’s “Strengths-based Leadership”, which found that:
- When an organisation focuses on strengths, employee engagement may increase from a range of 9% to 73%, and
- Focusing on strengths in appraisals leads to a 36% jump in performance, compared to a 27% decline when focusing on weaknesses (Corporate Leadership Council)
So I adopt a strengths-focus for 121s and performance reviews – it doesn’t always come naturally to those who are accustomed to an emphasis on behaviours, skills development, and specific suggestions for doing the job better. And especially difficult when the standard HR forms direct you to identify weaknesses and performance shortfalls. But where there’s a will, there’s a way! and one of my strengths is being solution-focussed (also known as rule breaking 🙂