One of the most dramatic changes in employee and leadership development programs in the last decade has been the shift from correcting weaknesses to enhancing strengths.
A Google search for “strengths coaching” yields over 27 million hits. Amazon sells over 35,000 books on the subject, including StrengthsFinder 2.0 which instantly became a Wall Street Journal, Businessweek, and USA Today bestseller, and was named Amazon’s bestselling book of 2013. Gallup’s Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment is used by 1.6 million employees and 467 Fortune 500 companies every year.
Strengths has developed a cult-like following among HR and talent management professionals. Like all cults, this one too has developed myths that deserve to be debunked.
Myth #1 – Focusing on strengths means you can ignore your weaknesses. Sorry. Not true. Ignoring a problem is never sane management theory. Instead, get clear about what your weaknesses are, and develop ways to minimize them.
Strengths coaches are fond of saying that there is no such thing as a well-rounded person. Instead, focus on being a well-lopsided person and develop a well-rounded team. Spend your time where you can excel, then delegate to, or partner with, others who are naturally more adept in areas where you are weak.
Myth #2 – Strengths and weaknesses are two sides of the same coin. Wrong again. Strengths are not the flip side of weaknesses. You can make strengths stronger. You can make weaknesses not so weak. But you cannot transform weaknesses into strengths.
What is true, is that a person can operate either in the balcony or basement of a strength, and the basement can be unpleasant for everyone. Consider Achiever. When things are going well, an Achiever can be a tireless go-getter with a strong work ethic. Conversely, she can be overcommitted and in danger of burning out. Being in the basement isn’t a weakness, it’s a strength overapplied.
Myth #3 – You can become too specialized if you focus on your strengths. Good reasoning, but not the case if your manager takes the time to understand how to put strengths to work. First, strengths are not labels. If your manager locks all “Strategics” in a room and expects they will come out with the perfect strategic plan, it’s not likely to happen. That’s simplistic and a little reductive.
Managers who understand the power of strengths know that the best way for people to grow and develop is to identify how they most naturally think, feel and behave, then build on those talents to create strengths. People with Strategic as a strength are naturally good at anticipating alternatives and finding different paths. They may be good a mediating debates or contract negotiation. The best managers will not only have a good working knowledge of strengths, but will also take the time to get to know what situations enable their employees to succeed.
We all have weaknesses. But putting your time, energy and focus on fixing your weaknesses will only yield mediocre results. If you want to unlock your greatest potential and bring out the best in your team, let go of the myths and put strengths to work.
Question: Have you taken the StrengthsFinder assessment? What are you Top Five?