Don’t overly focus on your leadership weaknesses. Quite frankly we all have these gaps that undermine our leadership effectiveness. Today’s posting explores how to use your strengths to grow beyond your weaknesses.
Identifying and leveraging a person’s strengths is a radical departure from the earlier business practice of identifying and correcting a person’s weaknesses (e.g., cf. Buckingham, Marcus and Clifton, Donald O., First, Break All the Rules, 1999). In the past, leaders identified an individual’s “performance gap”, defined as the difference between what an organization wants an individual to achieve and what that individual has actually achieved.
In targeting the factors responsible for that gap, leaders focused on an individual’s weaknesses or skill deficits; that is, those tasks at which a person performed poorly (or at least not very well). A lot of energy went into improving those skills — to raising performance from “poor” to “fair”, for example; or from “fair” to “adequate”.
By restricting the focus on correcting one’s weaknesses, it was found that leaders were losing an important opportunity: to tap into what an individual does best and leverage that strength to inspire the individual to achieve great results for the company.
Recently, one of the authors was coaching a senior scientist in a technology business. His 360º performance evaluation indicated a competence area that his boss wanted him to develop: public presentation skills to key executive stakeholders. Discouraged, the scientist revealed that he was an introvert and dreaded public presentations. Furthermore, he said he could never see himself as an effective public speaker and had virtually no desire to improve.
Finally, he admitted that he was afraid that his coach would immediately zero in on this development gap and pressure him to improve.
To the scientist’s surprise, the coach did not address this skill. Rather, the coach asked, “What inspires you? What project do you think would be worthy of your best efforts?” Without hesitation, the scientist started talking about how he wanted to work on adapting the technology he had developed so that aging customers could easily use it; specifically, those customers who were facing new challenges such as declining eyesight and arthritis.
The scientist was then asked, “What key stakeholders are vital to the funding and introduction of this technology?” The scientist found himself identifying executives in his company who he knew very well. When asked how he would feel presenting to each of these executives, the scientist showed very little apprehension. Instead, he was energized by the idea that he could finally get his ideas adopted. By engaging what inspired this scientist and what he did best, the improvement of presentation skills was no longer the ultimate objective but, rather, the means to reaching the goal that inspired him. Publicly appealing to stakeholders familiar to him also facilitated this process. When approached in the context of this scientist’s strengths and aspirations, improving public presentation skills was no longer perceived as an insurmountable barrier.
Expecting the best by leveraging an individual’s strengths in pursuit of challenging goals is critical to inspiring others to want to do their best work. As a leader who leverages strengths, you will:
Set the stage for people to discover their strengths.
Link an individual’s strengths to what inspires him/her (e.g., making a contribution).
Pair leadership weaknesses with strengths with a clear goal in mind.
In order to achieve specific leadership growth goals focus on development not remediation.
The blog posting sets the stage for dealing with one’s weaknesses in a novel manner; deploying one’s strengths in order to correct one’s weaknesses.
This posting was adapted from the book “What Inspirational Leaders Do” (Kindle 2008) written with Kris MacKain, Ph.D.
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