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Cedric B. Johnson, Ph.D and Kristine MacKain, Ph.D
How many times have we asked ourselves the question, “What is WRONG with me?”
An assumption underlying this question is that at our core, we are defective, incomplete, inadequate. Psychologists listen to depressed and anxious people who see themselves as “sick” and needing a cure. Management consultants/coaches are asked to help high functioning people “fix” their performance gaps. In this blog, we argue that:
a deficit model does not empower people to make behavioral changes.
Over the last years, a different point of view has emerged in business that is a radical departure from the earlier practice of identifying and correcting a person’s weaknesses. This approach focuses on identifying and leveraging a person’s strengths to meet their goals at work (e.g., cf. Buckingham, Marcus and Clifton, Donald O., First, Break All the Rules, 1999). This reorientation towards leveraging strengths instead of fixing weaknesses provides an important opportunity for leaders (and anyone helping others to reach an important goal):
Tap into what an individual does best and leverage that strength to inspire the individual to achieve great results.
Recently, one of the authors was 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 sharpen his presentation skills.
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 with whom he felt familiar and comfortable 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 and build on an existing foundation of competence and passion.
Link an individual’s strengths to what inspires him/her (e.g., making a contribution).
Leverage leadership strengths to address developmental challenges with a clear and measurable goal in mind.
Deploy your passion and your strengths to achieve your goals.
Here is a powerful foundation on which to build a career and a life.
!! Please be aware that one’s weaknesses can greatly compromise one’s effectiveness in an organization. Awareness of these weaknesses is key to then leveraging one’s strengths!!
Please share an example how you have leveraged your strengths to make changes in your life/career.