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The Gravitational Pull of Weaknesses

gravitational pull

Image by Comfreak from Pixabay

In many organizations, the bulk of a leader’s performance management efforts focus on improvement opportunities (aka ‘weaknesses’.) And this parallels the tendencies that many of us have to place considerably greater emphasis on our weaknesses rather than our strengths. In response, some people advocate for focusing exclusively on talents and superpowers –  to balance out the equation. All of this is tricky – as noted in this excerpt from my book (co-authored with Beverly Kaye), Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go.

Enjoy this more nuanced take on strengths and weaknesses – and consider using the questions that follow to encourage a real exploration of strengths with employees and others.

Despite considerable research and literature on the benefits of focusing on strengths, most people are more strongly drawn toward and familiar with their weaknesses. When you have a minute (literally sixty seconds), make a list of all of your strengths and weaknesses. Chances are you’ll have more weaknesses than strengths on your list.

In fact, in workshop after workshop we witness a surprising human dynamic. When people are asked to create a list of their weaknesses, they do so effortlessly, smiling and sometimes laughing at the task. Ask these same people to list their strengths and you see a very different response. Furrowed brows. Head scratching. Grimaces and genuine agitation. Odd, huh?

So employees need your help in identifying and focusing on what they do well—their talents and their gifts. These are important inputs to career decisions that frequently get lost in our weakness-centric world.

But strengths can be a little sneaky—and employees should be aware of two lesser-known laws that govern them.

Law 1 – Too much of a good thing isn’t always a good thing.

A strength used to excess can actually become a problem.

When it’s just right

When it’s overdone

“He’s organized and meets deadlines no matter what.” “You mean old steamroller?”
“Her flexible thinking really helps everyone get outside the box.” “Our weekly meetings are a total waste of time because of her lack of structure.”
“He’s a great negotiator.” “It wouldn’t hurt him to compromise once in a while.”

Strengths have a dark side. Getting in touch with the implications of too-much-of-a-good-thing helps to enhance one’s self-understanding and ultimately effectiveness.

Law 2—Strengths are context sensitive.

A strength in one setting can actually work against you in other settings. (Remember when you were first promoted into leadership? Did your strength around getting the work done ever get in the way of delegating or developing others?)

With all this talk of strengths, let’s not lose sight of the importance of understanding weaknesses, where behavior or performance could compromise the employee’s career goals. Because when it comes to helping people grow and pursue career goals, a balanced view of what’s working for and against you provides the strongest foundation for results.

Try it for yourself!

Spark meaningful dialogue with others around strengths using questions like:
  • What are your current strengths?
  • How are they serving you today?
  • How have they ever gotten in your way?
  • What are some emerging strengths – capacities that you’re beginning to sense are coming naturally and contributing to positive outcomes?
  • How can you nurture these emerging strengths into their fullest expression?

And please let me know how it goes by sharing a quick comment.


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